The Drake Wrongful Convictions Clinic (WCC) will continue its work with the Iowa State Public Defender’s Office to seek DNA testing for wrongfully convicted Iowans. The Iowa State Public Defender’s Office has received a $855,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to build on the Clinic’s ability to represent indigent Iowans who are incarcerated with meritorious claims of actual innocence. The grant funding will fund a fellowship program for a recent graduate of the Legal Clinic, an investigator fellow, and provide expert consultations and forensic testing throughout Iowa in cases where evidence can be located.

The WCC was established in 2021 in a unique collaboration with the State Public Defender’s Wrongful Conviction Division (WCD). Since then, the WCC has trained over 20 students and hosts the State Public Defender’s Wrongful Conviction Unit attorneys and investigator. Third-year student attorney Kaitlin Phipps recently reflected on her experience with the WCC in the fall. “I had an amazing semester working in the Wrongful Convictions Clinic,” she said. “I think most of us have a baseline understanding of the injustices that occur within our criminal justice system, but it takes truly working in this space to really appreciate it. Through both the practical and classroom component of the clinic, I was exposed to these injustices and worked firsthand with people who were living through them.”  

The addition of another attorney and a fellow will give students the opportunity to work directly with forensic experts and laboratories who specialize in DNA and work with private investigators to find physical evidence for testing and evidence that supports innocence.

“Teaching law students to work with investigators is a huge opportunity,” said Erica Nichols Cook, director of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic. “Investigation is an integral part of case development and a crucial element of the work we do here and the work that these students will do once they graduate.”