For 15 years, the New England Innocence Project (NEIP) has provided pro bono legal services to “identify, investigate, and exonerate” wrongly convicted prisoners. Come September, NEIP will move its offices to a space in the Law School Library on the 7th floor of Suffolk’s Sargent Hall.
A key link between the Law School and NEIP is SULS Professor of Legal Writing Stephanie Roberts Hartung, who serves on NEIP’s board. As a new public defender in California during the 1990s, Hartung began working with the Innocence Project there. Representing a defendant in an armed robbery case where the only evidence was an eye-witness identification, she “learned that of the first 100 DNA exonerations, over 75% involved erroneous eye-witness identifications. That figure was astounding to me.” Soon after she started teaching at Suffolk Law School in 2003, she got involved in NEIP “as a way to stay connected to my public defender roots.” As a legal writing professor, Hartung believed that wrongful convictions work “would help inspire students to improve their lawyering skills, while working for a good cause.”
Since she developed and began teaching the Innocence Project Seminar at Suffolk in 2010, nearly 50 students have volunteered to work with the organization. Now, Hartung believes, “NEIP’s tenancy will expand student opportunities to get involved. For example, students are always needed to help research and draft amicus briefs in cases involving legal issues related to wrongful convictions. This year students were involved in amicus briefs in cases involving post-conviction DNA testing, and the wrongful conviction compensation law. Students are also needed for smaller, daily tasks like Website maintenance, social media and event planning. We are a small and under-funded organization, so every extra hand helps.”