MBA volunteers sought for new initiative to expand capacity of innocence organizations

Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024

The Massachusetts Bar Association is excited to announce a new criminal justice initiative focused on MBA volunteer attorneys helping to expand the capacity of the three Massachusetts innocence organizations to represent people who maintain they were wrongfully convicted for crimes they did not commit: the Committee for Public Counsel Services (and its Innocence Program) (“CPCS”), the New England Innocence Project and the Boston College Innocence Program. 

This is a special opportunity for MBA members to support innocence organizations in their challenging and vital efforts at remedying wrongful convictions, requiring a limited time commitment, by helping CPCS evaluate applications for legal assistance on post-conviction claims of wrongful conviction or to assist the innocence organizations in reviewing and investigating post-conviction claims. 

At the MBA’s House of Delegates meeting on Sept. 28, 2023, representatives from the MBA-convened Massachusetts Conviction Integrity Task Force, consisting of key Massachusetts criminal justice stakeholders, announced this new initiative. At the meeting, MBA officers and members of the House of Delegates expressed enthusiastic support for the MBA sponsoring and promoting this new initiative.

MBA attorneys with significant criminal or civil litigation experience or relevant specialized expertise may volunteer for one or both components of the MBA’s innocence initiative, described below. Participating MBA volunteers will attend a CPCS-sponsored training of approximately two hours. The professional liability insurance policies of Massachusetts innocence organizations will provide professional liability coverage to MBA attorneys who volunteer to perform the assigned tasks under their supervision.   
If interested, please complete and submit the Volunteer Application Form. CPCS will contact you about your application to volunteer after it’s reviewed. 

Summary of Components of MBA’s Innocence Initiative 

  1. Providing initial screening of applications to CPCS seeking post-conviction assistance for a wrongful conviction claim, under CPCS supervision. MBA attorney volunteers engage in an initial screening of applications to CPCS seeking post-conviction legal assistance, to help CPCS determine whether the wrongful conviction claim merits opening a CPCS investigation. Each assessment involves reviewing CPCS-collected case materials to identify the bases for any post-conviction claim. It entails reviewing the collected case materials, preparing a concise written summary, and then participating in a CPCS Innocence Program meeting on the case for CPCS to determine whether to open an investigation. Each assessment will require a limited time commitment of approximately 10 to 15 hours.

  2. Providing assistance to innocence organizations in advanced case reviews or in investigations of post-conviction claims, with projects assigned on an as-needed, as-requested basis, in areas of specialized expertise. MBA attorney volunteers apply their specialized expertise to assist Massachusetts innocence organizations in performing advanced case reviews or investigations of a post-conviction claim, with projects assigned on an as-needed and as-requested basis, based on volunteers’ availability. It involves assisting on a discrete assigned task, requiring a limited time commitment, or a more substantial time commitment, depending on the circumstances and volunteers’ availability. CPCS will include MBA volunteers with needed specialized expertise to a list of available attorneys. 
On the application form, Massachusetts innocence organizations have listed examples of areas of needed specialized expertise. MBA attorneys may list other areas of specialized expertise they possess on the application form. 

Please register for the MBA’s virtual program/information session on the MBA’s innocence initiative on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at 4 p.m., where the directors of Massachusetts' three innocence organizations will describe how volunteers may assist their organizations and answer questions about volunteering.