Montana Innocence Project

Academic Year/Summer

Faculty Supervisor: Adjunct Professor Maylinn Smith

Supervising Attorney: Larry Mansch

Prerequisite: Professional Responsibility

Pre- or Co-Requisite:  Criminal Procedure - Investigative, Criminal Procedure - Adjudicative

Recommended:  Habeas Corpus

Areas of Emphases: Criminal Law; Post-Conviction Litigation; Fact Investigation and Development; legal research and writing; complex post-conviction litigation; client communication

Sample Projects

  • Complete pre-litigation/litigation preparation to seek DNA testing in innocence case
  • Review and analysis of trial and appellate record in innocence case
  • Evaluate inmate innocence claims
  • Correspond with inmates and investigate case
  • Research legal issues for preparation of appellate brief.

General Information

The Montana Innocence Project (MTIP) is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to exonerating the innocent and preventing wrongful convictions in Montana.  Using DNA and other evidence, MTIP provides the charitable legal and investigative assistance necessary to pursue credible claims of innocence. Innocence Projects nationwide have helped to free hundreds of wrongly convicted Americans, including three Montanans.

Students in this placement assist in the initial screening, research, development and litigation of innocence claims. Where appropriate, students are assigned to further investigate and address two key questions: 1) whether the innocence claim is credible and provable; and 2) whether there are legal avenues through which to pursue the innocence claim. Instruction addresses the laws and procedures governing attempts to reopen cases, including state and federal habeas practice, claims of new evidence, and ineffective assistance of counsel. It also includes other essential components of criminal appellate practice, including review of trial documents and transcripts, evaluation and research of legal issues, brief writing, and skills in oral argument. The interdisciplinary Innocence Project placement also engages UM journalism students in case investigation, and students may have an opportunity to collaborate on cases. Besides working on individual cases, students will gain a broader understanding of wrongful convictions and how to address and prevent them.