Ethical Issues for Innocence Projects: An Initial Primer
50 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2007
While the advent of DNA has led to more than 100 exonerations in the United States, few of them would have been possible without the existence of innocence projects around the country that have undertaken the often difficult work of exonerating the wrongfully convicted. More than thirty projects are now in operation, with several more in the planning stages.
As these projects have developed, issues have emerged regarding the professional responsibility obligations of attorneys and others engaged in this post-conviction work. These issues were the subject of discussion at national innocence conferences in 2000 and 2002, but that discussion, while helpful, left many issues unresolved. Because of the importance to projects of insuring compliance with ethical requirements, both to maintain the integrity of the projects' work and to model proper practices for the many aspiring lawyers who work with our programs, this article focuses on some basic professional responsibility issues confronting innocence projects today. It recognizes that innocence work poses unique ethical issues and that different types of projects confront varying challenges. It examines existing ethical rules and suggests how they can be best interpreted and applied to facilitate this important work. While on-going discussion and refinement will be important as these programs develop, this article provides some introductory thoughts for those establishing and operating such projects.
Keywords: DNA, Exoneration, Innocence Projects, Wrongfully convicted, Wrongful conviction, Professional responsibility, Ethics, Ethical, Attorney, Lawyer, Post-conviction, Attorney-Client, Confidentiality, Professional judgment, Conflict of interest, Zealous representation
JEL Classification: K10, K14, K40, K41, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation