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Northern California Innocence Project initiated by Santa Clara University
SANTA CLARA, Calif., Feb.15, 2001 - Santa Clara University School of Law today announced the creation of a Northern California Innocence Project, a program of lawyers and law students joined in an effort to free persons wrongfully convicted in California.
Making the announcement at a 1 p.m. press conference today, Cookie Ridolfi, director of the program said, "In the last several years, the use of DNA analysis in criminal cases has proven that an alarming number of innocent people are wrongfully convicted, in prison and on death row across the United States."
Ridolfi, a professor of criminal law and director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at the SCU law school, is working with two experienced criminal lawyers directing law students in the investigation and evaluation of innocence claims being made by California prisoners. In less than two months, they already have received more than 100 requests.
The Northern California Innocence Project will be part of the National Innocence Network, begun by the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in New York City. The SCU-based project will handle Northern California cases, while the only other project of its kind in the state, at Cal Western School of Law in San Diego, takes on Southern California cases.
"The causes of wrongful convictions - false confessions, mistaken identifications, and reliance on jailhouse snitches - occur as a result of deeply entrenched law enforcement techniques and methods, both well-meaning and otherwise, used throughout our criminal justice system," Ridolfi said.
"The state of California is no exception." she said. "In fact, with California leading the nation in the number of people in prison and on death row, we are concerned that this state may also lead the nation in the number of people wrongly convicted."
There are approximately 20 similar Innocence Projects nationwide, following the lead and model of the New York project begun in 1992. A co-founder of the New York project, Barry Scheck, appeared with Ridolfi at today’s press conference to cite the need for the SCU project.
Scheck gained national prominence for his work in the development of the use of DNA in proving innocence. Nationally, DNA tests, most of them developed in coordination with Innocence Project efforts, have helped free 82 inmates, 10 on death row. Two of these people were California prisoners.
Scheck spoke to law students before the press conference, and is scheduled to speak at a kickoff fundraising event tonight, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the San Jose law firm of Hopkins & Carley, 70 South First St., San Jose.
Ridolfi said that the SCU law school, consistent with the University’s mission to promote social justice, is providing some faculty support and office space for the Northern California Innocence Project, at 874 Lafayette St, Santa Clara. She said "there are other significant costs that must be met if this project is to succeed. The future of the Innocence Project depends on the support of the people in this community who we know care deeply about this important social issue."
The SCU School of Law, founded in 1912, combines a tradition of excellence with a commitment to ethics, diversity, and social justice, and is fully accredited by the American Bar Association. Its 900 students work in criminal and civil community law clinics, and may earn certificates in intellectual property law, international law or public interest law.
Santa Clara University, located in the heart of northern California’s Silicon Valley, is a Jesuit university with 7,350 students. Ranked second among regional universities in the West by U.S. News & World Report, and known nationally for its graduate and professional schools, SCU celebrates its 150th anniversary in the 2000-2001 academic year.
For more information about the Innocence Project, 874 Lafayette Street, Santa Clara, CA 95050, call 408-554-4790. Contact Prof. Ridolfi at 408-554-1945, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax to 408-554-5440.
To set up interviews, call Sandy Lichau, 408-554-1945. For information about SCU law school, see http://www.scu.edu/law.