The Hawaii Innocence Project at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law has been awarded a substantial grant from the Department of Justice to fund DNA testing.

On Tuesday, Kenneth Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, announced the program was the recipient of a $573,355 grant from a program sponsored by the department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Under the program, BJA provides funding to help cover the costs of post-conviction DNA testing for violent felony offenses where innocence may be demonstrated.

“This grant is highly competitive, so the fact that we were awarded such an amount is a huge feat,” Lawson wrote in a press release. “We are grateful to the Department of Justice for supporting HIP’s mission of exonerating the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing.”

UH Manoa William Richardson School of Law exterior.
The Hawaii Innocence Project at the UH Manoa law school accepts up to 16 law students to investigate cases for proof of innocence. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

The Hawaii Innocence Project is a supervised law clinic at the University of Hawaii Manoa that takes up to 16 students from each class. According to Lawson, there is always a waitlist to get into the clinic.

Law students at the clinic are separated into teams and work on investigating different cases to determine whether innocence can be demonstrated.

Currently, the Hawaii Innocence Project is working on seven cases that involve DNA evidence and is looking into dozens of other applications.

Lawson said that the funding is crucial when doing costly DNA testing.

“DNA testing is a lot of money,” Lawson said. “We have some cases where just to test four or five items may cost $40,000 or $50,000 — to test underwear or blue jeans or cigarette butts — each test costs an exorbitant amount of money.”

The Hawaii Innocence Project is one of 15 applicants awarded a grant from the program.

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