Cooley Law School's Innocence Project

Donya Davis, convicted of rape almost seven years ago, was recently granted a new trial and released from imprisonment based on DNA results. His release was the result of work by the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law’s Innocence Project. Maria Mitchell-Cichon, director of the project, discusses the group’s work.

Prof. Maria Mitchell-Cichon

Prof. Maria Mitchell-Cichon

Mitchell relates that Mr. Davis wrote to the Innocence Project shortly after his conviction. Because of the project’s case law backlog and an issue with Michigan law, the project did not get to this case until 2009. Mitchell says that Davis was convicted in 2006 even though DNA testing carried out by law enforcement was negative for any trace of Mr. Davis’s DNA on the victim’s thighs.

The primary evidence against Davis was eyewitness identification by the victim. Mitchell points out that mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions—75% of the cases overturned by DNA evidence are based on faulty identification. Michigan does not have a compensation system for persons wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Project currently has 50 cases assigned to work on and 50 more waiting to be assigned.  

Professor Mitchell began her teaching career in 1986, following service as a public defender in Stark County, Ohio. She was director of the Trial Litigation Clinic for the University of Akron School of Law, 1986-1992. She teaches in the Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic and in Cooley's Innocence Project. She also teaches Professional Responsibility. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.