The University of Wisconsin Law School’s Innocence Project is expanding its resources in examining cases for individuals who may have been wrongly convicted after receiving grants from the United States Department of Justice totaling more than $1 million.
The Wisconsin Innocence Project brings UW law students, professors and defendants together in an effort to investigate possible wrongful convictions, educate students and appeal for convictions to be reversed if innocence is proven.
The funds are provided from two different grants, one from the Post Conviction DNA Testing Assistance Program and the second from the Bureau of Justice Assistance Wrongful Conviction Review Program.
Co-Director of the project and Law School professor Keith Findley said the funding will allow the program to continue investigating wrongful convictions, as well as expand clinical research, support staff members and students.
“We’ve been able to double the number of students who we can offer placement at the Wisconsin Innocence project, which allows us to create many more opportunities as part of their legal education,” Findley said. “They work on real cases with real clients.”
Findley added the students receive practical experience working in the project by negotiating with prosecutors, litigating the claims of the innocent, analyzing evidence and speaking with witnesses.
According to professor John Pray, the project allows UW to reach out to prison inmates who either never had the opportunity to analyze DNA evidence or have evidence which may be retested with more modern techniques to prove innocence in a conviction.
“The community and the citizens of Madison are paying for people to be incarcerated for various crimes,” Pray said. “If these people are innocent, they certainly shouldn’t be in prison, and if they’re innocent there’s someone out there who is committing crimes and should be brought to justice.”
Findley said the two grants will also allow the Innocence Project to create an advisory board, featuring prominent defense attorneys, forensic analysts and police officers. The advisory board will allow the project to expand the scope of their litigation and policy initiatives.
Part of the funds will also subsidize costs of DNA testing in crime labs or DNA labs which can become expensive, Pray said. The Innocence Project also plans on hiring more attorneys to supervise law students studying wrongful conviction cases.
According to Findley, the grants were awarded following two different written grant proposals that included a list of personnel, the nature of the program to be created and a budget plan.
Pray added the two grants are partially a continuation of previous awards provided for the Wisconsin Innocence Project’s investigations and litigation. The grants allow the project to follow-up on current cases with wrongfully convicted criminals.
“These cases are very long, complicated cases. They require a longer period of time than originally thought,” Pray said. “The funding of that was running out so this will allow us … to go to court to get the testing and if possible to go to court to get the conviction reversed.”