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Arizona receives federal DNA grant

October 17, 2008

The Arizona Justice Project and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office have been awarded a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department through its National Institute of Justice. The grant will be used for post-conviction DNA testing in cases of forcible rape, murder, and non-negligent manslaughter to demonstrate actual innocence.

Under this grant, Arizona could become one of the first states in America to systematically and categorically identify inmates in which DNA might resolve questions about actual innocence, and then conduct the needed testing.

“This grant affords us a very exciting opportunity,” said Carrie Sperling, executive director of the Arizona Justice Project and a professor at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, where the project is housed. “This is a huge and important undertaking and the opportunity to collaborate with all of the relevant agencies in the state is very exciting.”

Over the next 18 months, the Arizona Justice Project will identify and evaluate potential cases and, with the help of the Attorney General’s Office, will secure the relevant biological evidence and the necessary files.

Attorney General Terry Goddard said the grant will help make sure the right people are convicted.

“DNA testing is a powerful tool that benefits all involved in our criminal justice system, especially victims,” Goddard said. “This grant enables my office to support local prosecutors and ensure that those who have committed violent crimes are identified and behind bars.”

The Arizona Justice Project and the Attorney General’s Office will work with Arizona’s crime labs – both public and private –under the grant administration of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

Arizona’s crime laboratories will make their resources available both for examination of samples and for conducting comparison testing through the national database of DNA profiles. Several private laboratories also have been identified to assist in the collaborative effort, including the Chromosomal Laboratories located in Phoenix.

The Project also will use private investigators through the Arizona Association of Licensed Private Investigators.

The Project will continue with its criminal justice endeavors and case evaluations in many other areas.

“We look forward to devoting special attention to this undertaking and the partnership with Arizona’s law enforcement and forensic communities,” Sperling said.

More than 200 exonerations in the United States have resulted from DNA evidence, two of them in Arizona. Most of these exoneration cases are brought forward by inmates through private attorneys or non-profit organizations, such as the national Innocence Project or state organizations such as the Arizona Justice Project. The principals of this grant-funded post-conviction DNA project will document the processes with the goal of making this a best practice to be replicated in other states that allow for post-conviction DNA testing.

The Arizona Justice Project, an innocence project, is now in its 11th year and is now centered at the College of Law, which enjoys a national reputation as a center for the study of forensic science and DNA research and evaluation.  For many years the Project also has worked in concert with the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona and with the Northern Arizona University Justice Project.

Judy Nichols,
(480) 727-7895
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law