Students enrolled in the Innocence Project have literally changed lives in the pursuit of justice for the wrongfully convicted. Under the supervision of the director, students enrolled in the Innocence Project examine cases of suspected wrongful conviction and where feasible, reinvestigate and seek proof of their innocence.
The conviction of the innocent offends justice in a number of ways and ultimately weakens the public faith in the institutions of criminal justice themselves, yet relatively little ongoing attention has been paid to the systemic and institutional dimension of the problem of wrongful convictions in Canada. The Innocence Project is designed to engage students in the important, difficult, and highly rewarding work of remedying wrongful convictions, while providing them with an opportunity to grapple with theoretical and practical questions about causes and remedies.
What you will do
Work at the Innocence Project falls into two categories:
- File work – This work typically falls into one of four subcategories:
- File reviews, in which students review trial transcripts and disclosure from the files of individuals with a claim of wrongful conviction, in order to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
- Test-case litigation (in conjunction with senior lawyers)
- Advocacy on policy matters relating to wrongful conviction
- Special projects (usually small files related to miscarriages of justice)
- Project administration (that is, dealing with the day-to-day running of the Innocence Project, such as client correspondence, applications and intake from potential clients, logging and responding to voicemails, and tracking student assignments and dockets)
All students participate in both file work and project administration, and participation in both is assessed for the final grade; however, the file work available varies from year to year. Students work both individually and in teams, depending on the nature of the work for the year.
Typically, the program has also included a visit to a correctional institution.
What you will learn
- To develop an understanding of the causes of wrongful convictions and to analyse current practices and procedures designed to address miscarriages of justice.
- To develop the requisite advocacy and forensic skills to identify and recognize wrongful conviction risk factors for trial and appeal cases.
- To develop an understanding of systemic factors within the criminal justice system which contribute to the problem of wrongful conviction with a view of developing law reform proposals to increase the accuracy of fact-finding within the trial process.
- To gain experience in the hands-on work of the process of investigating and litigating claims of wrongful conviction, from handling an initial inquiry from a potential client, to conducting file review and identifying potential avenues of reinvestigation in order to pursue fresh and significant evidence, to assisting in the compilation of an application for ministerial review under s. 696.1 of the Criminal Code.
Adjunct Professor Bhavan K. Sodhi