The Innocence Project model—the free legal clinic that utilizes DNA analysis of crime scene evidence to prove the innocence of the wrongfully convicted—has now been widely duplicated across the United States and the globe. While most Innocence Project clinics are attached to law schools and rely upon selected law students who earn academic credit and hands-on legal experience in challenging post-conviction efforts, wrongful conviction per se is not an emphasis in the curriculum of most law schools. It’s therefore troubling but not surprising that many lawyers are unfamiliar with the primary causes of wrongful conviction, the implications wrongful convictions have had on the reliability of important forms of evidence such as eyewitness testimony and confessions, and recommended reforms that can reduce conviction error.
After all, the lessons of DNA are relatively recent. Just two decades ago most believed that the American criminal justice system rarely, if ever, convicted an innocent person. However, the Innocence Project has since earned the exoneration of 289 persons who were convicted of and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.
These exonerations have been mostly in cases of rape and rape/murder, a relatively small segment of all crimes. The implication for the scope of error across all crimes is stunning. Analysis of these unfortunate cases has enabled identification of the primary contributors to wrongful conviction as well as best practices in criminal justice procedures that can reduce error.
Continuing legal education courses can address this wrongful conviction knowledge gap, and here’s one for starters that can serve as a model for other states…JUSTICE MISCARRIED: CONVICTING THE INNOCENT—Causes, Consequences and Remedies. The 2012 New York State Wrongful Convictions Conference, April 20, 2012, at the Rochester Institute of Technology, offers an all-star panel of speakers and 6.5 CLE Credits. Registration is open until April 12th. Let’s hope it’s a sell-out and other states follow suit.