Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $753,958)
As submitted by the proposer:
Since January 2011, when the Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) first began pursuit of DNA cases, the Project has reviewed hundreds of requests for assistance from incarcerated defendants convicted of violent felonies and claiming actual innocence. Since 2012, IIP has served as counsel in 5 cases resulting in the release of innocent individuals. In 2015, DNA test results conclusively proved actual innocence in 2 of those. IIP has 22 active cases involving DNA testing, 8 of which have evidence in the lab. These cases are part of IIPs total 475 open cases.
IIP requests funding to address two specific, important areas of need:
1) Guilty Plea Cases: In 2014, Illinois passed legislation to allow defendants who entered guilty pleas to seek DNA testing that may prove their innocence. This law opens for potential exoneration an entirely new group of individuals whose cases, because of guilty pleas, require intense scrutiny to discover those inmates who are actually innocent. IIP has identified 30 guilty plea cases for which the Project is ready to determine DNA evidence availability and conduct testing. IIP expects additional guilty plea cases will emerge and be eligible for inclusion in this initiative.
2) Latino Inmate Cases: No innocence organization in Illinois or, to IIPs knowledge, nationwide has a special initiative to provide assistance to Latino inmates who may be actually innocent. Latino inmates are almost 13% of the Illinois prison population. Yet, for each of the last three years Latino inmates have submitted only 11% of IIPs total annual requests for assistance. Latino inmates encounter unique obstacles, including language, fear of deportation and lack of understanding of the U.S. criminal justice system, that often prevent them from requesting assistance. As of March 2015, IIP had 66 Latino cases under evaluation. The Project expects this number to increase with case referrals from a developing relationship with the Consulate of Mexico in Chicago and a longstanding partnership with the national Innocence Project.
The Illinois Innocence Project is located in the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield, which provides fiscal oversight and support for the Projects work.