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Notre Dame Exoneration Justice Clinic: Investigating, Litigating, and Preventing Wrongful Convictions, and Upholding the Rule of Law

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, $462,000)

The prosecution and conviction of innocent people in Indiana is a problem of serious concern. Since 1989, there have been 47 exonerations in Indiana. However, there have been 11 exonerations in Indiana since 2017. Almost 25% of Indiana’s total number of exonerations have occurred over the last six years. These wrongful convictions have a racial dimension. Specifically, 22 of the 47 Indiana exonerees (47%) are African Americans, whereas African Americans comprise only ten percent of Indiana’s population. Almost half of the wrongful convictions in Indiana involved African Americans, raising significant questions about equal justice in the Indiana criminal justice system.

Elkhart County and Lake County have six exonerations each—the highest in Indiana. The exonerations in Elkhart County all involve crimes committed in Elkhart city, a small municipality of approximately 53,000 residents. When the number of exonerations in Elkhart are examined on a per capita basis, Elkhart ranks as one of the top five cities of over 50,000 residents in the nation for wrongful convictions. Further, the investigation of wrongful conviction cases in Elkhart by the Notre Dame Exoneration Justice Clinic (NDEJC) has revealed a pattern of gross police and prosecutorial misconduct that could leave countless innocent people in prison.

Despite the enormity of the problem of wrongful convictions in Indiana, the NDEJC is the only organization in Indiana whose primary mission is to investigate and litigate wrongful conviction cases based on claims of actual innocence. The Indiana University Wrongful Conviction Clinic’s long-time director recently retired, and the clinic is now being operated as part of the State Public Defender’s office.

The growing problem of wrongful convictions in Indiana has resulted in an increased demand for legal representation by Indiana prison inmates claiming actual innocence. Currently, the NDEJC lacks adequate resources to accommodate the increased demand. To address the problem, the NDEJC is seeking to hire an experienced lawyer who would serve as the Intake Supervisor. This person would be responsible for supervising the intake process, including providing guidance and direction to the student intake teams. Dedicating someone full time to evaluating intake cases will result in the NDEJC evaluating more cases in a more efficient and expeditious manner. Additionally, the NDEJC is seeking funding to retain a full-time investigator to assist in investigating intake cases and facilitate investigations of cases accepted for legal representation. These additional resources are critical to correcting and preventing wrongful convictions in Indiana.

Date Created: September 28, 2023