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WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project: Postconviction Testing of DNA Evidence to Exonerate the Innocent in Michigan

Award Information

Award #
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $418,099)

As submitted by the proposer:

Western Michigan University (WMU) and WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project (WMU-CLSIP) request funds to defray the costs associated with post-conviction case review, evidence location, and DNA testing where the results may show actual innocence of convicted felons in Michigan. In 2001, the WMU-CLSIP (“The Project”) was specifically established to review cases under Michigan’s post-conviction DNA testing law, MCL 770.16. It is the only Michigan DNA project of its kind. The Project is a teaching clinic that trains law students and undergraduate students to screen cases of wrongful conviction. Establishing the existence of evidence can be extremely difficult because of the age of the case and because of the disarray of many of the property rooms of local law enforcement agencies.

Since its inception in 2001, The Project has screened over 5300 cases and the requested funding for investigators, experts and testing is critically important to support The Project’s current case review and the expected increase in cases resulting from the referral of approximately 200 cases from the New York Innocence Project who will no longer be taking Michigan cases.

Grant grant funding will allow The Project to hire a full-time attorney and part-time file clerk. Funding for this proposal will mutually benefit undergraduate students and law school students; Western Michigan University will assist the project by allowing students to understand the challenges faced by the criminal justice system in Michigan and gain training on the factors common in wrongful convictions, such as police and prosecutorial misconduct, plea bargaining, eyewitness misidentification, false confessions, the use of jailhouse informants, unreliable forensic evidence and ineffective assistance of counsel. Students will then help The Project by screening cases, obtaining case files from courts, gathering unpublished court opinions and appellate briefs, reviewing trial and appellate records, drafting Freedom of Information Act requests, and communicate with prior attorneys, police officers, forensic examiners, private investigators and witnesses.

WMU-Cooley Law School has five campuses, offering Juris Doctor and Master of Laws degrees. WMU is a public research university with an enrollment of 25,000 and seven regional locations. Under the affiliation, both schools will retain their independence, governance structure, and separate fiduciary responsibilities. Cooley Law School is now called Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School and is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity.


Date Created: September 16, 2015