November 30, 2010
We tend to think that if someone has been convicted of a crime it means [...]they’re guilty, but in recent years DNA testing has proven that there are more innocent people in prison than previously thought. The Innocence Project, an organization which helps to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners, estimates there to be more than 20,000 innocent people in the U.S. who are currently in jail. The problem is, once someone has been convicted of a crime it’s very difficult to have that conviction overturned.
The New England Innocence Project (modeled after the original Innocence Project in New York) works with law school students to try and help those who have been wrongfully convicted. The students, under the supervision of their professors, read through the prisoners’ applications for legal assistance as well as many other documents to try and determine whether the case can be taken on by the organization.
“It's a great way for students to really make an impact. It's something that you don't have to have passed the bar to do,” says Arielle Kristan (‘09), who worked with the organization during the spring semester of her 3L year. “They may have studied criminal law and criminal procedure and professional responsibility and trial advocacy,” says Prof. Stanley Fisher, who supervises the BU Law School students who work with the project, “But the value of working on a particular case is that they get to see every aspect of a case from the beginning to end. So, they are reading the police reports, they're reading the transcript of a probable cause hearing, they're reading the transcript of motions to suppress and the trial transcripts.” Prof. Fisher says he believes that despite the educational value, the most important part for students is really just the idea of trying to help someone.
- photos, video and production by Casey Atkins