Institute for Actual Innocence

Through the Institute for Actual Innocence, Richmond Law students take a leading role in screening, investigating, and litigating felony cases in which there is credible evidence of the convicted person’s innocence. Under the direct supervision of Professor Mary Kelly Tate, students investigate cases and seek the necessary evidence to pursue exonerations arising from post-conviction statutes called “writs of actual innocence.” The clinic also assists convicted individuals in the federal system to pursue clemency relief granted through the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

In addition to the many practical legal experiences that the clinic affords, students participate in a program aimed at upholding the integrity of our criminal justice system Students collaborate and engage with persons across many professional and disciplinary sectors of society, including other lawyers, prosecutors, forensic scientists, judges, elected officials and others. Most importantly, students produce legal work product for indigent incarcerated individuals in need of legal services.

An important outcome of directly representing persons in need of legal assistance is student exposure to the role of public service in the life of a lawyer. Additionally the concrete legal skills and experiences gained in the clinic confer upon students a practice-ready competitive advantage.

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  • Areas of Law
    • Criminal law
    • Indigent defense
    • Post-conviction law related to wrongful conviction
    • Post-conviction law related to federal clemency petitions
    • Sentencing law at both federal and state levels
    • Criminal Procedure
    • Evidence
    • Legal Ethics
  • Professional Skills

    Skills that Students Learn and Develop

    • Fact development
    • Client interviewing
    • Expert interviewing
    • Court Records analysis
    • Case strategy and development
    • Case preparation for post-conviction litigation
    • Appellate litigation strategies
    • Practical Experience Examples
      • Propose and draft legislative reform in the area of wrongful convictions
      • Legal writing for litigation briefs and memoranda in the VA Supreme Court
      • Prepare motions to the Virginia Circuit Courts for DNA testing
      • Case presentation skills
      • Negotiation skills to obtain consent motions or case resolution
      • Interviewing forensic scientists, psychiatrists and other specialists
      • Prepare clemency petitions for submission to the Office of the Pardon Attorney
      • Constructing theories of the case and advocacy strategies
      • Oral advocacy
      • Written advocacy
      • Experience advising senior attorney
      • Exposure to and study of legal practice technologies