Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $499,087)
University of Missouri Law School & Midwest Innocence Project Regional Wrongful Conviction Review is a partnership between the University of Missouri Law School Innocence Clinic (MU-LAW) and the Midwest Innocence Project (MIP); its purpose is to expand the established review of Missouri eyewitness misidentification cases that involve DNA to MIP’s five-state region of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.
MIP seeks to leverage the established process from the previously awarded grant BJA-2019-15423, which looked at Missouri cases, to examine cases from the remaining four states in MIP’s region involving both eyewitness misidentification and postconviction DNA testing. From the earlier funded review opportunity, MIP and MU-LAW reviewed 183 cases in Missouri that met the established grant criteria. Expanding the pool to include the remaining four states, there are at least another 161 cases in MIP’s region that would also meet the grant criteria.
This review project is a unique opportunity to fully understand the breadth and forms of eyewitness identification practices in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, and would allow for a discussion of how and why practices vary by jurisdiction. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, of the 364 exonerations resulting from DNA testing nationally, 255 (or 70%) involved eyewitness misidentification - making it the leading contributing cause in these cases. These patterns hold true in Missouri (of the nine DNA-based exonerations to date, 8 (or 89%) involved eyewitness misidentification), however, the effects of misidentifications have not been studied on a broader regional scale. To date, only Nebraska has passed legislative reforms regarding eyewitness misidentification, although the Kansas legislature has encouraged law enforcement to adopt the core reforms. An expansion of the Missouri review to all states would reveal where such reforms are most needed.
Though there is no way to precisely measure how often a particular technique is used, or to say exactly how many people have been wrongfully convicted because of its use, there is value in being able to identify outdated precedents to prevent future wrongful convictions and to make suggested reforms. MIP and MU-LAW hope to identify and undo wrongful conviction cases in which dated practices may have contributed to a conviction and use that information to prevent wrongful convictions in the future.
Main Terms: DNA, wrongfully convicted, exonerated