Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $497,352)
The Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Boston College Innocence Program have collaborated effectively to remedy and prevent wrongful convictions across Massachusetts. This unique partnership between the state-wide indigent public defense agency and New England's only law school postconviction innocence clinic has vacated the wrongful convictions of 24 people, 18 of whom have been fully exonerated. They have also been instrumental in systemic reforms in the areas of racial bias, eyewitness misidentification, flawed forensics, incentivized false testimony, exoneree support, and creation of conviction integrity programs. Judicious use of federal grant funding has been key to each of these successes.
These developments and data from the programs' cases reveal challenges and opportunities relating to racial equity and barriers to access for the most vulnerable clients that the CPCS/BCIP collaboration is uniquely positioned to address. First, the programs' growing number of applications and cases in active litigation requires additional experienced litigators with the specialized knowledge and skills to develop and present innocence these claims to courts and CIUs. Second, the statutory framework governing postconviction discovery and expert funding remains woefully inadequate to ensure that innocence lawyers have access to the information and expertise they need to represent their clients. Third, it is necessary to educate prosecutors and judges on conviction integrity programs and their capacity to remedy and prevent wrongful convictions. In each of these areas there is simultaneously an urgent need to identify and root out racial bias that causes wrongful convictions or impedes efforts to identify and remedy them. See Program Narrative at pages 1-2, 4, 7-8, 10-11, 14-15.
CPCS and BCIP are poised to address these challenges and opportunities at a systemic level and therefore seek funding to 1) increase staff capacity and train CPCS post-conviction panel attorneys to screen and present innocence claims to courts and CIUs; 2) retain forensic experts and collect data regarding the need for greater public funding for postconviction innocence claims; 3) train Massachusetts prosecution offices to create CIUs with evidence-based best practices; and 4) educate judges about how, even within the adversary system, it is possible to collaborate to identify and remedy erroneous convictions. In each of these areas CPCS and BCIP will continue collecting data and pursuing practices aimed at rooting out racial biases that cause wrongful convictions and impede efforts to identify and correct them.