Stages of case investigation
Stage 1: Eligibility assessment and allocation of case to a member innocence project
The first stage of the Casework Process is a letter from a convicted person maintaining innocence asking the Innocence Network UK (INUK) for assistance. An Introductory Letter and a Preliminary Questionnaire is sent out by the INUK The Preliminary Questionnaire asks straight forward questions about the case.
- Personal details;
- Details of conviction including the offence(s) s/he is convicted of, location of crime, length of sentence received, date of conviction and so on;
- A brief description of the prosecution’s case, including any evidence produced at trial in support of the prosecution’s case;
- Argument put forward by the defence, including evidence produced at trial;
- Details of previous lawyers, at trial, appeal and/or an application to the CCRC/SCCRC;
- Full appeal history, giving reasons cited for failed appeals, and CCRC/SCCRC decision if applicable.
- Most crucially, the Preliminary questionnaire then asks more specific questions about the claim of innocence and how an innocence project affiliated with the INUK may assist the prisoner maintaining innocence:
- Why do you think you were wrongly convicted of the crime?;
- Do you have an alibi that proves that you could not have committed the crime that you have been convicted of? If so, please provide details;
- Is there any physical evidence (DNA, fingerprints etc) that proves that you could not have committed the crime?;
- How do you think an Innocence Project can help you prove your innocence? In other words, point us in the right direction; and,
- Is there any fresh evidence to now indicate that you are innocent that was not put before the jury at your trial?
When the completed Preliminary Questionnaire is returned INUK will assess whether the case is eligible to be worked on by a member innocence project. A case is deemed ‘eligible’ if:
- the applicant is maintaining factual/actual innocence of a conviction;
- the applicant has exhausted the normal appeals process, including those who have been advised that no grounds of appeal can be found;
- the applicant’s case is not in the process of a review by the CCRC/SCCRC; and,
- if the applicant has a solicitor acting on his/her behalf for a possible appeal, the solicitor is willing to be assisted by one of our member innocence projects.
Cases meeting the INUK’s criteria are deemed ‘eligible’ and added to our waiting list to be referred to member innocence projects upon request.
Alternatively, cases which do not meet the required criteria are deemed ‘ineligible’ for further investigation, but are kept on record for future research potential.
Stage 2: Investigation by an innocence project
When cases deemed to be eligible are referred to a member innocence project, more specific questions that arise from the completed Preliminary Questionnaire are put to the alleged innocent victim of wrongful conviction. For instance, clarification may be sought about any potential evidence that was mentioned. This may include the names and addresses of potential alibi witnesses; guidance about obtaining fresh evidence; allegations put forward by the ‘client’ as evidence of their innocence that student caseworkers may wish to further explore and/or confirm. In essence, this stage of the casework process is a rigorous ‘test’ of the information provided in the Preliminary Questionnaire. Anything that you may be unsure of is made sure of at this stage.
Staff directors and student caseworkers will try to obtain a full set of case documents from previous solicitors utilising an ‘Authority of Release Letter’ which is signed by the ‘client’. This can involve many boxes of case materials – trial summing up; Court of Appeal judgement; applications to the CCRC/SCCRC; witness statements; photographs and other exhibits, and so on. This will often arrive in a highly disorganised state and requires a methodical and meticulous approach to putting the case files back into chronological order.
Once the case documents are organised, the innocence project will identify any discrepancies that need to be verified or lines of inquiry that needs further investigation. This may include making contact with witnesses, obtaining evidence from police and other public bodies, and contacting forensic scientists for their services and/or expert opinion where appropriate.
As already indicated, all casework is properly supervised with support where appropriate from practicing criminal solicitors working on a pro bono basis with the member innocence projects.
Stage 3: Application to the CCRC/SCCRC or an application to the Secretary of State for a Royal Prerogative of Mercy
If a full investigation turns up grounds for appeal, the innocence project will make a formal application to the CCRC/SCCRC and, if the case is referred, lawyers will prepare the case for an appeal hearing.
It is also possible that innocence projects will also make applications for a Free Pardon under the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in applications to the Secretary of State if evidence of innocence does not provide grounds for an application to the CCRC and/or the SCCRC.
Alternatively, if during the course of an innocence project investigation, new evidence emerges which proves that the client is, in fact, mot innocent, the member innocence project will notify the INUK and close the case.