Law Students Help Reduce Virginia’s DNA Backlog


Law students in Virginia are working hard to inform prisoners and former prisoners that evidence from their cases could be available for DNA testing.

In 2008, after state lab officials discovered more than 1,000 pieces of untested biological evidence from criminal cases, lawmakers ordered the state Forensic Science Board to notify people convicted in the affected cases that DNA evidence could be available for post-conviction testing. As the search for these defendants began, the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law stepped in to help.

Students from the project were assigned to learn as much as possible about the original investigation, conviction and prison sentence and then track down the people who were convicted and talk to them about the recently discovered DNA samples.

The project gave first-year law students an opportunity to make their own decisions and have client interaction while conducting work for the state, project director Deirdre Enright said.

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. This sweeping review of old evidence in Virginia grew from the state’s history of evidence and exonerations. For years, Innocence Project client

Marvin Anderson

was told that evidence from his case had been destroyed. Upon a search requested by the Innocence Project in 2001, however, lab officials discovered evidence from the case in the lab notebook of a former analyst named Mary Jane Burton. Tests on this evidence would exonerate Anderson in 2002.

In the years since, Virginia officials have undertaken a comprehensive review of the samples discovered in Burton’s notebooks. Testing on this evidence has led to at least five other exonerations, including

Arthur Lee Whitfield


Julius Earl Ruffin


Willie Davidson


Phillip Thurman

, and

Victor Burnette.

Read more about



the Virginia DNA review project


The Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law is a member of

the Innocence Network


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