Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $565,639)
As submitted by the proposer:
Created in 2006 by the North Carolina General Assembly, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission (Commission) is a neutral, fact-finding state agency that is charged with investigating post-conviction claims of actual innocence which result from felony convictions within North Carolina. The Commission is the first and only of its kind in the United States. The Commission is made up eight Commissioners from a broad range of perspectives within the criminal justice system. In addition, the Commissions day-to-day operations are carried out by a full-time staff of six: an executive director, an associate director, an associate counsel, a legal investigator, a case coordinator and a paralegal. Further, under the 2012 Postconviction DNA Testing Assistance Program (2012 Grant), the Commission currently employs two grant staff members: a staff attorney and an investigator.
The Commission has been fortunate to receive funding under the 2009 Postconviction DNA Testing Assistance Program (2009 Grant), as well as the 2012 Grant. As with both of these awards, the Commission aims to use funding from the 2015 Postconviction Testing of DNA Evidence to Exonerate the Innocent (2015 Grant) award to conduct DNA testing in cases where the Commissions state funding is otherwise insufficient. At present, the Commission receives $7,856 per year for forensic testing in its State budget. Commission data shows that on average $90,000 per year is necessary for DNA testing in qualifying cases.
The Commission will use the requested funds to employ two grant staff members. They will be responsible for investigating cases, including searching for, locating, and collecting evidence for DNA testing. Additionally, funds will be used to conduct DNA testing in qualifying cases where physical evidence can be located and the results of DNA testing could show innocence. These funds will be used to employ the most appropriate laboratory for testing. Limited funds will be used for supplies and to equip the Commissions evidence room for evidence collected by the Commission in grant qualifying cases.
This proposal illustrates how the 2015 Grant will allow the Commission to review, search for evidence, and conduct DNA testing in a significant number of cases. Without this funding, the Commission will not have the manpower to swiftly investigate DNA claims thus creating a backlog of cases where timely evidence searches are critical.