New federal grant will fund two-year fellow in the Wrongful Convictions Clinic
The fellow will oversee case screening and help supervise students in case litigation. Funds from the $300,000 grant will also help pay for assistance by outside experts and investigators.
The Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility has been awarded a $300,000 federal grant to hire a two-year fellow who will oversee case screening and assist with litigating cases through the Wrongful Convictions Clinic. The money also will be used to pay for ongoing use of investigators and expert witnesses.
Faculty were notified of the award on Dec. 22, the day after client Howard Dudley received a pardon of innocence from Governor Roy Cooper, said Clinical Professor Jamie T. Lau ’09, the supervising attorney for the Wrongful Convictions Clinic and deputy director of the Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility.
“It was a real Christmas present when we got news of the grant,” said Lau. “It was a great week prior to Christmas to know that Howard had received his pardon and that we had been selected to receive this award.”
The pardon for Dudley, who was exonerated in March 2016 after spending 24 years in prison, was the fourth in the last year granted to a client of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic. Since it was established in 2007, the clinic has secured the exonerations of ten North Carolina men who collectively spent more than 215 years incarcerated for crimes they did not commit.
Duke Law’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic, along with a student-led Innocence Project chapter, investigates and litigates North Carolina inmates’ claims of innocence. The clinic annually receives more than 100 requests for assistance.
Student teams at the Innocence Project conduct screening and early-stage case review, pulling together publicly available materials and drafting memos that clinic faculty and students then use to decide whether a case merits further investigation and potential litigation. The clinic currently has about nine cases in the final stages of investigation or litigation and others in earlier stages of review.
The award from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice, will enable the clinic to hire a two-year fellow who will help manage in-house case screening by the Innocence Project and assist faculty with supervising students on innocence cases litigated by the clinic, among other duties, Lau said.
“Someone with a primary responsibility of managing all the case screening and early-stage reviews is going to be a huge help to our program to help us evaluate as many cases as we can and make sure it’s done as well as possible,” he said. “We want them to be trained in litigation as well.”
The program will start its fellow search as soon as the grant is finalized. An ideal candidate would be an early-practice attorney who would like to gain experience in post-conviction innocence litigation while working alongside faculty at the Law School, Lau said. A candidate with an interest in teaching also will have the opportunity to hone experiential pedagogy skills that can be applied to expand clinical programs in innocence elsewhere, he added.
Grant money also will supplement the clinic’s budget for investigators and expert witnesses called on to conduct case analyses and testify at court hearings.
“This grant will have a significant impact on the work of the clinic, which currently focuses extensively on investigations and re-examination of evidence,” said John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law James E. Coleman, Jr., who directs both the clinic and the Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility.
“Most of our cases do not involve biological evidence for DNA testing and therefore require extensive development of facts. A wrongly imprisoned person’s freedom can turn on a single fact. This grant will help us continue our record of success in achieving a measure of justice for wrongly accused, convicted, and incarcerated North Carolinians.”
The Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility was one of 18 grantees for fiscal year 2021 from the BJA’s Upholding the Rule of Law and Preventing Wrongful Convictions Site Based and Training and Technical Assistance Program, which supports entities providing post-conviction representation for defendants in claims of innocence. Duke Law has previously received grant money from the bureau: in 2013 it was awarded nearly $250,000 to help fund summer internships in the Wrongful Convictions Clinic and other costs related to investigating and litigating clients’ claims.