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Legal Representation

The Montana Innocence Projects provides free legal services to innocent Montanans who are wrongfully convicted.

Phase 1: Initial Evaluation

  • Evaluate hundreds of incoming applications to determine if they meet our criteria for representation
  • If the application meets the initial criteria, send a release and authorization to the applicant allowing us to investigate, as well as a detailed case questionnaire for the applicant to fill out
  • Maintain correspondence with the applicant
  • Request additional information and documentation from the applicant
  • Interview applicant and potential witnesses in their case
  • Research statutes and case precedent
  • Refer applicants we determine do not meet our criteria to other resources of potential assistance
  • Provide a thorough review of the materials provided
  • Organize, scan, and retain physical files for all applicants for five years after the application is closed or until the applicant requests its return
  • Provide a clear analysis of each application and the rationale for any action taken for internal review

Phase 2: In-Depth Evaluation

  • Interview witnesses
  • Obtain available documents including case files, transcripts, past pleadings/opinions, and discovery
  • Investigate media on the case and Montana Supreme Court opinions on the case
  • Travel to the crime scene, to witnesses, to prisons, to courthouses, and police departments to review evidence housed there and elsewhere as dictated by the individual case
  • Develop and obtain new evidence based on investigative leads
  • Research subject matter areas dictated by the case to engage and question witnesses and potential experts regarding the areas of interest

Phase 3: Representation

  • Enter into an agreement to legally represent the applicant and review the parameters of the applicant agreement
  • Inquire and obtain pro bono counsel assistance
  • Draft pleadings
  • Brainstorm strategy and presentation of the case with the legal team
  • Inquire and obtain expert assistance as necessary
  • Advise client on potential action, and potential strategic advantages and consequences of legal action
  • Set up free calling and in-person meetings with clients and counsel
  • Maintain correspondence and communication with clients
  • Review and manage responsive pleadings
  • Advocate at hearings before the Court
  • Initiate and advocate in a case where appellate relief is appropriate, either to the Montana Supreme Court, or in Federal courts, or both

Education

Law students are invited to participate in our legal clinic each year. We have hosted nearly 25 students to date who have gained practical skills and had the opportunity to fight for the innocent.

Our legal clinic entails:

  • Meeting with clinic students to determine specific interests and goals, and attempt to assign student cases that fit with their desires while furthering the immediate needs of the organization
  • Assigning cases to students to review at all phases of evaluation
  • Meeting weekly with each individual student to assess progress on assigned cases and provide advice or feedback as needed
  • Assigning research projects, review, and edit written memorandums from students
  • Facilitating meetings with clients in prison facilities
  • Educating students on the practical aspects of legal practice
  • Hosting weekly roundtable discussions with clinic students regarding challenges, experiences, and questions they may have about their work
  • Providing meaningful evaluations of individual performances at midterm and at the finality of the term
  • Supervising students when they advise clients, draft legal pleadings, advocate in court, and communicate with outside entities on the client’s behalf

Advocacy

In addition to freeing the innocent from prison, we work to prevent wrongful convictions by remedying causes, improving laws, and advocating for criminal, racial, and social justice in Montana.

Our advocacy work entails:

  • Identifying causes of wrongful convictions, issues that impact justice-involved Montanans, laws/policies that relate to the post-conviction relief process, and laws/policies that impact our clients’ lives while they are wrongfully incarcerated and once they are freed
  • Conducting research and providing education about these topics on our website, and updating our supporters about recent events regarding these topics on our social media accounts
  • Identifying and building relationships with other organizations, leaders, and activists who are invested in these topics and seeking opportunities to work with them to further shared goals
  • Participating in groups like the Montana Public Safety Coalition and the Law and Justice Interim Committee that engage in legislative solutions
  • Supporting legislation through actions including legislative strategy, lobbying, and providing testimony
  • Successes include establishing new forms of testing DNA as newly discovered evidence, establishing witness recantation as a valid claim for individuals seeking post-conviction relief, and requiring police statewide to electronically record custodial interrogations in felony criminal cases
  • Current initiatives include providing meaningful monetary compensation for exonerees, abolishing the death penalty in Montana, and opposing laws that seek to reinstate capital punishment