Wisconsin Innocence Project

Reform the System:


The exoneration cases have provided a window into the causes of wrongful convictions, and therefore an opportunity to implement reforms aimed at preventing future wrongful convictions. The Wisconsin Innocence Project has aimed to seize this opportunity through several avenues. First, the Project provides assistance to governmental agencies, by participating in legislative committees, writing Amicus briefs to state and federal courts, and providing research assistance to legislative and law enforcement entities.

Second, the Project works closely with the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission, a Commission made up of well-respected criminal justice professionals from across the system. The Commission's purpose is to study reforms aimed at helping the criminal justice system convict the guilty, and only the guilty.

Third, the Project's three clinical faculty members speak regularly at conferences and seminars designed to heighten awareness of the problem of wrongful convictions.

Finally, the Project's three clinical faculty members produce scholarly articles aimed at understanding and remedying the causes of wrongful convictions, and advancing clinical legal education through Innocence Projects.

Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission

Remington Center Partners with Marquette Law School, Wisconsin Attorney General, and State Bar of Wisconsin to form Criminal Justice Study Commission.

In 2005, along with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Marquette University Law School, and the State Bar of Wisconsin, the UW Law School's Frank J. Remington Center co-sponsored the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission (WCJSC). The Commission consisted of well-respected criminal justice professionals from throughout the system, including police, defense attorneys, prosecutors, academics, and victim's advocates, along with community leaders from outside the system. The Commission's purpose was to help the criminal justice system accomplish its fundamental mission of convicting the guilty, and not the innocent.  Learn more

Avery Task Force Legislation

In September 2005, Representative Mark Gundrum and Governor Jim Doyle introduced legislation designed to improve the accuracy and efficiency of Wisconsin's criminal justice system. The legislation is the result of months of work by the Avery Task Force, a legislative commission appointed by Representative Gundrum after the exoneration of Innocence Project client Steven Avery. The Task Force was created to examine the causes of wrongful convictions such as Avery's, and more broadly, other ways that the criminal justice system can be improved to ensure conviction of the guilty, and only the guilty. The Task Force was comprised of legislators (both Republicans and Democrats), judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police and sheriffs, academics, and a victim advocate.

The Task Force legislation includes:

Electronic Recording of Interrogations.
The new legislation first codifies the requirements of the Jerrell case, requiring electronic recording of interrogations with juvenile suspects. In juvenile cases, failure to record when recording is feasible will result in suppression of evidence. For adult cases, the legislation makes electronic recording statewide policy. If law enforcement authorities fail to record adult interrogations when recording is feasible, juries will be instructed that electronic recording is statewide policy and that they can consider the failure to record in evaluating the evidence. The legislation also provides that law enforcement authorities can apply for grant money to help finance the purchase and use of digital recording equipment.

Eyewitness identification reform.
The new legislation requires each law enforcement agency in the state to adopt policies or guidelines on eyewitness identification procedures that are designed to minimize the risks of eyewitness error.
After considerable study and after hearing from national experts and reviewing policies and guidelines from other jurisdictions, the Task Force adopted a set of model guidelines designed to ensure that police obtain the most reliable eyewitness identifications possible. The guidelines address issues such as proper selection of lineup or photospread fillers, proper instructions to witnesses, double-blind testing, and sequential presentation of suspects or photographs.

DNA preservation legislation.
The new legislation clarifies the kinds of biological evidence that law enforcement agencies must retain as long as anyone remains in custody in connection with the offense for which the evidence was collected. The legislation reduces the amount of material law enforcement agencies must retain, and is designed to clarify and ease the burden on law enforcement agencies, while ensuring that necessary biological material is preserved.

DNA testing legislation.
The legislation 1) clarifies which laboratories are responsible for postconviction DNA testing, 2) clarifies who pays for the testing, and 3) requires that testing that might prove innocence shall be given priority by the laboratories. The legislation will also provide additional funding to the laboratories to enable them to give the postconviction DNA testing priority.

Statute of Limitations legislation.
Under current law, when police develop a DNA profile of a sexual assault perpetrator but cannot find the person who matches that profile, the state may prosecute the perpetrator, without regard to the statute of limitations, whenever the state finds a person who matches the DNA profile of the perpetrator. The legislation allows the state also to prosecute the perpetrator for any other crimes committed at the same time and as part of the same course of conduct as the sexual assault, without regard to the statute of limitations, when the DNA profile of the perpetrator is matched to an individual.

Attorney General's Policy

New Policy on Eyewitness Identification

Similar to its work on eyewitness identification, the Remington Center also partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Justice in its efforts to implement electronic recording of interrogations.  In response to new laws requiring electronic recording, the Remington Center partnered with WDOJ to develop detailed guidelines for law enforcement agencies implementing recording, and then assisted WDOJ in training sessions for law enforcement officers around the state.

On March 15, 2005, the Wisconsin Department of Justice announced a new statewide model policy for police conducting eyewitness identification procedures. The new policy, which springs from a partnership between the Remington Center and the Training and Standards Bureau of the state Department of Justice, places Wisconsin ahead of all other states in adopting the best methods for conducting eyewitness identification.

By adopting the new policy, the Department of Justice recognized that outdated methods for conducting eyewitness identification produce an unreasonable risk of wrongful conviction. The new policy implements the accumulated wisdom of years of social science research, and thereby helps ensure that the guilty, and only the guilty, are convicted.

The new policy also re-affirms the core principles of the Wisconsin Idea and Wisconsin's history as a progressive state. The partnership between the Remington Center and the Training and Standards Bureau demonstrates, once again, our common interest in bringing best practices to Wisconsin's criminal justice system.

Read our Amicus Briefs

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