VERMILLION, S.D. -- The Innocence Project of South Dakota (IPSD) at The University of South Dakota School of Law became a member organization with the national Innocence Network, headquartered in New York City, this fall.
"Being part of the national network not only assists us in finding information about a variety of specific issues," said Chris Hutton, advisor for the USD Law School’s IPSD student organization and professor of law. "It also provides us many contacts nationwide who can assist with questions, training, and is a good source of speakers."
IPSD was established at the Law School in 2004 and became a membership organization with the national Innocence Network in October 2008.
The Innocence Network is an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted and working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Network’s Web site, www.innocencenetwork.org. South Dakota’s Innocence Project only accepts South Dakota cases that are on post-conviction appeal in which DNA testing can prove innocence. Once an inmate applies, the matter is assigned to a law student to research and evaluate the case, according to Hutton.
IPSD's application with the national Innocence Project office demonstrated that the Law School's is a legitimate project with supervised volunteers and "not an unsupervised, ad hoc group of people charging money for services," Hutton said. In any given year, IPSD has about 40 volunteer law students, and in some special circumstances, USD undergraduates assist the project, she said. IPSD is among several student organizations at the USD School of Law providing substantial pro bono opportunities for students to help clients in need. The project provides law students with valuable experience concerning the criminal justice system and allows them to work in contact with and under the close supervision of practicing lawyers in the South Dakota community.