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Leo Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship for Wrongful Convictions Research

April 14, 2011

Associate Professor Richard A. Leo has been awarded a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship in the general nonfiction category for his forthcoming book The Innocence Revolution, co-authored with Tom Wells.

“It is with pride that I announce that our own Richard Leo has won a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship, among 180 artists, writers, and researchers who were selected from more than 3,000 applications,” Dean Jeffrey Brand said.

The book will explore the growth in the last two decades of convicted U.S. prisoners being found innocent, the increasing media and public attention to the problem of wrongful convictions, and the history of the innocence movement.

Leo shares the grant with Wells, who also co-authored The Wrong Guys: Murder, False Confessions, and the Norfolk Four. In addition to Leo, two other University of San Francisco professors received fellowships—Associate Professor D.A. Powell and Associate Professor David Vann from the College of Arts and Sciences. USF is the only institution in the country with three Guggenheim fellows this year. 

"I was thrilled (to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship)," Leo said. "Everyone knows that USF is a world-class teaching institution. The three Guggenheim awards show that it is also a world class research institution."

The $50,000 grant will support one year of research for the new book, including interviews across the nation and archival research at Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, Cornell University, and Yale University.

Since 1989, 258 U.S. prisoners have been exonerated through DNA testing and several hundred more have been exonerated through other means, Leo and Wells wrote in their fellowship proposal. “Few Americans would be surprised to hear today—as they would have been two decades earlier—that many people languish in U.S. prisons,” they said.

The book will explain the numerous obstacles to reversing wrongful convictions, including restrictions on who can obtain post-conviction DNA testing, substantial barriers in the judicial system, and resistance from prosecutors who tend to oppose reopening their cases. It will also discuss the steps that have been taken to reduce wrongful convictions and the considerable reforms that are still required for justice.

“Despite the burgeoning awareness within the legal system of its propensity for error, reversing miscarriages of justice remains an extraordinarily difficult, time-consuming, and expensive task,” Leo and Wells said. “Time and time again, the system has proven indisposed to substantial change.”