The federal government has dropped some major moolah into the hands of two California law professors for clinical programs that investigate inmates’ claims of innocence.
California Western School of Law and Santa Clara University School of Law will split $2.4 million in grants from the Justice Department. Cal Western professor Jan Stiglitz, who directs the school’s California Innocence Project, says the amount is significant. “I think it’s the biggest grant we ever got – we’ve had half a million before,” Stiglitz said.
The money for the 18-month program, called the Post-Conviction DNA Testing Assistance Program, will cover the salaries of two new staff attorneys and some paralegals. They, in turn, will help expand the clinic’s reach by letting staff seek out cases where DNA evidence might exonerate wrongfully convicted inmates, rather than just reviewing claims that come in, Stiglitz said.
The 12 Cal Western students enrolled in the program will be in the thick of it. The biggest expense, says Stiglitz, is travel. The grant money will cover trips lawyers, staff and students will be making to prisons, evidence rooms and crime labs all over California.
Stiglitz said students will get to flex their fact-investigation skills, examining the evidence in rape, murder and certain types of manslaughter cases. They’ll help determine what evidence was used to make a conviction, and whether new evidence would help undermine a conviction.
He says this type of fact investigation rounds out students’ more scholastic classroom experience. “By the time they graduate, they’ve all read cases and written memos,” he said. But in real cases, he says, whether you win or lose is typically a product of the facts and not the law. “Why wasn’t OJ convicted [of killing his wife]?” Stiglitz said. “Because factually, the prosecution didn’t convince the jury that OJ was the one wielding the knife.”
For more on Santa Clara’s role, check out Legal Pad.
Petra is a Cal Law reporter.