Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2018, $278,972)
The Wrongful Conviction Clinic at the University of Arizona College of Law seeks funds to: (1) hire an Assistant Director to oversee the Clinic's review of postconviction cases in which DNA has the potential to prove innocence; (2) conduct DNA testing in cases in which the Tucson Police Department (TPD) crime lab previously conducted hair microscopy; (3) seek DNA testing in cases received through intake and awaiting review; and (4) cover attendant costs for investigation, including travel. Currently, the Clinic is implementing a grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance ("BJA") to review cases in which the TPD crime lab conducted hair microscopy, a forensic discipline now widely understood to be unreliable. Although the grant is targeted at identifying testimonial errors and funding non-DNA experts, through that review, the Clinic has identified at least 3 cases warranting DNA testing. In addition, the Clinic has prescreened 51 potential DNA cases that are in the queue, awaiting review. Grant funds will be used to address both of these needs, allowing the Clinic to leverage BJA funds, reduce its backlog of post-conviction DNA cases, and improve our ability to provide high-quality, efficient representation.
The Clinic was established in 2014 to represent convicted offenders in Arizona with claims of actual innocence. Over the past four years, what started as a fledgling organization has grown substantially in size, reach, and impact. Initial support for the Clinic case was through a grant awarded to Arizona State University, in partnership with the Arizona Justice Project and the University of Arizona. Under that grant, which supported the Clinic Director's salary, our grant partner managed case intake. In the years since, the Clinic has grown substantially and established itself as an independent project pursuing post-conviction claims of innocence. It has received several hundred applications for assistance, which it reviews according to an in-house intake system. The Clinic has also enjoyed increased support from the University of Arizona, including securing funding for the Director position permanently. The Clinic also brought on board a second law school faculty member who has significant experience litigating DNA innocence cases at the Innocence Project in New York. We have also developed a strong, collaborative relationship with the Pima County Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit that will be enhanced through this grant. The Clinic seeks grant funds to build on those deepening ties, increase our capacity to review postconviction cases and conduct DNA testing to resolve innocence claims. CA/NCF