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Why are law professors and students in southwest China interested in the American experience with plea bargaining, invalid or unreliable forensic science, and wrongful convictions? This fall New England Law | Boston Professor David Siegel traveled to China to help shed some light on these issues.

The Chinese legal system has undergone continual change since 1996, and Chinese scholars have been seeking input from a variety of systems—notably the United States. In late October 2017, Professor David Siegel visited Southwest Minzu University (SMU) in Chengdu, China, lecturing on the roles of U.S. defense counsel in plea bargaining and on efforts to establish the reliability of forensic science, especially as it relates to wrongful convictions.

“China has developed a form of structured plea bargaining in which defendants who plead guilty receive a standard sentence reduction, and Chinese scholars and researchers are very interested in the American system of plea bargaining,” Siegel said.

On October 30, 2017, he gave a presentation to over seventy undergraduate and graduate students at SMU’s new Hang Kongang campus concerning plea bargaining entitled “The Supreme Court Discovers the Defense Lawyer’s Role in Plea Bargaining.” Describing the U.S. as a “trial-centered system without trials” given its heavy reliance on plea bargaining, Siegel outlined the critical trial rights inapplicable to plea bargaining and three recent Supreme Court decisions increasing scrutiny on the quality of defense lawyers during plea bargaining.

On October 31, 2017, he lectured to fifty undergraduates about “Making Forensic Science Scientific” at SMU’s historic Wuhou campus, in downtown Chengdu. Dean Wenzhong Du introduced Professor Siegel, welcoming him back to Southwest Minzu University after his 2014 visit for an international conference on interrogations, and explained the importance of students hearing outside views in developing China’s legal system. Siegel spoke about the process in the United States of re-evaluating forensic science following over 300 DNA exonerations since 1989 and the role of the 2009 National Academy of Sciences study in framing the issues for the forensic disciplines.

The next day he gave a lecture on “The Role of Forensic Science in Wrongful Convictions” at the University of Science and Electronic Technology in Chengdu. Back at Southwest Minzu University, on November 2 Siegel taught a class on the meaning of “search” under the Fourth Amendment and the Supreme Court’s treatment of the concept in the face of changing technology. He finished the visit by participating in a roundtable discussion on November 3 with faculty and graduate students on hot topics in American criminal justice, led by Professor Hongbo Zhou and Dean Du.

David Siegel in China roundatable presentation

New England Law Professor David Siegel participates in faculty and graduate student roundtable discussion concerning hot topics in U.S. criminal justice at Southwest Minzu University, Chengdu, China on November 3, 2017.

As an expert in DNA testing, forensic evidence, and public interest law, as well as a founding member of the New England Innocence Project, Professor Siegel is uniquely suited to deliver such lectures. His classes at New England Law include Criminal Advocacy, Clinical Evidence, and Wrongful Convictions, among others. In addition to teaching, he serves as Director for the Center for Law and Social Responsibility at New England Law and oversees a number of the school’s pro bono activities, including the Criminal Justice Project and CORI sealing volunteer work in Massachusetts.

This trip marks Professor Siegel’s sixth to China; in addition to his 2014 visit, he received a Fulbright senior specialist grant to teach at Sichuan University in 2009. While there he lectured at several other Chinese universities and the US Consulate. He also taught in the summer program at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing as a visiting foreign scholar in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Meet Professor Siegel and the New England Law faculty.