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November 5, 2004

Contact: Professor Robert Dawson, (512) 232-1265,

Actual Innocence Conference at UT Law, Nov. 5

AUSTIN, Texas — Today the Law School hosted an invitational conference on dealing with actual innocence claims in Texas. The purpose of the program is to construct a comprehensive system for addressing such claims, such as DNA testing results, that have arisen in the past ten years.

The Actual Innocence Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law is taught by William P. Allison, Robert O. Dawson, and David A. Sheppard. This clinic arose out of three high-profile exonerations of men, each serving life sentences for crimes they did not commit. Professors Allison and Sheppard represented these three men at little or no cost to the criminal justice system. Out of these shared experiences grew the idea of not just the need for an organized approach to find and assist the actually innocent, but the fact that this concept of "actual innocence" was so new to the system of criminal justice that students would not only be involved in actual exonerations, but in finding precise causes of these types of wrongful convictions and working with the academic side of the legal profession to try to create remedies to help insure that the situation that gave rise to a particular innocent defendant being convicted does not happen again. Very few lawyers have the opportunity to deal with cases which have the potential to change the system. The cases handled by the Actual Innocence Clinic all possess this potential.

This clinic began in the Fall Semester of 2003. Under the supervision of the instructors, students screen and investigate claims of actual innocence from inmates. The student practice rule does not apply to this clinic, so students are eligible to participate any time after their first year of law school. Ten students are selected each semester to participate in this clinic for three credits of pass/fail. The students meet in class weekly to discuss readings in the law and practice of exoneration of inmates who are actually innocent of the offenses for which they are currently incarcerated.

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