10th Annual Wrongful Conviction Day educates about prevention, uplifts impacted voices

Audience members watch a presentation titled “Wrongful Convictions, American Indians, and the Negativity Bias” on the 10th Annual Wrongful Conviction Day (Photo by Ashley Miller)

The Montana Innocence Project observed the 10th Annual Wrongful Conviction Day on Monday with a day of events that educated about root causes of wrongful convictions and uplifted stories of those directly impacted by these injustices.

Montana lawyers and other community members joined MTIP at the Missoula Public Library for a public education program over lunch. The presentation covered (1) how false confessions come to be and how to best represent an innocent person who has been coerced to confess; (2) the historical context for the prevalence of wrongful convictions of Indigenous peoples and best practices for representing a community that is largely untrusting of the criminal legal system; and (3) the impact of ineffective assistance of counsel on real peoples’ lives and how legal professionals can avoid bad practices and own up to them gracefully if they occur.

We are grateful for MTIP Board Members Paul Leisher, Andy Huff, and Colin Stephens for providing deep dives on these topics!

In the evening, innocence advocates and impacted people came together at Goodworks Place to hear the voices of those living through the horrors of wrongful conviction. Clients Katie Garding, Joseph Jefferson-Dust, and Bernard “Bernie” Pease Jr. shared about the toll wrongful convictions have taken on them and their families and their ability to engage with important life moments as well as who they are as people on the other end of wrongful incarceration.

Client Joseph Jefferson-Dust speaks to an audience about his life after wrongful incarceration on the 10th Annual Wrongful Conviction Day (Photo captured from a video recorded by The Missoulian)

Click here to watch a portion of Joe’s speech recorded by The Missoulian.

We screened two short films—”A Mother’s Perspective” and “A Sister’s Story”—where we got to hear from client Aaron Oliphant’s mom Rena and Bernie’s sister Linda about the impact of the trials on their lives and how they persist through the injustice on a daily basis. These short films, which were produced by Journalism Intern Ashley Miller, will be released in the coming weeks. We engaged in a community discussion about how removing people from a community through unjust and wrongful incarceration has damaging ripple effects.

And finally, MTIP Executive Director Amy Sings In The Timber closed the event with remarks about the future of MTIP’s work, including expansion of organizational resources and programmatic scope to include alternate mechanisms for release.

MTIP wants to extend immense gratitude to the clients and family members who courageously and vulnerably shared their stories!

Thank you to everyone who participated in and attended this year’s Wrongful Conviction Day! We hope that you continue to be curious about the causes of and potential solutions to injustice, and that you inspire others to do the same. To keep up with our growing organization, follow us on social media @BigSkyInnocence.