Jeffrey MacDonald, Innocence, and the Future of Habeas Corpus last month, the Wilmington, NC, federal district court held a long-awaited and hard-fought-for evidentiary hearing in the case of Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald. In 1979 Dr. MacDonald was convicted of murdering his daughters and pregnant wife, and he has spent the last 33 years in federal prison, never wavering from his claim of innocence. Over the years, an enormous aggregation of previously unavailable (in large measure because it was suppressed) evidence has corroborated MacDonald’s account of the night of the murders: that four drugged-out intruders, three men and one woman, invaded his home, beat him unconscious, and murdered his family.

The vast trove of evidence uncovered post-conviction has emerged mainly through repeated court filings by MacDonald’s lawyers over the years, including the most recent filing of DNA evidence that convinced the notoriously conservative Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to order a lower court to convene an evidentiary hearing to take further evidence and to then consider the full picture, including all of the accumulated evidence. Now, importantly, the evidence is bolstered by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris’s new book, A Wilderness of Error, which was released on September 4. The book is an impressive feat, cataloguing the decades of lies, cover-ups, false narratives and grave misfortunes and outrages that have characterized the MacDonald saga. It raises serious doubts about the fairness of MacDonald’s trial and leaves little doubt about his innocence. It is well worth a read, as is its accompanying website, which serves as an invaluable repository for the enormous amount of evidence contained within the text.

A Wilderness of Error chronicles not just a human tragedy, but a chilling case that puts front-and-center pivotal questions about the future of the writ of habeas corpus—the ancient procedural device for revisiting otherwise final convictions. Until now, MacDonald’s repeated attempts to have courts look anew at his conviction have come to naught, largely due to procedural factors that favor “finality” over truth and accuracy. In my most recent column for, I argue that this case should force the courts to condemn to history’s scrap heap these Byzantine obstacles to justice that keep the wrongly convicted in prison.

Those of you who know me understand how strongly I feel about this mind-bogglingly outrageous miscarriage of justice. I am thankful that Errol Morris, who has his choice of absolutely any topic on which to do a book or make a documentary movie, has chosen to write on the MacDonald case.

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Hooliganism in Moscow, Bullying in Delaware: A Rose by Any Other Name

The American press rightfully has been having a field day berating the Putin government for its use of the infamous “hooliganism” statute in the “Pussy Riot” controversy. But back here in the States, the University of Delaware has begun using an equally vague handle – denominated a “disruptive conduct” code – to abolish what is increasingly becoming the American analogy to Russia’s “hooliganism,” namely “bullying” or “harassment.” In my most recent column for, co-authored with my research assistant and FIRE Program Associate Juliana DeVries, we point out that, while just about everyone has come out to condemn the Russian court system, very little attention has been paid to this outrageous free speech violation right here at home. The column after the jump...

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To the CEO of Gibson Guitar: It's Not Just a War Against Capitalism

On July 19, there appeared in the Wall Street Journal an interesting Op-Ed by Henry Juszkiewicz, the CEO of Gibson Guitar, claiming that a raid on his company’s facilities by federal agents is representative of a greater “war against capitalism.” Yet as my co-author Zachary Bloom and I argue in our latest piece for my blog, “Injustice Department,” Juszkiewicz’s Op-Ed suffers for being too narrow and self-focused. In reality, the raid on Gibson’s facilities is less representative of a war on capitalism than of a war on all of civil society, being waged by an out-of-control U.S. Department of Justice wielding vague laws passed by a Congress that clearly does not understand the consequences of its legislative actions, and regulations enacted by administrative agencies drunk with their own powers.

The article after the jump...

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BC and the Belfast Project: A Scholar's Privilege to Disobey

The ongoing imbroglio over Boston College’s Belfast Oral History Project has been disappointing at almost every turn. The case involves a subpoena by the Northern Irish police force of confidential materials collected by Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, two scholars who worked with BC to create an oral history of the Irish “Troubles” as told by former IRA and Loyalist members closest to the fighting. In my latest piece for my blog, “Injustice Department,” I discuss the grave implications for First Amendment rights resulting from the blithe willingness of Boston’s federal courts to jeopardize scholarly research in the name of dubious law enforcement claims. Furthermore, the article raises the important question of what could have been done differently to allow the scholars, like reporters whose confidential notes are being subpoenaed, to resist the disclosure of their sources through civil disobedience.

You can find the article after the jump.
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DiMasi Agonistes and the federal ‘justice’ system

Being Fourth of July week, it seems a particularly apt time to consider the various forms of tyranny with which we have been inundated of late. The treatment of federal prisoner (and putative “corrupt pol” – a subject on which I expect to have more to say at some future date) Salvatore DiMasi is of the stomach-churning variety. Or at least the treatment of DiMasi by federal prosecutors and “corrections” officials should churn the stomach of all decent citizens devoted to the essential respect for human dignity demanded of our government by the Bill of Rights. Please read my views on the subject in the current issue of The Boston Phoenix; the column after the jump.

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