After Innocence

Wrongful conviction: What more complete and terrible opposite of the American dream could there be? It is, in a single stroke, the abolition of equal opportunity, of liberty and of justice, sometimes even of life itself. The documentary After Innocence gives a rough but engrossing sketch of what freedom feels like, and what it costs, for seven men who’ve endured that national nightmare. Convicted for brutal crimes, incarcerated for many years and finally exonerated by DNA evidence, they emerge shellshocked and groping for stable lives. The film’s humane presentation isn’t formally inventive but doesn’t need to be; the men’s testimonies, and their faces, declare what’s been wrought on them, usually through a convergence of faulty witness identification and systematically incompetent law enforcement. Mapping its emotional territory in much greater detail than the legal or the scientific, the movie does lack rigor; a braver treatment would consider that an unmet burden of proof does not define innocence. It does however, demand acquittal, and every DNA exoneration steps boldly into a new frontier of jurisprudence, closer to the dream of justice for all.

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