Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $300,000)
Cooley Law School Innocence Project's Statewide Forensic Conviction Integrity Project
Over the last 20 years, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, dba Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project (CIP) has developed as a leading expert in forensic case review. With the creation of the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit in 2017 and the Michigan Attorney General Conviction Integrity in 2019, how innocence claims are reviewed and resolved has changed drastically. Since the inception of these units, CIP has been a collaborative partner by assisting with case screening and undertaking representation in promising cases. CIP assists clients to make informed decisions about working with a conviction integrity unit, and protects the client’s right throughout the process.
CIP’s Statewide Forensic Conviction Integrity Project will allow CIP to continue its current CIU partnerships and provide all Michigan prisoners with access to forensic case review. The CIP also will be ready, willing, and able to assist newly established conviction integrity units. Funding will allow the CIP to continue to review and investigate innocence claims involving outdated or unreliable forensic practices uniformly and efficiently for all of Michigan’s 83 counties. CIP will review 400 cases under this proposal.
Based on established protocols, the state’s two CIUs will refer cases to the CIP. CIP will evaluate and accept cases involving outdated or unreliable forensic practices and cases in which DNA testing may produce new evidence in support of innocence. After initial screening, CIP will gather case materials and complete a case evaluation, consulting experts when appropriate. Once cases are identified for forensic testing or further investigation, CIP will work directly with the Conviction Integrity Unit. CIP and the appropriate CIU will agree to a testing plan and enter into a stipulation for testing. Fact investigations will be conducted by the appropriate CIU with CIP’s input and support.
In coordination with conviction integrity units, CIP will collect data on the contributing causes of wrongful convictions and this data will inform the case review process and provide insight into systemic problems in the state’s criminal justice system. Protocols for working with conviction integrity units will be reviewed and refined, and used as a model for collaborations with new conviction integrity units in the state. This project will benefit the state’s two conviction integrity units, newly established units, and those defendants whose claim of innocence involves forensic issues. The data collected will benefit Michigan’s criminal justice system as a whole.