Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $1,000,000)
Since 1989, 536 people have been exonerated after postconviction review of DNA evidence in their cases. As DNA technology has evolved, there remain significant gaps in its application and availability to innocent California prisoners. Resources are inadequate to assist the nearly 100,000 inmates housed in a state which spans 163,696 square miles.
Advances in DNA testing have expanded the group of cases where DNA testing and analysis could lead to exonerations. Methods such as forensic genealogical DNA testing, touch-DNA testing, and probabilistic genotyping are increasingly being used by law enforcement to solve criminal cases and find actual perpetrators, but not routinely applied. Faulty forensics have also created a need for DNA testing. The FBI’s admission that hair comparison analysts gave flawed testimony against criminal defendants prior to 2000 has prompted states to identify convictions based on hair comparison evidence and to DNA test evidence in those cases.
The California Innocence Project and the Northern California Innocence Project help wrongfully convicted inmates advance innocence claims. The Projects (CA-IPs) receive 3,000 requests for assistance annually and have directly freed 67 people. If funded, the CA-IPs will continue their work as the California DNA Assistance Program (CADNAP), with the California Office of Emergency Services having oversight.
The project has four goals: (1) to identify postconviction cases of violent felony offenses; (2) to review identified cases to determine whether DNA testing can prove actual innocence; (3) to locate evidence associated with such cases; and (4) to perform DNA analysis of evidence. CADNAP seeks to identify cases amenable to advanced DNA testing methods and analysis including forensic genealogical DNA testing, touch-DNA testing, and probabilistic genotyping. CADNAP will target 4,000 case reviews during the grant cycle and will identify cases from new inmate requests, screening of the CA-IP’s closed case databases, prison outreach, and continued investigation of cases from previous grant cycles.
CADNAP will investigate cases fitting program criteria: evidence gathered, transcripts acquired, witnesses interviewed, and communication established with prior attorneys and prosecutors. If evidence is in testable condition, CADNAP will seek negotiated testing agreements. When unable to obtain agreements, CADNAP will file motions for court-ordered testing. If test results are exculpatory, CADNAP will seek cooperation from prosecuting agencies to obtain relief. When cooperation is not attained, cases will be referred to the Ca-IPs for habeas litigation.
CADNAP will produce a final report with findings and recommendations aimed at increasing the accuracy of the justice system.