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State Public Defender Wrongful Conviction Division DNA Post Conviction Relief Project

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $855,000)

The Iowa State Public Defender (SPD) created the Wrongful Conviction Division (WCD) in October 2015 and is the only Iowa led effort dedicated to the representation of indigent Iowans incarcerated with meritorious claims of actual innocence.  From inception, WCD has partnered with the Midwest Innocence Project (MIP) to screen applications and litigate claims. In 2021, WCD partnered with Drake Law School’s Legal Clinic to offer a Wrongful Convictions Clinic and further advance our goal of preventing wrongful convictions utilizing the support of a Wrongful Convictions grant.  WCD hired a staff attorney and has trained over 20 students, including summer interns from other law schools.  WCD now operates an introduction and advanced clinic for Drake law students furthering our goal of increasing capacity to serve wrongfully convicted individuals and training new attorneys to identify and remedy wrongful convictions and work to prevent wrongful convictions at the trial level. 

WCD seeks this grant funding to build upon the inaugural clinic’s capacity, by expanding our staff attorney’s role, creating a fellowship program for graduating clinic students and seeking forensic testing throughout Iowa where evidence can be located.  Iowa has yet to document an exoneration due to exculpatory DNA evidence. With past grant funding, WCD has performed DNA testing in 10 cases and the evidence biological samples were degraded and of limited value or the evidence has not been located.  Additional funding would spur efforts to locate evidence, review prior testimony regarding outdated and obsolete DNA profiling and testing.    

During our Wrongful Conviction Review, WCD and MIP have assessed 65 cases and 40 cases have been identified for which DNA testing could be exculpatory, but evidence needs to be located and testing ordered for those where DNA evidence would advance claims.  The current capacity of the WCD and its partners is limited and funding would move these identified cases forward.

Date Created: September 27, 2023