Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $600,000)
The CIU seeks to expand its Pro Se Review Project (the Project) with Phillips Black, Inc. (PB), a 501(c)(3) non-profit law office and nationally recognized experts in complex postconviction litigation. The Project began as a pilot to address the thousands of unrepresented (pro se) individuals who submitted applications to the CIU. Unrepresented applicants present a myriad of issues for a CIU, including the fact that the CIU has no legal authority to file petitions on behalf of pro se applicants or to provide them with legal advice. In 2021, the CIU launched a pilot project with PB. This partnership was and is governed by a Memorandum of Understanding. This new endeavor created a model to address wrongful conviction for those that do not have access to counsel or the courts on their own, while still adhering to legal and ethical rules. During the two-year pilot, the CIU was able to assign one ADA to the Project. During this time, the CIU introduced several pro se applicants to PB. PB represented 12 applications with mostly positive results: 5 received relief through the courts, 5 have pending litigation in court, 1 received a commutation through the Board of Pardons, and 1 was denied a commutation. With 1,090 pro se applications still awaiting review by the CIU and more coming in each day, there are still many cases in need of review and potential to look at robust data to see patterns and identify systemic causes of wrongful convictions. To both continue and expand the Project, the CIU requires additional funding to add an ADA and a paralegal dedicated to the Project, and additional senior ADAs to assist in the litigation of cases where the CIU determines relief is warranted and the pro se applicant enters into the limited representation agreement with PB. This is the additional staffing necessary to address the backlog of pro se submissions to the CIU and reduces the delay in bringing justice for both the wrongfully convicted who not have access to counsel as well as victims of crime, as the passage of time can make it more difficult to identify the true perpetrator. Learning from its work, the CIU has built systems within the DAO that help to prevent future wrongful convictions and will begin working with the office’s newly hired Brady officer to refer cases of prosecutorial misconduct.