Law school's Innocence Project hosts wrongful conviction panel discussion

WMU-Cooley Law School hosted the panel discussion featuring the work of the law school’s Innocence Project. “Wrongful Convictions: Righting the Wrongs for 20 Years” was part of WMU-Cooley’s monthly Community Conversations.  Pictured (left to right) are former WMU-Cooley Innocence Project director Marla-Mitchell-Cichon; David Williams, past student and attorney with the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project; exoneree Lacino Hamilton, and WMU-Cooley Innocence Project director Associate Dean Tracey Brame.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project exoneree Kenneth Nixon participated virtually in the WMU-Cooley Community Conversation “Wrongful Convictions: Righting the Wrongs for 20 Years.”
(Photos courtesy of WMU-Cooley)

As part of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s monthly Community Conversations, Associate Dean Tracey Brame, director, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, hosted “Wrongful Convictions: Righting the Wrongs for 20 Years” on October 28. The discussion, which was held in honor of Wrongful Conviction Day, reviewed the impact that wrongful convictions have on individuals, families, and communities. Presenters included Michigan exonerees Lacino Hamilton and Kenneth Nixon, who are both clients of the law school’s Innocence Project; and former WMU-Cooley Innocence Project director Marla Mitchell-Cichon.

During the discussion Brame shared how those who have been exonerated work to help those who have been wrongfully convicted.

“The fight continues and they (exonerees) are very much in the throes of it. Exonerees and their allies from all around the country work every day to make sure that the people who are still incarcerated and are still suffering are able to get relief as well,” said Brame.

While talking about the need to hold prosecutors accountable for wrongful convictions, Mitchell-Cichon said, “We know nationally that very few prosecutors have been held civilly liable for their actions. They have not been held directly accountable as the lawyer in the case. There have been a handful of prosecutors that who have been disciplined and who have lost their law licenses.”

Hamilton spoke about the harm that prison causes individuals and shared some of his experiences. He explained why the prison system needs a major overhaul.

“The prison system we have today should be abolished. We have a system that we know is an oppressive system, a totalitarian system, an authoritarian system. We understand the chief concern of a prison is to control people and to micromanage a person’s life down to seconds, down to minutes,” said Hamilton. “Understanding that I don’t know the ultimate solution, but I do know that a harm is being caused and we are allowing a harm to be caused because we do not have solutions. This seems to only happen to prisoners, or to those we don’t like in our society.”

Mitchell-Cichon noted that, as a young defense attorney, she went into prosecutors’ offices where charts kept track of wins and losses. She said it was shocking to her because she thought she went into an environment that was about achieving justice. She said it shouldn’t be about wins and losses, but rather are the defendants’ constitutional rights being protected and are we getting to the right results. Mitchell-Cichon asked Nixon to share what he would say to aspiring attorneys who can make a cultural change in the criminal justice system.

“Humanize every case,” said Nixon. “At the end of the day this isn’t just a stack of papers. I’m not just a case file, I’m not just a set of numbers that are being emailed back and forth.

There is a human attached to every decision being made. Don’t be afraid to stand up. The reason we are seeing cultural change all over this country is because brave people are standing up. There was no such thing as a conviction integrity unity 20 years ago. There was no such thing as Innocence Projects all over the country. There was no such thing as progressive-minded prosecutors all over the country. This is a new wave because people are brave. When you see the change that is happening right now, it’s because brave people are willing to take those lashes.”

The full presentation can be viewed at WMU-Cooley’s YouTube channel.


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