Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $410,492)
As submitted by the proposer:
Wrongful convictions happen, and when they do the most powerful way to objectively establish that an innocent person is in jail for a crime they did not commit is through the use of DNA to analyze evidence material. The DNA methods used for the analysis of evidence materials have been widely accepted by courts in the US Justice system for many years, and to date they have been used to exonerate more than 200 wrongfully convicted individuals within the US alone. Moreover, the same DNA methods have now also been used to establish innocence in legal proceedings in a number of other countries around the world. Most of the organizations actively pursuing the exoneration of innocent individuals are affiliated with the Innocence Network, and this includes the Hawaii chapter of the National Innocence Project. The PI of this proposal is currently the DNA consultant for the Hawaii chapter, and was extensively involved in the first breakthrough case for the local chapter in 2011 when a man that had been in jail for nearly 20 years on a case of rape and assault was shown, mainly through the use of DNA testing, to have been wrongfully convicted. In conjunction with the attorneys from the Hawaii chapter, the PI is also currently involved in the postconviction review of several cases where DNA evidence may be used to show that a wrongful conviction has occurred. This work is essential because the State of Hawaii does not provide services in this area. The State has no mechanism for postconviction review, and has no independent laboratory certified for DNA testing. For any case under postconviction review by independent groups such as the Innocence Project that involves DNA testing, evidence must be sent out of state to certified, private testing laboratories at considerable cost. Through this proposal we are seeking support to carry out additional DNA testing of evidence items to resolve current cases and to identify new cases where DNA testing is needed. This includes support for both current cases as well as cases yet to be identified where the convictions mostly involve indigent clients that cannot pay for these services. This is especially critical when review of the case and identification of evidence items indicate that newer, more advanced methods of DNA testing are crucial to revealing the possibility of a false conviction and exoneration of the innocent.