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The Oregon Innocence Project Becomes Reality

January 25, 2015

Professor Aliza Kaplan gives an update on the project’s journey over the past 10 months.

The Oregon Innocence Project has been around for almost a year and it’s already in full swing. Our biggest accomplishment has been getting off the ground and setting up shop.

Administratively, we set up the infrastructure of the office, created an intake system for prisoners to request assistance, an advisory committee of lawyers and investigators to review and discuss cases, a student internship/externship program, a volunteer lawyer program, an amicus brief writing project, a forensic science project, and we have a policy agenda in this spring’s legislative session. And of course, in addition to all of this substantive work, we continue our fundraising and outreach efforts. We do all of this with just a part-time legal director and a part-time administrator getting paid. The majority of us involved with the OIP are working pro bono.

In addition to our casework, we are working with attorneys at Perkins Coie and Markowitz, Herbold, Glade & Mehlhaf on an exciting forensic science project that involves examining all the different types of forensic science used in criminal cases and, more specifically, how they have been used in Oregon cases. We are also working to make changes to Oregon’s post-conviction DNA statute that has been on the books since 2001—we hope to make the law more accessible (and up to date) for people seeking to access the evidence from their cases and subject it to DNA testing. We are also working in conjunction with Oregon’s Chiefs of Police and other stakeholders to bring attention to, and make changes to, how we deal with the problem of eyewitness misidentification.  

Lewis & Clark students have been very involved in OIP. They work as externs and interns, are involved in our intake process, conduct significant research related to potential cases, and present their findings to OIP lawyers and advisory committee members on a regular basis. Students also communicate with prisoners seeking the OIP’s assistance, and with their family members and past attorneys. And under attorney supervision, they participate in the investigatory process on specific cases. It is especially exciting for me to watch so many L&C students participate and learn in an innocence setting—they bring so much to the work and to all of us involved. We are also fortunate to have many L&C alumni participating in amicus brief writing, the science project mentioned above, and in our media and fundraising efforts. I think it has also brought a lot of excitement to the L&C community.

In the coming year, all of our case work, projects, and fundraising will continue. We also plan to move into our own office space this summer, which will provide space for more externs/interns and volunteers. Personally, the biggest highlight of the year has been watching the idea of the OIP turn into a reality—it has involved bringing many people together, raising money, getting the word out, creating a structure, and executing numerous projects. Another significant highlight was working with Everest College to help Lisa Roberts, who was exonerated this past spring after spending 12 years wrongfully in prison, get a full scholarship studying to be a pharmacy technician. I also worked with the school to create a scholarship in her name to help future exonerees.


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