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Upholding the Rule of Law and Preventing Wrongful Convictions Site Based and Training and Technical Assistance

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Awardee County
St. Joseph
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $300,000)

Wrongful convictions are a serious and systemic problem in Indiana.  In a small northern Indiana county, five individuals have been the victims of wrongful convictions. One of the county’s wrongful convictions, which carried a 40-year sentence for armed robbery, recently led to the first pardon based on actual innocence granted in Indiana. In another case prosecuted in the same county, a man suffering from a serious mental disability was wrongfully convicted of murder based on a false, coerced confession. After serving approximately 16 years in prison, his conviction was overturned with the assistance of the Notre Dame Law School Exoneration Justice Clinic (EJC), and he was granted a new trial.  The EJC is working on eight additional wrongful conviction cases prosecuted in the same Indiana county.

The miscarriage of justice suffered by the victims of wrongful convictions prompted Notre Dame Law School to establish the EJC. The EJC is dedicated to investigating, litigating, and overturning wrongful conviction cases based on actual innocence. The clinic provides law students real-world lawyering experience representing clients falsely convicted of serious felony offenses. Partnership with the law school permits the clinic to direct the efforts of passionate law students to pursue justice and uphold the rule of law. The EJC also provides holistic services to clients to assist them in transitioning from prison into society. Specifically, the EJC provides clients access to a comprehensive network of social services such as education and vocational training, and housing, transportation, health care, and psychological counseling programs. 

Finally, the EJC is dedicated to criminal justice reform.  In selecting cases for investigation and litigation, EJC lawyers look for high-impact cases that could fundamentally change the law and significantly reduce the risk of wrongful convictions. The EJC is also committed to working with the political branches of government to draft, amend, and implement legislation to address the principal causes of wrongful convictions. The clinic is also dedicated to working with other wrongful conviction clinics to prevent wrongful convictions, including filing amicus briefs in high-impact litigation.

To accomplish its goals and objectives, the EJC needs financial assistance to hire a full-time investigator and to support the salary of a full-time staff lawyer to oversee the client intake process. Additional financial support will ensure EJC can meaningfully review more alleged wrongful convictions and quickly and effectively investigate plausible claims of actual innocence as it seeks to correct injustice in Indiana.

Date Created: November 23, 2021