Published February 1, 2017
Every law school has a significant academic component, but many students crave working on real cases. The Innocence & Justice Project provides this outlet to students, and in the most meaningful of ways.
In the second and third years of law school, law students who apply to and are accepted in the “IJP” work on cases in which a defendant who has been convicted of crimes, often years earlier, is seeking exoneration. After being convicted at trial, and losing again on appeal, these defendants, now incarcerated and without an attorney to provide representation, continue to seek release, through post-conviction remedies sometimes called habeas corpus or coram nobis.
Students who are selected for the IJP meet and review applications from incarcerated inmates. From a large number of applications, only a few inmates will be selected for representation: students in the Project assist in separating the wheat from the chaff, seeking those cases in which an inmate has a truly meritorious case of wrongful conviction. This is an important part of the Project’s internal process: students may visit a state prison to meet the inmate and explore why the case is meritorious and should be selected. After this vetting process — which may also involve reviewing the trial and appellate files, examining evidence, interviewing witnesses, and seeking out additional witnesses — an inmate’s case may be accepted. At this point begins the work of preparing motions to vacate and preparing for hearings.
The Innocence & Justice Project at Buffalo is the only one of its kind in upstate New York. The Project is still in its infancy. Only a few students are accepted into the Project each year, and the number of applicants to be selected is small as well. The students receive academic credit for their work, and are supervised by practicing attorneys. The Project provides a meaningful opportunity for these students to draft documents and