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Innocence Texas: Building Capacity to Address Wrongful Convictions

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, $597,387)

Innocence Project of Texas (IPTX) is one of the leading innocence organizations in the country having exonerated or freed 30 people since 2006. IPTX seeks to exonerate innocent people throughout the State of Texas by providing first-rate legal counsel and investigative services at no cost. Texas has the highest prison population in the country at more than 130,000 and IPTX receives more than 1,000 requests for assistance each year. IPTX is endeavoring to address two projects with the funding that will result in significantly enhanced ability to review and litigate claims of innocence.

The first project will increase IPTX’s capacity to identify and correct wrongful convictions by improving the efficiency of the intake and case management process; improving data collection and analysis; and recruiting and managing pro bono attorneys. Currently, initial reviews are conducted by a part-time paralegal who will soon retire. IPTX will hire an intake attorney and paralegal to fully and appropriately staff the intake department, reduce the case backlog, and potentially identify more valid innocence cases. The intake attorney will recruit, train, and manage volunteer attorneys within order to secure and train volunteers from one large law firm in five major cities by the end of the grant. Funds will also be used to implement a centralized cloud-based case management system that will allow IPTX to capture and analyze critical data so that cases do not fall through the cracks.

The second project is a collaboration with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office (TCDA) to review and litigate potential wrongful conviction claims based on false confessions. After four wrongful convictions came to light by the early 1990s related to the Austin Police Department’s homicide unit, a task force was created in 1992 to review homicide cases. That task force identified six additional false confessions. While working jointly on a case with IPTX in 2022, TCDA staff discovered materials that indicate that the scope of the task force’s review was alarmingly narrow and there is a high risk of further false confessions prompting the need to review approximately 200 homicide cases between 1985 and 1995. To ensure justice is served, IPTX and TCDA will develop and implement a Confession Review Team to collaboratively create a matrix to triage cases, review case materials, conduct research and interviews, and begin litigation for those with valid innocence claims.

Date Created: September 28, 2023