Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $491,357)
As of 2022, Delaware ranks 18th in the country in imprisonment rates. In Delaware, 22.1% of the population is Black, according to the 2020 census. In local state prisons, that population jumps to 60%. Black people made up 65% of people serving life sentences and 63% of people detained in prison awaiting charges. Innocence Delaware (ID) is the only innocence project in the State. Since opening its doors to potential clients, ID has received requests for assistance at a staggering rate. ID seeks to expand its infrastructure and capacity to screen, investigate, and litigate wrongful conviction cases with a focus on forensic and social sciences.
Advances in forensic and social sciences have called into question previously undisputed bases for convictions. Expert opinion, once viewed as fact, and often times the main support for conviction, has been called into question. Social science research on false confessions, innate bias in policing, and confirmation bias are now supporting challenges to wrongful convictions. Staying abreast of the ever changing fields of forensic and social sciences, developing relationships with experts in those fields, applying knowledge in these fields to identifying and screening potential innocence cases, along with training others to properly apply this information is a full-time and necessary job.
Innocence Delaware seeks to expand and enhance its ability to investigate and litigate wrongful conviction cases in an effective and fair manner, by retaining an Executive Director and investigator, and adding a position for a staff attorney with specific expertise in forensic and social sciences. This individual would help ID to more speedily identify possible wrongful conviction factors, and educate ID’s pro bono partners and law student clinicians in how to screen, investigate, and litigate cases where convictions relied upon flawed science. This individual would also work to build relationships with experts so that the Project would have access to qualified individuals who may be willing to provide services at a discounted rate.
The staff attorney would focus on creating a better case-tracking system with detailed information and statistics related to social and forensic sciences, to help move cases more effectively through the process,. The staff attorney would monitor the field of forensic and social sciences and provide updated information to other persons handling cases for ID.