Clinic wins grant to litigate forensic science cases

By Lori Atherton
U-M Law

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has awarded the Michigan Innocence Clinic (MIC) a $275,000 grant to help litigate forensic science cases.

MIC, which is part of the University of Michigan Law School, plans to use the two-year funding to hire a full-time attorney who will assist the clinic in handling cases of wrongful conviction involving forensic science, according to Imran Syed, a clinical assistant professor of law and the assistant director of the Innocence Clinic.

The grant-funded attorney will work with the students enrolled in the clinic on cases involving various forensic science disciplines.

The lawyer will serve as well as the clinic’s point person in working with conviction integrity units at prosecutor offices throughout Michigan about potential wrongful convictions involving forensic science.

“This grant will increase the capacity of MIC to continue to do excellent forensic science casework,” Syed said. “We’ll be able to move cases forward more efficiently, while ensuring that students have the guidance they need to be able to meaningfully participate in even complicated and novel science-based cases.

Forensic science, added Syed, “plays an ever-increasing role in the criminal justice system, and handling science effectively is a skill all lawyers need to get better at.

“We hope this grant will enable us to train our students to fearlessly engage with scientific issues they encounter in their casework now and in their future careers,” said Syed, who also teaches a forensic science course at the law school.

At least 50 percent of the Innocence clinic’s casework involves forensic science, he said, which includes various traditional forensic disciplines such as fingerprints, fire science, bullet comparison, DNA, and medical evidence, as well as social science-based forensic expert testimony on false confessions and eyewitness identifications.

The grant also will enable the clinic to fund the hiring of consulting experts and administrative support, as needed.

This is the second grant the clinic has received from the DOJ.

The first one, awarded in 2015, supported the hiring of two consulting attorneys to work on the clinic’s litigation in shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma cases.

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