November 5, 2009

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›› Kelly Schneider '96: Starting New Ohio Program Targeting Wrongful Convictions
›› Lauren Dubick '07

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Kelly Schneider '96: Starting New Ohio Program Targeting Wrongful Convictions

The arduous and demanding life of a public defender was never an option for Kelly Schneider ’96. It was the only option.

Having her career goals directly aimed at a profession rooted in public service since high school, Schneider said it wasn’t surprising that she would pursue a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice at Ohio State University and later embark on a career in law to “help those who have no where else to go.”

Even with 12 years of trying work in the Office of Ohio Public Defender, Schneider, a Columbus native, believes that there are still injustices that plague the legal system.

“One of my first death penalty cases dealt with a young man being charged with aggravated murder two weeks past his 18th birthday,” she said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he didn’t do it. ... A lot of evidence wasn’t passed over to the attorneys. It’s troubling.”

Today, Schneider is working to reverse the wrongs of the legal system by applying for a Department of Justice grant geared toward wrongful conviction projects. This project is the state’s first program to focus exclusively on wrongful conviction claims that do not involve DNA evidence and will be targeting non-DNA, life-sentence cases rather than death penalty cases. Although Schneider and her colleagues did not receive the grant, she said they will still move forward with the project.

“We will operate on a much smaller scale,” she said. “We will probably have to reduce the number of people we can help. The biggest hurdle is figuring out whether there is a legitimate case. Even if we can just help one person, it will be worth it.”

Schneider and her colleagues hope to focus on false confessions, witness misidentifications, and false forensic science in pursuing these wrongful convictions. Schneider will serve as supervisor of the project and will be doing all the initial screenings of the cases.

“For someone who is a criminal defense lawyer, this is a dream to work on this and help people who have nowhere else to go,” she said. “I would rather see nine guilty go free than one person (wrongfully) in prison.”

Schneider is currently working with one Capital Law student on the cases. Three Moritz students will join the project during spring semester.

“The cases will only be from Ohio and will only be cases that have exhausted their state and federal court resources,” she said. “They will only be ones that have been timed out. It’s to protect the clients and their procedural due process.”

She said the Office of Ohio Public Defender frequently receives letters from inmates.

“From our intake department, we know there is a need for this,” she said. “It’s another impetus on why we started this program. We do our best to make sure that the Constitution is preserved. There is just something awful about knowing that a person did not commit a crime.”

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