RMIC works to correct and prevent the wrongful conviction of innocent people in Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada.
We advocate for systemic reforms to improve our justice system and to create meaningful opportunities for the wrongfully convicted to prove their innocence and to receive compensation for their time spent behind bars.
Our country recently achieved its 317th exoneration by DNA evidence. These 317 innocent individuals came from more than 38 different states (and Washington D.C.), and spent an average of 13.6 years individually – and more than 3,000 years collectively – in prison. DNA evidence has established without any doubt that our criminal justice system can make mistakes, causing an innocent person to be convicted and imprisoned while the true perpetrator remains free. Indeed, recent studies establish a 3 to 6% error rate in our criminal justice system nationwide, meaning that many thousands of innocent people may be imprisoned.
Yet the vast majority of innocence cases do not involve DNA evidence – either because that evidence was lost or destroyed or because the perpetrator did not leave biological evidence at the crime scene. Thus, without extensive legal assistance by organizations like the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center (RMIC), most innocent prisoners will never find a way to prove their innocence and win their rightful freedom.
Given the room for error in our justice system, hundreds of other innocent people are likely in prison in Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming in profound violation of their constitutional rights. These individuals have been robbed not only of their liberty but also of their home, work, family, and future. They have no assets, no representation, no access to the courts, and, without the services provided by RMIC, no hope of ever righting the wrong committed against them. RMIC provides critical legal services – and hope – to these individuals by helping them find a way to prove their wrongful imprisonment in court and thereby win restoration of their rights, freedom, and life.
No other organization provides these services regionally, and RMIC provides them entirely for free. RMIC is able to do this through a unique program that combines the efforts of trained and supervised law students and local, volunteer attorneys. The students conduct the factual investigations to uncover the evidence that will prove wrongful imprisonment; the attorneys then work to find a way to open the courthouse doors that have long been locked shut.
In addition to assisting innocent people in prison, RMIC also conducts education and advocacy about the causes and consequences of wrongful convictions and about reforms to improve the fairness and accuracy of our justice system. Improving our justice system and creating safeguards to ensure that the right people are convicted is important not only to innocent defendants and their families, but also to crime victims, law enforcement officials, and the general public alike. No one benefits when an innocent person is convicted – the crime victim receives neither justice nor closure; police and prosecutors have failed to get a criminal off the street; the public’s trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system is weakened; and precious public funds are wasted on the cost of trying, convicting, and imprisoning the wrong person.
RMIC’s also provides unparalleled opportunities for law students and local attorneys. The students participate in a year-long clinical program through which they put in 250 hours of work on RMIC’s cases, earn five academic credits, and learn how to perform critical pre-litigation and litigation tasks. The local attorneys get the opportunity to work on the case of, and possibly exonerate, an innocent person in prison – which can be the most rewarding experience of one’s legal career. RMIC currently has an Innocence Clinic at the S.J. Quinney College of Law in Utah. In addition, law students from the Brigham Young University Law School and the University of Wyoming College of Law also work on RMIC’s cases. RMIC also is collaborating with nine law firms.