Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $550,000)
Created in 2006 by the North Carolina General Assembly, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission (Commission) is a neutral, fact-finding state agency charged with investigating post-conviction claims of actual innocence which result from felony convictions within North Carolina. The Commission is the first and only of its kind in the United States. The Commission is made up eight Commissioners from a broad range of perspectives within the criminal justice system. The Commission’s day-to-day operations are carried out by a full-time staff of ten: an executive director, two associate directors, four staff attorneys, a victim services coordinator, a case manager and an administrative secretary. Under the 2019 Postconviction DNA Testing Program (2019 Grant) and 2020 Postconviction DNA Program (2020 Grant), the Commission also employs two grant staff members: a staff attorney and a legal investigator.
The Commission has been fortunate to receive funding under several Postconviction DNA Testing Assistance Programs (2009 Grant, 2012 Grant, 2015 Grant, 2018 Grant, 2019 Grant, and 2020 Grant). As with all of these awards, the Commission plans to use funding from the 2022 Postconviction Testing of DNA Evidence (2022 Grant) award to conduct DNA testing in cases where the Commission’s state funding is otherwise insufficient. At present, the Commission receives $10,000 per year for forensic testing in its State budget.
The Commission will use the requested funds to employ two grant staff members, each for two years of the grant with overlap in Year 2. They will be responsible for investigating cases, including searching for, locating, and collecting evidence for DNA testing. Additionally, funds will be used to conduct DNA testing in qualifying cases where physical evidence can be located and the results of DNA testing could show innocence. These funds will be used to employ the most appropriate laboratory for testing. Limited funds will be used for supplies and to equip the Commission’s evidence room for evidence collected by the Commission in grant qualifying cases.
This proposal illustrates how the 2022 Grant will allow the Commission to review, search for evidence, and conduct DNA testing in a significant number of cases. Without this funding, the Commission will not have the manpower or funds to swiftly investigate DNA claims thus creating a backlog of cases where timely evidence searches are critical. Since receiving the 2009 Grant, the Commission has compiled data to support its request of $500,000 for a three-year project under the 2022 Grant.