Pre-Law Students Take Aim at Wrongful Convictions
UT Dallas Forms Ties With Innocence Project of Texas Organization
Mar. 29, 2010
The UT Dallas Pre-Law Society has become affiliated with the Innocence Project of Texas (IPoT), a non-profit organization dedicated to proving the innocence of men and women wrongfully imprisoned for serious crimes in Texas.
Students expressed interest in forming a volunteer chapter of the Innocence Project after Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins gave a presentation on campus last year with two men exonerated from prison for crimes they did not commit. That event was organized by the Pre-Law Society and the Center for Crime and Justice Studies in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences (EPPS).
“It’s an amazing feeling to have the opportunity to listen to the experienced workers of IPoT talk about their work and to see how passionate they were,” said Parisa Korous, a junior majoring in political science. “I hope to be able to help this great cause in whatever capacity I am able to.”
UT Dallas students can get involved in the Innocence Project in two ways:
- They may volunteer to review files that may advance a claim of actual innocence under a clinical program established in February by Clay Graham, the North Texas coordinator for IPoT.
- The University will offer a Collegium V honors class in the fall 2010 semester under the direction of Dr. Anthony Champagne, EPPS professor of political science and director of the pre-law program, in which 20 students will investigate cases.
IPoT defines actual innocence to mean that either no crime has occurred, or a crime has occurred, but the individual claiming innocence was in no way involved in that crime.
The Innocence Project of Texas is a statewide organization founded in November 2006 by a group of attorneys led by Jeff Blackburn, who currently serves as the project’s chief counsel. Student volunteers and professional legal advocates donate their time to investigate claims of actual innocence made by prison inmates. To date, 40 people in Texas have been exonerated by the Innocence Project through DNA evidence that was not available at the time of their original investigations.
IPoT student volunteers come from universities across the state:
- Texas Tech University.
- The University of North Texas.
- The University of Texas at Arlington.
- Southern Methodist University.
- South Texas College of Law (Houston).
- Baylor University.
- The University of St. Thomas (Houston).
“This is another offering in our already strong pre-law program,” said pre-law adviser Anne Dutia. “We hope the affiliation will give our students some helpful case review experience, but also the personal fulfillment of exonerating a wrongfully imprisoned person.”