Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $300,000)
The NC Center on Actual Innocence (the Center) identifies, investigates, and advances credible claims of innocence asserted by indigent inmates convicted of a felony in North Carolina or South Carolina. Our primary mission is to identify and correct cases of wrongful conviction in order to obtain justice for those imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, as well as true justice for the victims of those crimes and the actual perpetrators. Our secondary mission is to educate policymakers, the public, and legal and law enforcement communities about the factors that contribute to wrongful convictions, and to promote emerging solutions to help increase reliability of convictions.
Time in prison for a crime someone commits is difficult. Time in prison for a crime someone did not commit is the greatest tragedy we can imagine – for the innocent, the victim of the crime, the true perpetrator continuing to walk the streets, and for our justice system. When an innocent person is finally exonerated, it can impact public confidence in our justice system, particularly when it takes decades to do. When public confidence is reduced, it impacts all aspects of future investigations and adjudications. The only way to rebuild that confidence is to show bipartisan support for solutions.
The goal of this project to broaden two existing collaborative initiatives to ensure reliability of convictions. We will continue working with the NC State Crime Lab on the 9 remaining cases where microscopic hair comparison was used to obtain convictions without confirmation DNA testing after 1990, in addition to starting the review of pre-1990 cases. Additionally, as forensic science and forensic technology advance, other types of cases that were investigated and litigated to conviction prior to those advances are at risk. We hope to expand our collaboration with the NC State Crime Lab into investigating cases where convictions were obtained relying on DNA mixtures.
The grant will also allow the Center to continue a project that was started with the Durham County District Attorney’s Office. That project reviews cases arising from the current prison population and post-release felony convictions with restrictions, such as sex offender registration, from Durham County. We hope that with the assistance of this grant we can identify another DA who may agree to work collaboratively with our office to conduct a joint review of high-risk convictions in their jurisdiction.