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Meyn explores race, innocence in the criminal justice system

 

Ion Meyn is a new faculty associate in the Legal Studies Program. Before coming to Legal Studies, Meyn worked at the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which aims to exonerate innocent, wrongfully-convicted inmates.

In private practice, Meyn represented elected officials and political action committees in California. He teaches two undergraduate courses: Race and the Law and Wrongful Convictions.

What motivated you to teach Race and the Law?

After law school, I had the privilege of clerking for a tireless advocate for racial equality, Judge Bernice Donald. I assisted her on affirmative action cases and criminal law issues. At the Wisconsin Innocence Project, I witnessed - in court, in prisons, in probation offices - evidence of the criminal justice system’s bias against African-American males. A significant number of our students consider careers in the criminal justice system, in policy, or in the law. For them, this course provides the opportunity to learn how the law addresses or fails to address racial injustice in the criminal justice system, education, and the workplace.

What about Wrongful Convictions? What do you hope students will gain from the course?

In defending businesses, I had at my disposal powerful tools to conduct an investigation. But when I represented criminal defendants, I was surprised to discover that I no longer had the legal power to compel information - I had to knock on doors and hope people volunteered information. This inability to obtain critical evidence inevitably leads to erroneous results. Upon completing the course, I hope students will have gained a new perspective on the failings of the criminal justice system, and consider how we might make the system more fair.

What are some of the most meaningful cases you have been involved in?

When we met Seneca Malone, he was serving a life sentence for intentional homicide in a maximum-security prison. Based on hard-fought facts that hardworking law students had discovered through a yearlong investigation, we alleged that the state’s chief witness was the shooter. After an eight-day evidentiary hearing, we secured relief for Seneca.

I also represented a young lady who had escaped an abusive relationship. To continue to exert control over her life, her batterer sued her for property she had taken with her. He held title to the property - a fact that gave him, initially, a strong legal case. We counter-sued him for false imprisonment, battery, and assault - and ultimately prevailed.

What are you looking forward to most about teaching undergraduate students?


In law school, we have the opportunity to drill down into the legal process. In undergrad courses, a broader lens permits us to explore readings from sociology, psychology, political science, and the law that provide a rich explanation of social institutions.

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Ion Meyn’s two new courses:


Legal Studies 400: Race and the Law


This course explores how law has been used to legitimize social constructions of race and how legal and racial classifications have impacted access to property, education, and citizenship. A section of the course is devoted to the criminal justice system where students examine practices, policies, and laws that disproportionately impact racial minorities.  The course also explores the controversy over legal efforts to proactively address racial discrimination.  Materials will consist of a mix of cases, statutes, commentary, and video.

Legal Studies 400: Wrongful Convictions

We begin by exploring concepts of guilt and innocence - and then we delve into problems that plague eyewitness identification, forensic sciences, interrogations, and snitch testimony. At the end of the course, we consider wrongful convictions in the context of the criminal justice system’s disparate impact on racial minorities and the poor.