UPR, School of Law Launches new DNA Post-Conviction Project – “Freedom for Convicted Innocents” to address claims of wrongful convictions

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UPR, School of Law Launches new DNA Post-Conviction Project-                                                  “Freedom for Convicted Innocents” to address claims of wrongful convictions

(January 30, 2020) With the motto: “Freedom for convicted innocents”, the UPR School of Law, launched the DNA Post-Conviction Project, as announced today by Dean, Vivian I. Neptune-Rivera, an initiative that will allow prisoners in Puerto Rico, to carry out their claims of wrongful conviction in order to be exonerated.

Specifically, the DNA Post-Conviction Project will address prisoners’ requests and will evaluate and investigate such requests on a case-by-case basis, in order to determine whether there is genetic evidence likely to be analyzed for exculpatory purposes. Professor José L. Nieto, will be the Academic Coordinator and attorneys Liliam Rodríguez and Sharon Hernandez, will coordinate this initiative, Dean Neptune-Rivera said.

UPR Law Students will participate in this project as part of a course that will be offered beginning this current semester by attorneys Rodríguez and Hernández.   The course will study the Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act and the most common causes that give rise to wrongful convictions, which will provide the necessary tools for students to conduct the corresponding investigation of the cases that are received. Students participating in the course will also work on research that will identify areas of the system that need to be modified to avoid wrongful convictions.

“This is a direct experience for students who will have the opportunity to visit prisons, interact with inmates, interview witnesses, identify exculpatory evidence, investigate the details that transpired during trial, while collaborating on the collection of statistical data, regarding, innocents that have been wrongfully convicted, data that is so far, unknown in Puerto Rico,” said Professor Nieto.

“Not all convicted individuals qualify for the services of this Project, only those who are convicted of one or more of the crimes established by Law No. 246 of 2015, as amended, known as the Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act,” added attorney Rodríguez. Such Act, in its Article 3 states:

“Any natural person who has been convicted of the commission of murder in all its forms, homicide, negligent homicide, sexual assault, incest, leniency, aggravated assault, robbery, breaking and entering, aggravated harm, aggravated restriction of freedom, kidnapping and aggravated kidnapping, as well as in their respective degrees of attempt…”.

Dean Neptune-Rivera expressed, that the entire process of case investigation will be conducted with funds in the amount of $497,288 granted to the UPR School of Law by the National Institute of Justice of the Federal Department of Justice. “With these resources, the School of Law will provide a new alternative of training and academic practice to students, by serving a community that in most cases lack the financial resources to prove their innocence”, Neptune-Rivera stated.

“The experience on these cases is that once a person is found guilty and convicted of crime, society tends to see them as social discards, with no rights to protect, and this project will help educate our society to understand that the possibility that a convicted person may be innocent is real,” said attorney Hernandez, adding that “it is about defending the constitutional rights of convicted innocents.” While attorney Rodríguez noted that “the opportunity this project will provide to law students is going to be of great value to their legal training, but it will be even more enriching in terms of their personal formation.”

The Project office is located on the first floor of the UPR School of Law, Río Piedras Campus, where the Legal Assistance Clinic is located, and will welcome general public who wants to receive information of its services, Monday to Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon and 1:00 to 4:30 p.m., by appointment.

The telephone number to contact the Project is (787)999-9589. The email address is adn.inocencia@upr.edu.

The postal address is:

Proyecto ADN Post Sentencia                                                                                                                                          Escuela de Derecho                                                                                                                                                  Universidad de Puerto Rico                                                                                                                                                7 AVE. UNIVERSIDAD, STE 701                                                                                                                                      SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO 00925-2527

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