Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $388,252)
In Arizona, indigent inmates seeking assistance in proving their innocence frequently turn to the non-profit Arizona Justice Project (AJP). Since the AJP was founded in 1998, its mission has been to identify and exonerate the innocent and to correct cases of manifest injustice in Arizona. The AJP has helped regain freedom for forty-three individuals.
The AJP works on cases from all 15 counties in Arizona and cases from any of the 22 federally recognized Indian Reservations. As the most established innocence organization in the state, the number of incoming applications has not slowed down, as AJP receives around 300 new requests for help each year.
The bulk of cases under review at the AJP come through self-selection by Arizona inmates – i.e., people in prison seeking help and contacting the AJP. The AJP has also conducted systematic reviews, such as examining older convictions based flawed forensics, e.g., hair microscopy, and could benefit from DNA testing. However, there is work to be done in areas of outreach to communities less aware of the AJP’s services and identifying “at risk” convictions for further review.
AJP currently has a need for funding to: (a) conduct outreach to the 22 Arizona tribal communities, which are largely unaware of the AJP’s services, (b) identify convictions obtained by specific prosecutors, who have been disbarred/disciplined for misconduct committed in other cases, and review those cases for risks of wrongful conviction, and (c) complete intensive and costly investigation tasks in five separate cases currently pending review at the AJP.
Further, AJP will document data regarding potential causes and the risk factors present in the cases under review. AJP will develop training seminars for attorneys handling post-conviction cases in Arizona to better address wrongful convictions. AJP also plans to work with other criminal justice stakeholders in holding workshops with law enforcement on eye-witness identification best practices.
We are seeking $388,252 for the implementation of the project. Funding will support the attorney case review time, case management time, professional investigation tasks, expert consultation, forensic analysis of physical evidence, and staff time to develop and lead educational/training workshops.