Thursday, November 16, 2017

UIS Illinois Innocence Project receives grant for DNA testing for innocence cases involving misidentification and false confessions

IIP exoneree Charles Palmer walks free from the Macon Co. Jail on Nov. 23, 2016.
The University of Illinois Springfield is pleased to announce that, with the support of the UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership, the Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) has been awarded federal grant funds totaling $641,000 to be distributed over two years. The grant will be used to clear Illinois innocence cases where DNA testing might decide the outcome of individuals who were found guilty as a result of an eyewitness misidentification or a false confession.

The award is part of a United States Department of Justice Bloodsworth Grant, named in honor of Kirk Bloodsworth, the first DNA death penalty exoneration case in the United States in 1993.

“The University of Illinois Springfield’s Illinois Innocence Project plays an important role in righting wrongs that have occurred in our justice system,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). “I worked to establish the Bloodsworth Grant Program more than a decade ago to help provide funding for DNA testing to exonerate the innocent. I congratulate the students and staff of the UIS Illinois Innocence Project for their tremendous work in seeking justice for the innocent and contributing to a justice system worthy of our nation’s ideals.”

In 2014, the Illinois Legislature highlighted problems with eyewitness ID practices when it passed legislation mandating eyewitness ID best practices developed in response to wrongful convictions. The law is an implicit acknowledgement that such wrongful convictions have occurred. IIP has received many requests from inmates whose cases include eyewitness misidentification, largely as a consequence of old practices.

“Eyewitness misidentification remains the most common factor in cases where wrongly convicted individuals have been proven actually innocent and exonerated,” said John Hanlon, IIP executive director. “Nearly one-third of the approximately 188 exonerations in Illinois since 1989 have involved eyewitness misidentification. In 70-75% of all cases where exoneration has occurred using DNA evidence, eyewitness misidentification was an important factor.”

IIP also continues to receive numerous inquiries in cases where individuals confessed falsely, but are innocent.

“Illinois, particularly Chicago, is noted for the large number of cases in which police coerced false confessions, in many cases with torture, which led to wrongful convictions,” said Hanlon.

The Project initially will focus on numerous cases it has screened in both areas in anticipation of receipt of this grant. The cases will be further reviewed to determine if the evidence can be tested or retested for DNA and if the likelihood is that the individual is actually innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.

“We know that DNA is the most important forensic tool to identify or exclude a perpetrator of a crime,” said Hanlon. “This grant will give the Project the resources it needs to follow up with investigation and DNA testing of the many requests we have from people who may actually be innocent.”

As part of the grant, the Illinois Innocence Project will hire several UIS undergraduate students to assist in the screening, review, and evaluation of the cases.

“This new federal grant not only meets a critical need in the state of Illinois but also provides important opportunities for our students,” said UIS Chancellor Susan J. Koch. “Present and future students will continue to have opportunities to learn about injustices in the criminal justice system through education and practice in ways that other universities cannot provide.”

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