Students in the Post-Conviction Clinic work to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals and correct other manifest injustices in the Arizona criminal justice system. The Clinic works closely with the Arizona Justice Project, which itself is housed at the College of Law and was founded in 1998 as one of the first innocence and post-conviction review projects in the country.
The Clinic presently focuses on cases involving DNA evidence and claims of actual innocence. Aiding the Justice Project in implementing a $1.3 million dollar National Institute of Justice grant, the Clinic works to identify, investigate, and analyze state inmates’ substantial claims of actual innocence where DNA evidence has the potential to exonerate the inmate from a conviction involving murder, non-negligent homicides, and sexual assault. As the Project is one of the first recipients of this type of federal grant, the Clinic and Project have become a national model in this effort.
Because work on these DNA cases represents a cooperative effort among the Project, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, and the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, litigation is not yet a primary component of the Clinic’s work. Students instead produce written work focused on reviewing and analyzing the history of the conviction, the role DNA evidence could play in exonerating the inmate, analyzing the potential reasons for any wrongful conviction, interviewing witnesses and inmates, locating biological evidence, evaluating whether a given case should be submitted for DNA testing, and participating in any post-mortem of a wrongful conviction aimed at developing policy recommendations for avoiding similar miscarriages of justice. The Justice Project and Clinic does litigate, however, when necessary in these DNA cases.
From time to time, the Clinic may identify cases which do not qualify under the terms of the federal grant, but nonetheless present significant claims of wrongful convictions or some other form of manifest injustice. As resources permit, the Clinic may work these types of cases, including pursuing any necessary investigation and litigation (e.g., the filing of a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief pursuant to Rule 32, Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure).
The classroom component of the Clinic is designed to help the student perform the Clinic’s work and expose him or her to the issues involved in post-conviction representation and the broader topic of wrongful convictions generally. A two-hour seminar session will be held each week. Some of these sessions involve guest lecturers who are experts in their respective fields (e.g., investigators, forensic evidence scientists, experts in eyewitness mis-identification, etc.) or trips to a crime laboratory and police evidence warehouse. In addition, students will attend a weekly two-hour “case rounds” session which focuses on a discussion of students’ cases and the ongoing work.
Students in the Post-Conviction Clinic work to exonerate those wrongfully convicted and correct other manifest injustices in the Arizona criminal justice system.