On the Northern California Innocence Project website, black-and-white portraits and a few simple words tell an impressive story of sadness and suffering. Xabion Johnson lost 17 years. Jack Sagin has lost 34 years. Edelyn Yhip fought for five years.
These are just a few of the 33 clients who have the illegal belief that the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) has helped capsize since 2001.
This year, NCIP, a non-profit program run by Santa Clara University School of Law, celebrates 20 years of advocacy, policy reform and education.
Last year, it secured the release of three more clients. Juan Batista was mistakenly identified as an attempted murder shooter. Clifton Jones, father unfairly convicted of the accidental death of his toddler. And Arturo Jimenez spent 26 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.
This project works as follows: First, identify an individual who has been convicted in California and can provide substantive support for an innocent claim. When the program accepts new clients, a team of law students, lawyers, and volunteers review new and existing evidence and collect evidence of the client’s claims. After sufficient evidence is available, the team first negotiates with the district attorney to overturn the conviction. If the negotiation fails, NCIP will proceed with the proceedings.
This process is painstaking, rigorous, and often overwhelming. Even under the best of circumstances, it can take years to resolve a case. However, NCIP co-founder and secretary general Linda Starr, a professor of law at SCU, is inspired by the client himself.
“I don’t understand summoning the grace they show,” she said. “They are an amazing demonstration of the resilience of the human psyche.”
One such person is Arturo Jimenez, a Los Angeles County resident who was falsely convicted of murder in a 1994 shooting. Despite the testimony of multiple witnesses that he was not a shooter, his attorney-at-law was unable to present evidence of immunity to the jury. (The lawyer in the trial was later dismissed.) At the age of 18, Jimenez was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
“I must have written 200 lawyers, law firms, and law schools. I submitted 14 or 15 petitions, all of which were rejected,” said Jimenez, now 44. Said. I’m convinced that not everyone intends to be happy. “
However, in 2012, Jimenez contacted Ellen Eggers, the state’s deputy public advocate, who helped clear the charges of other prisoners. She agreed to work with NCIP lawyer Page Caneb and Morrison & Foerster, a leading international law firm, to undertake his proceedings to prove his innocence.
On August 12, 2020, 26 years after being charged with a crime not committed by Jimenez, his conviction was overturned. Six months later, the California Superior Court in Los Angeles County found him virtually innocent.
“I had nine lawyers working on my case,” Jimenez said with a laugh. “It’s really nice to finally have someone listen to me and make people really worried about the justice behind me. Page, Ellen Eggers-they even became my friends They are still in my corner. I really appreciate them and what is in their hearts. “
Incidents such as Jimenez and protests against racial injustice last summer have prompted further support for NCIP’s work, with the program receiving more than $ 3 million in free service each year from lawyers and investigators, and more than 130 people. Counting active volunteers. Although it is not primarily a racial judiciary, NCIP recognizes that “racial justice is inextricably linked to all aspects of the criminal justice system.”
In this way, NCIP has played an active role in advocating policy reform and public education, selecting, deciding, and convicting juries.
“I see (racial justice) as a turning point in California,” Star said. “It will change the judiciary system head-on-it should be. We are excited to be part of it.”
The changing public support for NCIP’s activities contrasts with the skepticism that first came when it began in 2001.
“We were challenging the system in ways that players on that system didn’t want to think about,” Star said. “The idea that some innocent people were convicted in California was rejected by some. Of course, they were wrong.”
As for Jimenez, he’s busy, spending time with his parents, working for the Prison of Peace, a non-profit organization that teaches prisoner communication and conflict resolution skills, traveling all over the United States, traveling to the beach, and more. I am enjoying that.
“The sea, the man. It’s one of the most beautiful,” he said. “That’s what freedom looks like.”
Casey Cantrell is a Bay City News reporter. This article was first published on LocalNewsMatters.org, a non-profit affiliated site supported by the Bay City News Foundation.
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