Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up for Kroc School News and Events

Join nearly 10,000 Changemakers when you subscribe to the Kroc School's monthly e-newsletters. Subscribe

XONR8: Peace and Justice Student Finds Hope in Fighting for the Wrongly Convicted

Wednesday, August 28, 2019TOPICS: FieldworkResearchStudent SuccessHuman Rights and Security

Staff Attorney Fellow Jeremy Stock with CIP supervising interns on Matti’s last dayAt the San Diego Superior Court in North County watching CIP attorneys advocate for Jermaine Smothers

Kroc School students who are part of the MA in Peace and Justice (MAPJ) program have been spending their summer in internships working with peacebuilding organizations around the world. Before departing for their internships, students were asked to share updates from their internship experience, and this is one such contribution from MAPJ student Kendahl Kelly. This summer, Kendahl is a Supervising Intern with the California Innocence Project. Read about her experience below. 

Since March of 2019, I have been an intern at with the California Innocence Project (CIP). Since CIP was founded in 1999, they have walked 30 innocent people out of prison, people who might have spent their entire lives locked up for something they did not do. This non-profit organization has three missions: 

  • To free the wrongfully convicted from prison
  • To work to reform the criminal justice system
  • To train law students to become zealous advocates

Each year, the California Innocence Project receives around 4,000 pieces of mail and around 2,000 individual claims of innocence from California inmates. As a new intern, this is where the majority of the work is done. Interns handle intake mail from inmates, answer phone calls from inmates or their families, decides a course of action as to whether to close the case or ask for further information and corresponds with the inmates. Many things go into a decision like this, one of these is that CIP only assists in cases where there is a claim of factual innocence. Accidents, self-defense, ignorance, or pressure are all examples of nonfactual innocence. Interns also document all correspondence and actions in our databases, which is critical to our work. This is especially due to the fact that innocence work takes years because of the many requests for assistance mentioned before and the limited resources available to the organization. 

As a supervising intern, I have a lot more responsibility and help answer questions that interns might have. However, it is hard to describe what a normal work-day looks like for me because there are so many different tasks that I handle and so many different events happening each week. Therefore, I will explain what I have been doing this week so far. I have been assigning interns specific cases to work on for case presentations to be held in front of the attorneys and fellow interns at CIP. Additionally, I have been writing a memo on a case assigned to me and made suggestions on whether to close or further the investigation into the case. Through my work on this case, I have also talked to the former lawyer of the inmate. I spent a full day at San Diego Superior Court in North County listening to the brilliant and dedicated attorneys at CIP advocate for Jermaine Smothers, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1996, and is still serving his sentence of 29 years to life. At this time, we also visited the crime scene with the Staff Attorney Fellows to better understand what the eyewitnesses were able to see from the positions where they allegedly were located at the time of the crime. 

Visit to the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego to witness the trial of a double homicide gang case

CIP is filled with absolutely amazing people who are so dedicated to helping people that have lost their freedom due to a justice system that is built to make it easier to convict an innocent person than to get an innocent person out of prison. It is a system that fails to correct its mistakes and adjust to junk science and false experts. 

My time at the Kroc School has taught me many things that I take with me in my everyday work at my internship. Through classes like International Justice and Human Rights, Conflict Analysis, and my field-based practicum, I have learned to critically look at cases from various perspectives and take into account another person’s perception of the conflict. Through my class Leadership and Organizations, I have come to truly appreciate the leadership that is present at CIP, the way the organization operates, and the standard of respect for all people that each and every person portrays to inmates who are used to be treated as merely a number. 

Intern lunch with Staff Attorney Raquel Cohen discussing the case of Joann Parks and bad forensics

At times, I get extremely discouraged about the justice system on so many levels. Not long ago the 166th person was freed from death row. This means that there was a plan to execute a man for a crime that he never committed. That is the state of our justice system. Celebrating and being happy about someone being released from prison conflicts and disturbs me because although that is truly an amazing moment, it should have never happened in the first place. On the other hand however, being an intern with California Innocence Project has truly changed my view of the world and has convinced me that justice is worth fighting for. I have met the most amazing, selfless, fierce, and badass people, and I am truly grateful for this unique experience and life lesson.

CIP float at the PRIDE parade

Many people are currently in prison serving time, possibly for life, for crimes they did not commit. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, family members, and friends are torn away from their loved ones because of a system that has failed them tremendously. CIP is the last option for people like this, the last grasp of hope. Fortunately, the dedicated, brilliant, and amazing freedom fighters at CIP are doing everything they can to win back the freedom of innocent people. Because of CIP there is still hope for the wrongfully convicted and because of CIP I have a newfound energy and belief in freedom fighting on a larger scale.

Contact:

Kevin Dobyns
kdobyns@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-7618

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies

Phone

Contact Us

Map

Visit Campus

5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110