GIP Closes Out 2-Year Alabama Fellowship
We recently had a big celebration at GIP to recognize the end of GIP Attorney Meagan Hurley’s Alabama Fellowship and her transition to the Georgia team full-time as Accountability Counsel. For two years, with significant funding from the Alabama Law Foundation, Meagan worked tirelessly with stakeholders, partners, and others to help build a strong foundation of future innocence work in Alabama, where GIP had accepted cases since 2007.
Now, GIP is officially and fully transitioned out of Alabama to focus solely on Georgia, passing the gauntlet to the recently formed Cumberland School of Law Innocence Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. We also celebrated and honored Professor LaJuana Davis, Adjunct Professor Leslie Coyne, Cumberland’s students, Alabama’s two recently-formed Conviction Integrity Units, and the many others who dedicated extensive time and efforts toward ensuring that wrongfully convicted, imprisoned people in Alabama would have a talented, local legal team dedicated to investigating and remedying their claims of innocence.
Those who come in contact with the criminal legal system in Alabama have it hard, as do all who fight for justice in that system. Alabama has no statewide indigent defense program. It has one of the weakest Open Records Acts in the country, making it extremely hard to even get police reports. There is no eyewitness identification statute, no recorded interrogations statute, and no evidence preservation statute. In addition, there is no post-conviction DNA testing statute for non-capital offenses, and the law that does exist for capital offenses is one of the weakest DNA laws in the country–no one has ever obtained relief under it. In fact, Alabama’s first DNA exoneration was in 1998 and its last DNA exoneration was in 1999.
Additionally, despite the estimated 1,400 innocent people in Alabama prisons, the state has a very narrow statute of limitations window for post-conviction claims. There is a one-year window from the affirmance of a conviction for constitutional issues. If new evidence is found post-conviction, litigants must file a petition within six months of discovery. On top of all these issues is Alabama’s long and pervasive history of racial terror.
Meagan and her partners at Cumberland overcame significant hurdles (not the least of which was the onset of a global pandemic six months into her fellowship) to form the Cumberland Innocence Clinic, which Meagan then co-taught for over a year with Professor LaJuana Davis.
In the Cumberland Innocence Clinic, students learn about Alabama’s criminal justice system and post-conviction procedures, and then actively work on screening-stage innocence cases, advancing them toward litigation or resolution. Meanwhile, volunteer attorneys agreeing to assist with, or take on, the cases gain critical knowledge and skills navigating the complexities of innocence work, while also forming meaningful relationships with the law students. Dozens of people with innocence claims have been, and continue to be, assisted thanks to the dedication and efforts of these advocates.
Now, four semesters later, the Cumberland Innocence Clinic is still operating and doing great work and is currently led by Professor Davis and Adjunct Professor Leslie Coyne. This fall, Professor Davis and Professor Coyne added even more students and attorneys to the mix.
We at Georgia Innocence Project are continually amazed by what our clients, staff, and colleagues are able to overcome with determination and grace. Thanks to the efforts of Meagan, the support of the Alabama Law Foundation, all our partners at Cumberland School of Law, and the many others who helped lay such a strong foundation for the future of innocence work in Alabama, Alabama’s wrongfully convicted now have talented, local legal support and increased hope for the future, and GIP is able to focus solely on cases in Georgia, a state which has many challenges of its own.