We work to free those whom the legal system has failed. We also push for reforms to the criminal legal system to prevent wrongful convictions at the front end.
Every day, KWIP works to investigate and litigate cases where innocent people have been wrongfully convicted in Colorado. When we take on a case, our lawyers and law student volunteers dig deep in an effort to uncover new evidence of innocence.
KWIP currently has more than 150 applications on our waitlist for initial screening, and we're actively investigating and litigating about 15 cases. In some of these cases, we're simply seeking DNA testing that could prove our client's innocence. In other cases, we've committed to represent our client through post-conviction proceedings that could take years as the case winds through the court system.
We can't publicize details about every case we are investigating and litigating. Here are some of our current cases, and we hope to share more case information soon.
Though the victim initially told police that she had not gotten a good look at the perpetrator's face, she picked out Jason Hogan's picture from a photo array, and then later positively identified him in court. Mr. Hogan's conviction rests almost entirely on that single identification.
The jury convicted Mr. Hogan despite compelling evidence of his innocence. When the victim first described her attacker, she told police that he had a sun tattoo on his left hand. She even drew a picture of the tattoo for police. Mr. Hogan has no tattoos on his hands or arms.
Mr. Hogan is serving a 77-year sentence in the Colorado Department of Corrections. KWIP took on his case in late 2019, and we've been conducting a comprehensive re-investigation of the case. In recent months, we've identified several new leads and are hopeful about developing new evidence pointing to an alternate suspect. We've also submitted a letter in support of Mr. Hogan's clemency petition to Colorado Governor Jared Polis. In that letter, we outlined the social science research on eyewitness identification and noted the various ways that Mr. Hogan's case bears the markers of both eyewitness misidentification and a wrongful conviction.
Supporters of Mr. Hogan created this video to draw attention to his case and garner support for clemency.
Challenging Flawed Forensic Science
Flawed forensic science has contributed to scores of convictions nationwide. In the past decade, it's become clear that some disciplines like bitemark analysis and hair microscopy are wholly unreliable. New studies show that other well-established disciplines like ballistics comparison and even fingerprint analysis have signficant error rates and are much less precise than their proponents admit.
KWIP has made it a priority to identify cases where Coloradans have been convicted based on discredited or misleading forensic evidence. Here are just two of our current projects focused on identifying and challenging convictions based on bad science.
The FBI acknowledged serious problems with hair microscopy in 2013 after DNA testing exonerated three men who had been wrongfully convicted based at least in part on erroneous testimony by FBI hair examiners. This resulted in the FBI, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the national Innocence Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) joining forces to conduct a comprehensive review of cases where FBI analysts performed hair microscopy.
Initial results revealed that more than 90 percent of the reports or testimony given by FBI hair examiners contained erroneous statements, which prompted the FBI to encourage states to conduct similar reviews of their own hair microscopy work.
Hair microscopy was used quite extensively in Colorado before the advent of forensic DNA. KWIP is grateful that the CBI has agreed to partner with us to identify possible errors in decades-old cases where hair microscopy was used as evidence.
The goal of the joint review between KWIP and the CBI will be to first identify any errors made by CBI examiners in their reports and/or testimony, then to determine whether the hair microscopy evidence played a central role in the conviction. If so, KWIP will pursue DNA testing and other legal avenues to challenge any potentially wrongful convictions.
Currently, KWIP has two cases on our litigation docket involving toolmark analysis. In both cases, prosecution experts testified at trial that a handheld tool belonging to the defendant was the only tool in the world that could have created impressions found on evidence at the crime scene. By litigating both cases, KWIP hopes to expose this discipline as unreliable and open the door for other prisoners to seek relief.
KWIP is also actively engaged in policy work to prevent wrongful convictions at the front end. In the past two years, KWIP has been involved in three policy efforts.
KWIP is partnering with the Sociology Department at the University of Denver in gather data about what new identification procedures are being adopted by law enforcement across Colorado, and how consistently officers on the ground are adhering to recommended practices. KWIP hopes to leverage this data to improve compliance, through trainings with law enforcement and the defense bar.
Racial Justice Program
In 2021, KWIP launched a new racial justice program. Wrongful convictions happen more to people of color and specifically more to Black men than any other group. It is impossible to interact with the criminal legal system without seeing the legacy of slavery and how the system continues to scar many innocent people’s lives. Innocence work serves not only to free the wrongfully convicted but also to shine a light on the root causes of these injustices. By consciously focusing on racial injustice, we plan to educate our community about these issues. We also strive to connect more deeply with the communities that have been affected by this racial injustice and learn how to better meet their needs while also serving our clients.
In our racial justice program, we will be working with three distinct community groups to confront the continued role of race in our criminal legal system.
- Educating Youth with LYRIC: LYRIC is a small non-profit that goes into high schools across Colorado and teaches students their rights when interacting with police and the court system. One of KWIP's post-graduate fellows will be working with LYRIC to create a racial justice curriculum focused on systematic racism and how it leads to wrongful convictions. The content of this high school curriculum will be created by our fellow and taught by law students and lawyers volunteering with KWIP.
- Highlighting Incarcerated Voices with the Prison Arts Initiative: The Prison Arts Initiative (PAI) at the University of Denver is a program through which inmates in the Department of Corrections collaborate with PAI faculty to create artwork. Together, they host a podcast, write and produce theater, create visual arts, and publish a magazine. KWIP and PAI will work together to create an arts project expressing personal stories of racism in the criminal legal system. Our joint project will give voice to the suffering that systematic racism causes in individuals' lives, and we will then leverage those voices to support important legislative reforms.
- Promoting Legislative Reform with the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar: Finally, KWIP will work with the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar (CCDB) to draft legislation aimed at dismantling systemic racism in the criminal legal system.
In all of our work -- including these three components of our new racial justice program -- KWIP strives to keep focused on the pervasive impact of racism on people of color. As an organization, we commit to taking active and concrete steps to call out and challenge the myriad ways that racism plays a role in our criminal legal system.