From freeing individual clients to reforming the legal system, the work of the CWC is revolutionary. As CWC Co-Legal Director Karen Daniel is fond of saying, “There is no higher calling for an attorney than to speak for the voiceless and powerless.” CWC attorneys and students bring cases to court that others have deemed hopeless, and tell stories of clients’ innocence that have not previously been heard. The poignancy and power of such stories are what drive legislative reforms such as requiring police to record interrogations and such judicial rulings as the right to bring innocence claims even after other legal claims have been defaulted.
CWC law students are central to this process. Side by side with CWC faculty and pro bono attorneys, students re-investigate crimes by tracking down witnesses, taking crime-scene photos, questioning detectives, and poring through forensic reports. They meet with clients, draft briefs, argue cases, and advocate tirelessly even in the face of initial defeat: pursuing appeals, filing successive petitions, presenting evidence before prisoner review boards, and thinking creatively about new ways to achieve justice for the innocent.
Some reflections from students who have participated in the CWC’s clinic course:
Words cannot adequately describe the invaluable experience of being a part of Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. The independence and hands-on approach to taking the reins on an active case has further developed my practical lawyering skill-set, through the opportunities of meeting clients, interviewing witnesses, conducting investigation and research, strategizing creative approaches to the case with classmates and renowned professors, writing briefs and motions, and preparing for oral arguments at an evidentiary hearing. Even more remarkable is that each client’s individual story inspires students to continue doing our part to make a change toward justice.
-Anna Farias-Eisner, Northwestern Law ‘14
Looking back on my short time with the Center on Wrongful Convictions, I am extremely thankful that I got to be a part of this great organization. I learned so much, through classroom sessions, team meetings, prison and court visits, and other clinic members. Even though I will not be pursuing a career in criminal law after graduating from law school, I am glad that I got the opportunity to see the criminal system at work and learn more about it in a real sense, as opposed to academically. The skills that I have developed and the lessons I have learned from the professors, clients, and students will stay with me.
-Tyler Myers, Northwestern Law ‘14
After two years of eager anticipation, I am finally in the clinic, and just as it shaped my life by opening my eyes to Northwestern in the first place, so too is it shaping my law school career and how I imagine my future as a lawyer.
- Andrea Ryken, Northwestern Law ‘14
Internships for Undergraduate Students
In addition to providing life-changing legal experiences for Northwestern Law students, the CWC runs an internship program for undergraduate students interested in issues relating to wrongful convictions. A credit course is offered through Northwestern University's Chicago Field Studies program, and in the summer, the CWC “hosts as many as 20 full-time interns from colleges around the country and, in the past few years, we have also had students from the United Kingdom," says Dolores Kennedy, coordinator of the internship program. "In addition to assisting with the Center's research and casework, (it was interns who began the research required to build the online National Registry of Exonerations database), the students hear compelling speakers, including many of our exonerees, view documentaries on wrongful convictions, attend trials and clemency hearings, and tour a halfway reentry community and the Juvenile Detention Center."