The Price of Innocence

Law school innocence projects survive budget cuts – for now

Law school innocence clinics can be an inmate's last shot at justice
Law school innocence clinics can be an inmate's last shot at justice

While budget cuts seem to be the order of the year, it looks – at least for now – that the state’s four public law schools will retain their very modest funding to run a clinical innocence program.

According to the House draft budget, the schools – University of Texas, Texas Tech, Texas Southern, and the University of Houston – would retain the annual allocation of $400,000 that they now receive in order to research, investigate, and raise claims of innocence for Texas inmates, including those like Claude Simmons, who was convicted of capital murder and exonerated with the help of UT Law students. The state’s law school students are many inmates’ last hope for having their names cleared, Simmons told reporters at a Capitol press conference last week. “I know I was in prison for something I didn’t do – it wasn’t easy,” he said. “I don’t see any reason the innocence projects shouldn’t continue to be funded.”

Indeed, it's “imperative” that the projects retain their funding, said Cory Session, policy director for Texas Tech’s Innocence Project of Texas and brother of the posthumously pardoned Timothy Cole. When “all appeals have been exhausted” and habeas claims have been denied, said Session, innocence projects are a “last-ditch effort” for inmates seeking help. Whether the funding will survive the budget negotiations, of course, remains to be seen.

Notably, Session said Gov. Rick Perry will be open this year to signing into law a number of criminal justice reforms that have languished in previous sessions, including a bid to cure faulty eyewitness identification procedures, which are implicated in the vast majority of wrongful convictions. “Perry has assured me,” Session said, that if lawmakers can get those bills “to his desk … he will sign them.” That, too, remains to be seen.

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82nd Legislature, courts, wrongful conviction, Legislature, innocence project, Cory Session, Claude Simmons

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