Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $550,000)
Louisiana still leads the nation in the number of individuals incarcerated per capita and the number of incarcerated people sentenced to life in prison without parole. There are nearly 4,400 people imprisoned to life without parole in Louisiana and an additional 5,700 individuals serving 20+ years in prison. More incarcerated people are serving life in Louisiana than in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee combined. (Footnote 1)
This pressing need led to a partnership between Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) and The Paul M. Hebert Law Center of the Louisiana State University (LSU Law) who, thanks to a grant from the DOJ Bureau of Justice, founded the first and only Wrongful Conviction Clinic at a law school in Louisiana. The WCC began operations in 2021 and has now completed two semesters at LSU Law with IPNO staff working on cases with six law students per semester.
This Postconviction Testing of DNA Evidence Grant will provide support for the continued development and growth of the first and only Wrongful Conviction Clinic. Based on the casework processes that have been established and built since January 2021, the Clinic estimates that with BJA’s continued support it can work up at least eighteen cases in judicial districts across Louisiana and locate testable evidence and complete testing in at least eight cases.
The need for post-conviction DNA testing is great. Louisiana’s vast population of life sentenced incarcerated people mean there are people still innocent people in prison based on convictions from decades before forensic DNA testing was possible. And, advances in DNA technology mean that, even in relatively recent cases, cutting edge technology can produce new evidence of innocence. In fact, the last three exonerations involving new DNA testing were in cases tried within the last twelve years, with probative results produced from zip ties, the victim’s t-shirt, and the perpetrator’s glove.
IPNO and LSU Law have built the Clinic—a new entity with the capacity to address this need for DNA testing. We now seek BJA’s continued, sustained support to allow the Clinc to reach its potential and address this need.
1. See Lea Skene, Louisiana’s life without parole sentencing the nation’s highest—and some say that should change, The Advocate (Dec. 7, 2019), available at https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_f6309822-17ac-11ea….