Bob Dylan wrote the song Hurricane to draw the public’s attention to the conviction of the boxer, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, for a crime (multiple murders) which Carter did not commit. Dylan’s song – and its performance as a part of Dylan’s fabled Rolling Thunder Tour – brought significant public attention to this case (and the miscarriage of justice it reflected), and eventually led to the granting of federal habeas corpus (a decision affirmed by the Third Circuit) and the freeing of Carter from state prison in New Jersey. The song takes the listener from the facts of the crime, through the back story of Carter as an individual, through the trial and conviction.
In an earlier article about Bob Dylan’s jurisprudence, I wrote that this song “is a textbook example of how racism can affect every aspect of the criminal justice system,” listing nine legal issues that Dylan discusses in the lyrics. See Michael L. Perlin, Tangled Up in Law: The Jurisprudence of Bob Dylan, 38 FORD. URB. L.J. 1395, 1405-07 (2011). In this article, I conclude that the lyrics of this song would provide the basis for a perfect examination question in Criminal Procedure (a course I taught for about 15 years), or perhaps, even, the core of a course in Criminal Procedure.
In this paper, first, I briefly discuss the song, and the significance of its live performances in the 1970s. After this, I reprint the song’s lyrics. Then, I discuss the opinion that granted habeas corpus, and the Third Circuit opinion substantially affirming it. Next, I consider all the criminal procedure issues raised by the song, in a section in which I look at (1) “the law,” (2) Dylan’s characterization of the issues in question, and (3) as best as I can, the “inside baseball” on what actually happened (drawing on reported cases, transcript excerpts and other scholarship). Following this, I discuss the cases briefly in the context of the legal school of thought known as therapeutic jurisprudence. I conclude with some final thoughts on the consonance between Dylan’s jurisprudential and political values and the values I seek to assert in my writings.
Perlin, Michael L., ""Pistol Shots Ring out in the Barroom Night": Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" as an Exam (or Course) in Criminal Procedure" (2021). Articles & Chapters. 1493.