U.S. Department of Justice awards grant to ND Law’s Exoneration Justice Clinic

Author: Kevin Allen

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Notre Dame Law School’s Exoneration Justice Clinic has received a $300,000 federal grant that will increase the clinic’s capacity to investigate, litigate, and overturn wrongful convictions.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, awarded grants to 18 recipients, including eight innocence projects, four conviction integrity units, and six schools.

The Exoneration Justice Clinic will use the grant funding to hire a full-time, in-house investigator who will work with the clinic’s staff attorneys and students to advance cases and move those cases to closure.

“Having a full-time investigator will greatly enhance our efforts to vacate convictions and regain freedom for our wrongfully convicted clients,” said Notre Dame Law Professor Jimmy Gurulé, director of the Exoneration Justice Clinic. “It is essential that we have a dedicated investigator who can go out into the field to interview potential witnesses and assist in gathering credible evidence that could help overturn wrongful convictions.”

The Exoneration Justice Clinic has developed quickly since launching in fall 2020.

The clinic moved into its own dedicated office space last summer at 806 Howard Street in South Bend.

The clinic has also added staff — including a new staff attorney and postgraduate fellow — to work with Gurulé and Adjunct Professor Elliot Slosar. Notre Dame Law School graduate Kevin Murphy ’14 J.D., previously a litigator at Jenner & Block in Chicago, was hired as the Exoneration Justice Clinic’s first staff attorney. Nikolai Stieglitz ’21 J.D. was selected as the clinic’s first postgraduate fellow.

In July 2021, the clinic marked its first exoneration when a judge approved the Elkhart County prosecutor’s motion to dismiss the murder charge against Andrew Royer, an Exoneration Justice Clinic client who was wrongfully convicted of a 2002 murder in Elkhart, Indiana.

The victory in the Royer case is the first of many more to come for the clinic.

“The Exoneration Justice Clinic was awarded this grant after being in operation for just a year,” said G. Marcus Cole, the Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School. “The fact that the U.S. Department of Justice had confidence in this new clinic speaks to the leadership of Professor Gurulé and the results the Exoneration Justice Clinic’s attorneys and students have achieved in such a short period of time.”

Like Notre Dame Law School’s other clinics, the Exoneration Justice Clinic is a teaching law office where students work on real cases under the close supervision of experienced faculty members. At the same time, the Exoneration Justice Clinic’s staff of in-house attorneys enable it to operate in a manner somewhat similar to a stand-alone law firm.

“Now with three full-time staff attorneys and a full-time investigator, we will have significant firepower to move forward in a substantial way in screening, selecting, investigating, and litigating innocence cases,” Gurulé said. “The potential for the good we can do is enormous.”

The Exoneration Justice Clinic has received letters from hundreds of incarcerated individuals who claim they were wrongfully convicted. The new EJC investigator will provide valuable assistance in investigating credible claims of innocence.