BJA's URLPWC Program is committed to protecting the integrity of the criminal justice system and the consistent application of due process for all. It supports state and local policy makers and practitioners, including conviction integrity or review units (CIUs) and wrongful conviction review (WCR) entities that represent individuals with post-conviction claims of innocence, to review potentially legitimate cases and enact measures to prevent future errors and ensure justice.
The URLPWC program also promotes partnerships between CIUs and WCR entities, where appropriate, to support comprehensive approaches that both review wrongful conviction claims in areas such as eyewitness identifications, where the risk for error is higher, and reduce the risk for future error. Where possible, BJA's URLPWC Program seeks to identify actual perpetrators of crimes and bring justice to victims, thereby enhancing public safety.
By advancing methodologies and policies that address the underlying causes of wrongful convictions, URLPWC funding helps prosecutors, law enforcement, defense counsel, and courts identify actual perpetrators and develop training tools, policies, and procedures that can prevent wrongful convictions. Wrongful conviction reviews may also result in the identification of systemic issues related to prior practices and errors and/or new forensic practices that can help prevent wrongful convictions.
URLPWC funding also provides high-quality and efficient representation for defendants in post-conviction claims of innocence and to identify, whenever possible, the actual perpetrators of the crimes. Post-conviction innocence claims are likely to include complex challenges to the reliability and/or accuracy of evidence presented at trial and generally fall into three categories:
- Eyewitness identification evidence
- Confession evidence
- Forensic evidence
In some cases, post-conviction DNA testing alone can establish innocence, but the majority of cases will rely on other forms of evidence, and many will involve DNA testing together with additional sources of proof and/or expert testimony, the costs of which may be prohibitive for many defendants.
While experts widely acknowledge that wrongful convictions constitute a small percentage of all findings of guilt by our nation’s court systems, irreversible damage is sustained by those who are wrongly convicted. This damage extends far beyond the individuals wrongfully convicted, as systemic errors cause harm to all those involved in the case, including the families of wrongfully convicted people and the victims of the original crimes. Wrongful convictions also erode the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system. In addition, wrongful convictions impact public safety by delaying or preventing the identification of the persons who actually committed these crimes. BJA’s URLPWC Program seeks to address all these areas.