Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $299,927)
The Duke Law School Innocence Program – with a Wrongful Conviction Clinic and student-led Innocence Project® – investigates and litigates North Carolina inmates’ claims of innocence. Most of the Program’s cases do not involve biological evidence for DNA testing and therefore require extensive fact reinvestigation. The Program has been remarkably successful and to date has exonerated ten individuals in North Carolina, who collectively served more than 215 years incarcerated for crimes they did not commit.
The Program currently has nine cases in the final stages of investigation or litigation, and others that are in earlier stages of review. Annually, the Program receives over a hundred requests for help. These requests have historically been screened by a third-party, non-profit organization, but the Program has decided that the best path forward to ensure justice in cases and consistency in responding to requests for help is to screen cases on its own, which allows the Program to bring its expertise to the screening process. The requested grant funds will enable the Program to meet its primary goal of providing high quality and effective legal representation while also screening cases to ensure that deserving requests for assistance are not rejected or missed during the screening process because of considerations outside the Program’s control. To that end, the funds will be used to (1) retain an investigator and experts as necessary to assist in our review of cases and (2) to hire a two-year fellow to manage the Program’s in-house case screening process and to assist the Program’s existing faculty with litigation of innocence cases.
Those strategic initiatives will allow the Program to plan for and produce the following outcomes:
Retain an investigator to complete late-stage investigations and more efficiently move cases towards litigation;
Identify cases that would benefit from expert analyses and locate and retain the appropriate experts to conduct the analyses and, if necessary, testify at court hearings;
Add capacity to the Program to complete in-house screening of innocence claim; and
Through all of this, achieve justice for Program clients, securing their exoneration and release from prison without undue delay.