Law students are receiving hands-on experience this year in a new innocence clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law. The Innocence Project and more than 40 other organizations worldwide form the Innocence Network, an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to overturn wrongful convictions. With the addition of the UVA Innocence Project in June, the network became one project stronger.
And the new project at UVA will accept cases in which defendants are seeking to prove their innocence by means other than DNA. Only 5 to 10 percent of criminal convictions do not involve biological evidence, and there are certainly innocent people in Virginia’s prisons whose cases cannot be resolved by DNA testing. Law students at UVA will investigate these cases to determine if there is evidence of innocence that can overturn a conviction on appeal.
Led by Deirdre Enright, a 1992 Law School graduate and experienced capital post-conviction lawyer, the clinic includes 12 students each year and will soon employ a full-time investigator to help collect evidence for appeals.
“This is sort of the dream class if you’re a law student because it involves great issues for research that are topical – DNA, new techniques in DNA, new testing, eyewitness ID, jailhouse informants, poor lawyering, poor prosecuting —it’s all these great cutting-edge issues,” Enright said.
“The Innocence Project at UVA School of Law will bring critical expertise and resources to investigating wrongful conviction cases,” Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said. “We know that innocent people are convicted and spend years or decades in prison in Virginia, and this clinic will help exonerate more of them.”
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. (UVA press release, 09/30/08)