Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $497,580)
The Upholding the Rule of Law and Preventing Wrongful Convictions (ROL/WCR) Program will provide Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) with an opportunity to investigate and litigate cases of wrongful convictions throughout Louisiana using scientific or technical evidence. There is a unique opportunity and need for this work because Louisiana’s first legislation allowing wrongfully convicted people to obtain new examinations of non-DNA evidence and present it to court to prove innocence became effective August 2021.
The 2021 Louisiana Legislature passed Act 104. Working together, IPNO and the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association advocated for its passage. Act 104 (codified in La. C. Cr. P. arts. 926.2 and 926.3) allows for post-trial “testing or examination of any evidence relevant to the offense of conviction” with the agreement of the State or upon a showing of “good cause.” It also allows for exoneration based on proof including “scientific, forensic, [or] physical” evidence. As a result, the scope for exonerating people with scientific or technical evidence of innocence has greatly expanded.
Through this Project, IPNO will investigate cases needing non-DNA scientific and technical testing and analysis. Louisiana continues to imprison more of its citizens per capita than any other state and has one of the highest rates of exoneration per capita. This shows the continued, urgent need for IPNO to employ all of the tools—new and existing laws—to free the innocent at Louisiana’s Angola prison—a former plantation built with enslaved people’s labor. In fact, we have already identified 78 cases where the use of scientific/technical examination will be critical to freeing the innocent.