Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2018, $451,238)
Forensic science has undergone tremendous changes over the years and offers the ability to both exonerate and convict. The creation of units within prosecutors' offices to address the issue of wrongful convictions is a fairly new phenomenon intended to both rectify the problem and create procedures and training to prevent future wrongful incarceration.
This grant will demonstrate how a prosecutor's office and an innocence project can work together to ensure justice has been served through the testing and retesting of forensic evidence that was integral to a conviction.
The project will also provide training to grant personnel that will then be shared with each office to update and stay abreast of the changes in forensic science. The Wayne County Prosecutor Office's Conviction Integrity Unit became operational in January 2018 and has received over 250 requests for investigation. Approximately 15% of the requests involve testing or retesting of evidence. The Cooley Innocence Project has 135 Wayne County cases currently under review and 1,000 cases since its inception in 2001 involving Wayne County.
The goal of this project is to review and work to conclusion 300 of these cases involving claims of innocence in violent felony cases. This is a strategic partnership bringing together people with decades of experience dealing with complex scientific issues within the legal context of a criminal case. Our work will involve jointly screening the cases to determine whether testing might be beneficial to the determination of guilt or innocence. Having the access to records and ability to locate evidence of the Prosecutor's Office will greatly speed the traditional process of a defense attorney having to file motions to access evidence and obtain testing. Further, there will be no need to involve the courts with respect to the testing of evidence as the parties will jointly decide whether testing may bear upon the reliability of the verdict. While the Michigan State Police will be able to conduct some of the testing, the parties will need to utilize laboratories who work with the latest technology. The funding will assist with the expenses incurred for that outside testing. This project will stand as a model for future collaborative efforts between the prosecution and defense and allow for a speedier, just resolution to claims of innocence where forensic science can often provide a definitive answer.