Friday, March 1, 2013

My Work on the Innocence Project

By Blake Eaton 

This is only my second semester at UT Dallas, and already I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in the Innocence Project Workshop. While my time in the class is far from over, I am already thrilled with how much I have learned.

The premise of the class is simple. Students review case materials that have been sent to the Innocence Project by people who claim to have been wrongly convicted in order to determine whether the cases have merit. They then present their findings to the rest of the class and create a brief memo to be sent to the Innocence Project with recommendations regarding the cases.

The concept alone is impressive, to say the least. The class, run by Dr. Champagne, is at the same time labor-intensive and low-stress. We review a new case in class every week, but the fact that we are split into four groups means that each group has almost a full month to read through their materials first.

Every moment of excitement in the legal arena is surrounded with tedium, though, and this is reflected in the case files that we read. After reading upwards of 1,000 pages, I typically have a solid understanding of events, but those pages don’t pass by in a blur, and even the shortest cases take dozens of hours to read through. It’s fortunate that I entered the class with a healthy interest in the law.

I’m not unique in that respect, and that is a huge part of why the course is so memorable. Everyone in the class is engaged, excited to be there, and prepared for class every Thursday. This is hardly unique from my experience at UT Dallas, but it makes the already interesting material that much better. Disagreements are frequent, and the debates we have about individuals’ guilt or innocence are consistently challenging.

It’s really exactly what I signed up for, and I couldn’t be happier.

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