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Innocence Projects at Santa Clara University and California Western to Share $2 Million Grant to Help Exonerate Wrongfully Convicted Inmates in California

Monday, Oct. 26, 2009

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Oct. 26, 2009—The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law and the California Innocence Project (CIP) at California Western School of Law in San Diego will receive a $2.4 million grant to administer a massive DNA testing program titled the “Post-Conviction DNA Testing Assistance Program."

This federally funded program is designed to give indigent California inmates an opportunity to pursue claims of innocence. The grant will pay for reviews of eligible post-conviction cases of forcible rape, murder, and non-negligent manslaughter, and to locate and analyze biological evidence samples associated with these cases.

Funding comes nearly nine years after California inmates were granted the legal right to seek post-conviction DNA testing of evidence. But that is a right many have not been able to exercise because of the urgency of the state’s fiscal crisis, a strained judicial system and the large number of incarcerated claiming innocence.

The 18-month program will help solve this problem. Four lawyers will be dedicated to identifying inmates from among the 33 adult prisons statewide who appear most likely to be exonerated by DNA testing. It will also help pay for the thousands of hours that must be devoted to examining case files, searching for testable evidence scattered throughout the state, and for DNA testing and analysis of DNA test results.

If DNA results indicate the inmate could not have committed the crime, the innocence projects will pursue fair resolution of the case with the court system and local District Attorney’s offices.

“This is a major development for California prisoners,” said Kathleen “Cookie“ Ridolfi, executive director of NCIP. “Nothing of this magnitude has been done before. This will be the broadest and largest undertaking in any state in the nation. It has the potential to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and, with DNA analysis, identify the actual perpetrators.”

“The reality is that indigent California prisoners with wrongful conviction claims have virtually no access to the resources needed to obtain the benefits of DNA testing laws,” added Ridolfi. “For most, their appeals are over; they no longer have lawyers or a support network to rely on. This program will provide new hope for the innocent.”

The funding for this program comes from the National Institute of Justice, a part of the Kirk Bloodsworth Postconviction DNA Testing grant program, included in the 2004 Justice for All Act sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Bloodsworth grant was intended to allow states to conduct DNA tests in cases in which someone has already been convicted, but key DNA evidence was not tested. The grant funds were awarded competitively to the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA), which serves as the State Administrative Agency for the distribution of the funds and programmatic oversight of the NCIP and CIP.

“I am pleased that the Justice Department is allocating the funds appropriated by Congress for this worthwhile program,” said Sen. Leahy. “Our justice system will benefit from use of this grant to organizations like the Northern California Innocence Project and the California Innocence Project, and their work demonstrates why Congress must reauthorize and continue to support this important program.”

About the Northern California Innocence Project
The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) is a pro bono legal clinic at Santa Clara University School of Law. At the Project, law students work with supervising and pro bono attorneys to exonerate innocent prisoners and pursue legal reforms that address the causes and consequences of wrongful convictions. Since its inception in 2001, the Northern California Innocence Project has proved the innocence of eight wrongly convicted people—combined these eight exonerees served more than 70 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. For more information, see www.ncip.scu.edu.

About the California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law is home to the California and Hawaii Innocence Projects. Students at California Western work to free wrongfully convicted inmates by reviewing more than 1,000 claims of innocence each year, and by focusing on cases where there is evidence of actual innocence. Innocence Project attorneys and students then investigate cases by tracking down and re-interviewing witnesses, examining new evidence, filing motions, securing expert witnesses, and advocating for their clients during evidentiary hearings and trials. Four California Innocence Project clients have been released since the project’s inception in 2000.


Media Contact: 

Deborah Lohse | SCU Media Relations | (408) 554-5121 | dlohse@scu.edu

Other contacts:
Kathleen Ridolfi, NCIP: (408) 554-1945,
Stacy Mason-Vegna, CalEMA: (916) 324-9142

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