The University of Miami School of Law is the first law school in Florida to be accepted into the Innocence Network, an international umbrella group of organizations dedicated to exploring the global human rights issue of the wrongful conviction of innocent people.
Held at the Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, the groundbreaking conference featured selected law students, lawyers, and exonerees from all over the world, including Australia, Chile, China, India, Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, and the Netherlands. The purpose of the 2011 Innocence Network Conference was to unite efforts in turning the issue of wrongful convictions into an international human rights movement.
1L Gretchen Cothron, Student Director of the Wrongful Convictions Project (WCP), attended the conference with faculty advisor and professor Sarah Mourer. Miami Law's LAFAC (Law Activity Fee Allocation Committee) sponsored the trip to the conference.
"The conference presented an unparallelled opportunity for networking and discussing issues with other professionals in the field," Cothron says. "It is the only conference that brings together all of the scholars in the field of wrongful convictions – and these scholars range from lawyers, to Ph.D.'s, to forensic scientists."
Cothron cites Mourer as a driving force behind Miami Law's Wrongful Convictions Project. In addition to serving as the faculty advisor for WCP, Mourer is a co-director of the Miami Innocence Project and Capital Defense Project clinics, along with Craig Trocino and Terry Lenamon, respectively.
"It's important for all of the Innocence Project directors to come together and share their experiences and case knowledge to effectively protect the innocence of those who are wrongfully accused," Mourer says of the 2011 Innocence Network Conference. "Finding out how other directors used their evidence in creative ways could help save someone's freedom in the future."
Cothron and Professor Mourer split up in order to attend as many seminars as possible, ranging from starting a new innocence project at a law school, to non-DNA investigations, to media relations regarding wrongful convictions.
"It was evident at the conference that there is an international human/civil rights movement emerging to end over-criminalization, a probable causal factor in innocent people being incarcerated," Cothron says.
Cothron had several incredible networking opportunities at the conference. "I was a part of a lunch table that included the country's leading scholars on false confessions, an area in which I accomplished research leading to a published article prior to law school. Eating and conversing with Sam Gross from the University of Michigan, Richard Leo from the University of San Francisco, and Rob Warden from Northwestern University was incredible. Rob Warden explained to me the systematic approach he and his colleagues at Northwestern used to achieve mandatory interrogation recording and new procedures for police lineups, all of which eventually led to the end of the death penalty in Illinois."
The conference proved to be incredibly influential to the future of Miami Law's Wrongful Convictions Project, putting into motion several upcoming projects for both the Miami Innocence Project and WCP.
Cothron continues, "I had breakfast one morning with Korey Wise, one of the 'Central Park Jogger' exonerees; and, another morning with Jamie Bain, exonerated in Florida after 35 years in prison. Both of them went to prison in their late teens, and Jamie spent more time in prison than I have been on this earth. Their innocence, joy, and smiles were humbling. They reminded me that there are situations far worse than stressing over 1L exams."