The California Innocence Project (CIP), as part of the national Innocence Network, is a non-profit clinical program based at California Western School of Law. The project was established to remedy the lack of assistance available to factually innocent men and women incarcerated in California. Founded in 1999, the project reviews more than 2,000 claims of innocence from inmates each year and has earned the release of ten wrongfully convicted clients. Three of the projectís exonerees, Tim Atkins, Kenneth Marsh, and John Stoll, each served over 20 years in prison for a crime they did not commit.
The project does not accept cases that involve procedural errors, sentencing issues, or other miscellaneous claims. CIP staff, law students, and volunteer attorneys work on claims of wrongful convictions (DNA and non-DNA) from the counties of San Luis Obispo, Kern, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Imperial, Riverside, and San Diego. We provide our services pro bono to our clients and the cases can often takes years to investigate and litigate. The most recent CIP successes have involved DNA and non-DNA evidence and issues (including false eyewitness identification, false witness testimony, bite mark testimony, and Shaken Baby Syndrome analysis). In addition to the above mentioned areas, cases currently under investigation include other forensic issues related to arson, cellular DNA testing, fingerprinting, and ballistics.
The project also assists exonerees with life after exoneration. CIP will help their clients file a claim to the state for compensation for their wrongful incarceration and assist them in finding services to ease their transition to freedom. In addition, CIP has begun working on international innocence issues. In 2012, CIP was part of the team whose efforts led to the exoneration and release of Jason Puracal, an American wrongfully incarcerated in Nicaragua. The project is also working with the organization Red Inocente to assist and train lawyers and government agencies interested in creating innocence projects in Latin America and legislative reforms for their justice system.
In April 2013, CIP will begin an Innocence March on behalf of the wrongfully convicted. CIP staff will walk 600 miles from San Diego to Sacramento carrying petitions for clemency for their clients and to raise awareness of the causes of wrongful conviction. Upon arriving at the state capitol in Sacramento, the petitions will be presented to the Governor of California.
CIP has gained a solid reputation in the legal community and has worked with several key stakeholders in the national and local legal community, including public and appellate defenders offices, prosecutors, private and government crime labs, law firms, and professional associations. The project and its attorneys have also received awards and recognition for its work from several sources, including the California State Senate, the San Diego County Bar Association, the Defender Programs of San Diego, the Criminal Defense Bar Association of San Diego, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, California Lawyer Magazine, The Daily Transcript, and San Diego Magazine.
As a student in the LL.M. degree program, you may qualify for federal work study funding to assist in working for the project. Through their work with CIP, our alumni have made great contacts in the criminal defense community, while helping to free wrongfully convicted men and women.