A Tremendous Victory for the Center on Wrongful Convictions: Juan Rivera Conviction Reversed

December 12, 2011

Students and staff from Northwestern Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions along with lawyers from Jenner & Block have won another significant exoneration.

On Friday, December 9, the Second District Illinois Appellate Court reversed the rape and murder conviction of Juan Rivera in a long-awaited opinion that unequivocally stated that the State’s evidence was insufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  

Originally tried and convicted in 1993 based largely on a false confession, Juan Rivera served nearly two decades of a life sentence for a crime he did not commit.  After an appellate court reversed his first conviction, two subsequent Lake County juries convicted Rivera again in his retrials, despite DNA evidence uncovered by the Center on Wrongful Convictions that definitively ruled out Juan Rivera as the source of the semen found inside the victim's body.

After Rivera was convicted for the third time, Larry Marshall JD '85, co-founder of the Center with Rob Warden, and now the Director of the Clinic at Stanford law School, and his students, joined with the Center and Jenner teams to brief and argue the case before the appellate court.

Juan Rivera's exoneration is the 98th in Illinois since 1989 and of those, 50 have resulted from false confessions.  Thirty three exonerees falsely confessed and their confessions led to the wrongful convictions of 17 others. 

The Center on Wrongful Convictions legal team included Jane Raley, Jeffrey Urdangen and Judy Royal JD '81. The Jenner & Block lawyers were led by partners Terri Mascherin JD '84, Thomas Sullivan, and Andrew Vail and associates Sarah Terman JD '08, Dan Fenske JD '08 and Sarah Mirkin JD '07.

Additionally, Jennifer Linzer, Assistant Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, and investigators Cynthia Estes, Michael Fellner and Susan Swanson did invaluable investigative work for a number of years on the case.  Over the years, over thirty Northwestern law students contributed to this victory, including several who continued to work on the case even after they left the law school.

Since its founding following the 1998 National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty, the Center on Wrongful Convictions has been instrumental in the exonerations of 34 innocent men and women in Illinois.