Legal eagles: The Pa. Innocence Project is a welcome neighbor
September 28, 2016 12:00 AM
Jim Fogle, the Indiana, Pa. man who was exonerated after spending 34 years in prison, speaks to those attending a closed gathering featuring his paintings at the Monongalia Arts Center in Morgantown, W. Va., on Sept. 9.
By the Editorial Board
In an ideal world, all criminal defendants would get top-flight attorneys, evidence would be unassailable and testimony precise, prosecutors and investigators would act impeccably, the judges overseeing trials would make no mistakes, the guilty always would be punished and the wrongly accused always would go free. The world doesn’t work that way, however, so it’s good that the Pennsylvania Innocence Project is opening an office at Duquesne University School of Law.
Law students at Duquesne and the University of Pittsburgh will have the opportunity to assist trial lawyers in representing those who have been wronged, or are at risk of being wronged, by the criminal justice system. For Duquesne, the initiative will be the newest addition to a clinical education program that already gives law students the opportunity to work on cases involving civil lights, education law, veterans and juveniles accused of delinquency.
The justice system gets it right much of the time, but when it fails, it can fails miserably. Since 1989, 58 people have been exonerated of crimes for which they were sentenced in Pennsylvania. The list includes Jim Fogle, 65, of Indiana County, who spent 34 years in state prison before new DNA testing of evidence overturned his conviction, and Crystal Weimer, 39, of Fayette County, who was locked up for about 11 years before bite-mark evidence used to convict her of murder was discredited.
The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, one of the independent organizations making up the national Innocence Network, was involved in both cases. The Pennsylvania organization, operating in Philadelphia since 2009, will be the first in the network to have offices in two cities. While the affiliate already does work in Western Pennsylvania, the new office will provide logistical convenience and enable the program to expand its reach.
Nationwide, hundreds of people have been exonerated by Innocence Project teams or other lawyers. Some were wrongly convicted with forensic evidence that was misinterpreted or unreliable by today’s standards. The Innocence Project provides a second chance — maybe a final chance — to establish the truth.
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