About the Innocence and Justice Clinic

The I & J Clinic provides students with the unique opportunity to learn about the various causes of wrongful convictions – mistaken eyewitness identification, invalid or improper forensic science evidence, jailhouse informants, false confessions, ineffective assistance of counsel, police and prosecutorial misconduct – while giving them the opportunity to apply this knowledge to the investigation of cases where newly discovered evidence can prove a client’s innocence.

The seminar component of the course immerses students in the legal, scientific, cultural and psychological causes of wrongful convictions and the remedies and reforms adopted by states to reduce the potential for wrongful convictions.  The weekly two-hour seminar will cover such topics as: mistaken eyewitness identification; false confessions; junk forensic science; the role of forensic DNA testing; post-conviction remedies for innocence claims; the use of “jailhouse snitches” and cooperating witnesses; police and prosecutorial misconduct; incompetent lawyering; policy and legislative reforms; innocence and the death penalty; re-entry programs and post-conviction remedies.

Mission

The I&J Clinic serves two primary missions:

  1. Provide Wake Forest students with a hands-on clinical legal education opportunity.
  2. Identify, investigate and advance credible wrongful conviction claims by inmates convicted of felonies in North Carolina.

Learning Objectives

This interdisciplinary course is designed to provide students with an opportunity to examine the legal, scientific, cultural, and psychological causes of wrongful convictions. Students will be given an opportunity to apply this knowledge to actual cases by reviewing and investigating claims of actual innocence by inmates and, where appropriate, pursuing legal avenues for exoneration and release from prison.

Seminar Component

Students meet for two hours once a week to examine and discuss the substantive law that addresses the causes and remedies associated with wrongful convictions. Topics covered include:

  • mistaken eyewitness identification
  • false confessions
  • “junk” forensic science
  • the role of forensic DNA testing
  • the use of “jailhouse snitches” and cooperating witnesses
  • police and prosecutorial misconduct
  • incompetent lawyering
  • policy and legislative reforms
  • innocence and the death penalty
  • postconviction remedies

Client Component

Students review claims of innocence and determine whether there are possible avenues of relief for clients.  Students may have the opportunity to review criminal files, interact with police investigators, contact prosecuting attorneys, gather documentation, prepare legal documents and memos, and apply critical legal skills to a client’s case.  For more complex cases, students will work in teams to review postconviction discovery and prepare for litigation.  Students will meet with the Clinic director weekly to discuss the ongoing progress of their cases and plan the next steps in reviewing and investigating the inmate’s claim of innocence.

Grading Process

There is no final exam in this course. Grading will be based on attendance and participation, handling of clients’ cases and clinic matters, and periodic written assignments throughout the semester. The course is 4 credits.