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Unrepresented Los Angeles County Condemned Project

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

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

This project aims to screen and evaluate the capital convictions of a subset of individuals who were sentenced to death in Los Angeles County to identify likely cases of wrongful convictions. Los Angeles’s criminal justice system has long been plagued by racism, police misconduct and overzealous prosecution. Newly elected District Attorney George Gascón has vowed to address these issues. One aspect of his progressive agenda includes eliminating all death sentences arising from Los Angeles County. Although this is a favorable development for these condemned prisoners, it also means that they will lose the right to appointed state habeas counsel – the most likely means by which they can challenge their convictions. Of the 200-plus individuals sentenced to death in Los Angeles County, roughly half have not yet received appointed state habeas counsel. Among this group, approximately 40 have completed the direct appeal process and thus are presently unrepresented. The majority of these individuals have been waiting more than twenty years for state habeas counsel to be appointed. This is the target population for this grant project.

The design of the project is loosely modeled on the practices of Innocence Projects and Conviction Integrity Review Units and will consist of two broad phases: 1) Case Screening and 2) Case Evaluation. The case of any individual who asks to have their case reviewed will go through Phase One. Phase One will involve screening the case for “red flags” or risk factors for wrongful convictions. After this a small committee of volunteer practitioners will meet and confer about whether the case bears enough indicia of a wrongful conviction to move on to the next phase. For those cases advancing to Phase Two, the project will do a comprehensive case evaluation: reviewing the trial record; the trial discovery; the trial exhibits; and conducting a paper investigation of key witnesses and agencies involved in the case at trial.

At the conclusion of the project, cases which continue to bear strong indicators of possible wrongful conviction will be referred to an Innocence Project, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit or to a pro bono firm.

Date Created: November 10, 2021