The Pennsylvania Innocence Project practicum is a two semester course offered by Pitt and Duquesne Law Schools and which offers students the unique opportunity to exercise their lawyering skills by reviewing and investigating actual claims of innocence on behalf of Pennsylvania inmates and, where appropriate, pursuing legal avenues for exoneration and release from prison.
Each student will be assigned cases under the supervision of the Director and Managing Attorney of the Project. In the course of investigating factual claims and researching legal issues, students will review criminal files, interact with investigators, contact other attorneys, interview the client and witnesses, gather documentation and prepare legal documents and memoranda. Students will also have the opportunity to tour the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office, the Allegheny County Jail, and a state correctional facility. Although most claims will be resolved by written pleadings and briefs, students are welcome and encouraged to attend any court appearances.
Each student will also review new applications of a valid and viable innocence claim. As a consequence of this work, students will have many opportunities to develop and hone their lawyering skills in interviewing, fact investigation, factual and legal analysis, legal writing and problem-solving. As the clinic progresses, students will explore the substantive and procedural issues in the context of the actual cases on which they are working as well as discuss the ethical issues common to this area of practice.
The classroom component will cover topics including the definition of a claim of innocence, investigating and raising claims of innocence under Pennsylvania law, preservation of innocence claims for federal review, post-conviction discovery rules, state and federal post-conviction procedures and problems, investigative techniques and skills, the nature and uses of DNA and other scientific evidence and the state and federal rules governing admissibility of such evidence.
The Pennsylvania Innocence Project Practicum is a two semester practicum. Students will receive an “S” grade at the conclusion of each semester, however, in the event that a student does not complete the second semester the student shall receive a W for the course, thus nullifying the “S” grade for the prior semester. Students will receive 3 credits per semester.