Weekly Meeting - January 9: Exonerating the Innocent

Speaker: David Moran co-founded the Michigan Innocence Clinic to litigate claims of actual innocence by prisoners in cases where DNA evidence is not available. A 1991 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, magna cum laude, he was a law clerk for Hon. Ralph B. Guy Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He served for eight years as a staff attorney in the Office of the State Appellate Defender in Detroit following his clerkship. Prior to joining the Michigan law faculty in 2008, he was an Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Wayne State University Law School.


There are over 60 innocence projects nationwide. By far the vast majority of them are focused on DNA-based exonerations, most often in sexual assault cases. The Michigan Innocence Clinic, though, concerns itself with cases where there is no biological evidence to be tested. Most of its cases involve either flawed forensic evidence or mistaken eyewitness identification.There are various type of forensic evidence other than DNA; bullet trajectories and fingerprints come readily to mind. The utility of such evidence is that it can be used to recreate a crime scene and thereby provide the trier of fact(be that a jury or a judge sitting without a jury) objective information about an incident. It has been estimated that about 40 percent of all criminal cases in the United States involve forensics. If evidence of this sort is not based on sound science, its resulting unreliability can lead to a miscarriage of justice. Mistaken eyewitness identification is even more prone to do so. Identifications based on a vague composite drawing(s) by a police artist, for instance, or traceable to a poorly managed lineup, are likely to be persuasive to a jury even though they fail to single out the actual perpetrator of a crime. Eighty-three years ago, in Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78 (1935), the United States Supreme Court famously declared that the ultimate goal of a criminal prosecution is “that justice shall be done.”  Prosecuting attorneys, the Court wrote, “[are] in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer.” The Michigan Innocence Clinic is grounded in that belief. It screens prospective cases to ensure that they have merit. Once the Clinic accepts a case, University of Michigan law students, under the supervision of experienced attorneys, prepare and litigate post-conviction relief actions. Professor Moran co-founded the Clinic in 2009 with Bridget McCormick, who was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2012. His talk will describe for us the Clinic’s intake process and highlight some of the Clinics successes and failures.