University of San Francisco School of Law Professor Lara Bazelon Appointed to Chair the San Francisco District Attorney’s New Innocence Commission
SAN FRANCISCO (September 17, 2020) – The University of San Francisco (USF) School of Law announced today that Professor Lara Bazelon, Barnett Chair in Trial Advocacy and Director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice and Racial Justice Clinics, has been appointed to chair the new six-member, all-volunteer Innocence Commission formed by San Francisco District Attorney (DA) Chesa Boudin. The Innocence Commission will support the work of the DA Office’s newly launched Post-Conviction Unit.
Working pro bono and assisted by a full-time staff attorney at USF School of Law’s Racial Justice Clinic, the Innocence Commission will review credible claims of wrongful conviction and make findings and recommendations to the DA’s Post-Conviction Unit. If the Commission determines that a petitioner was wrongfully convicted, it will recommend that the DA vacate the conviction and seek the prisoner’s release. While the DA retains the ultimate authority to make that determination, District Attorney Boudin has stated that the Commission’s findings will be afforded great weight, and that he will follow the recommendation of the Commission absent extraordinary circumstances.
In addition to Bazelon, Commission members include the Honorable Judge LaDoris Cordell (ret.), San Francisco Managing District Attorney Arcelia Hurtado, San Francisco Deputy Public Defender and USF School of Law adjunct professor Jacque Wilson, neuropsychologist Dr. George Woods, who is the President of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, and Executive Director of the Northern California Innocence Project Linda Starr.
“Lara is an expert litigator with the experience to lead fair sentencing and wrongful conviction investigations,” stated District Attorney Boudin. “The work of the Commission would not be possible without the support of the USF Racial Justice Clinic and Professor Bazelon.”
In addition to her appointment to the Innocence Commission, Bazelon has formalized a second collaboration between the Racial Justice Clinic and the DA’s newly launched Post-Conviction Unit, where the Clinic will partner with the DA’s Office in reviewing cases in which the sentences imposed may be excessive, or where the convictions may otherwise be legally questionable.
“Being part of the diverse, talented, and committed Innocence Commission team is a huge honor, and I’m grateful to Chesa Boudin for his vision and faith in our collective ability to do this work,” stated Bazelon. Regarding resentencing petitions that will be reviewed by the Post-Conviction Unit, she says, “We cannot make meaningful progress in the fight to end mass incarceration until we reckon with the huge numbers of people who are incarcerated for serious and violent offenses. Many of them are now elderly and many have shown by the work they have done inside prison that they no longer pose a danger to the public and would, in fact, be productive members of their communities.”
Thanks to generous gifts to the USF School of Law from Elizabeth Zitrin of the Zitrin Foundation and Wendy Holcombe, the staff attorney working for the Innocence Commission will be placed in USF’s Racial Justice Clinic to support Professor Bazelon and help Clinic students with the Commission's work. As a result of the generosity of the Vital Projects Fund, a second staff attorney will be also be placed in the Racial Justice Clinic to work with students and the DA's office in reviewing and evaluating approximately 900 cases involving sentences that were disproportionate to the harm caused, and where the prisoner no longer poses a danger to the community.
“Engaging with our community and improving our legal system by undoing wrongful convictions and working to end mass incarceration lies at the heart of our mission at the USF School of Law,” stated School of Law Dean Susan Freiwald. “We are grateful to our donors for their generosity in helping us fund this unprecedented and invaluable partnership, and to Professor Bazelon for her dedication to the law school, her students, and to rectifying the harms the system inflicts on marginalized, under-resourced communities.”
About the USF School of Law
Founded in 1912, the University of San Francisco School of Law has a tradition of educating effective lawyers who graduate with the professional skills and theoretical foundation necessary to succeed in the legal profession. The USF School of Law offers a rigorous education with a global perspective in a diverse, supportive community. Our graduates are skilled, ethical professionals prepared for any legal career — from intellectual property law to litigation and more — with a commitment to social justice as their enduring foundation. The USF School of Law offers full- and part-time Juris Doctor programs that empower students to develop their analytical abilities, master legal writing and research skills, acquire a firm foundation of basic law, explore an array of specialties, and refine their professional legal skills in practical settings. The law school also offers Master of Laws (LLM) programs in Taxation, Intellectual Property and Technology Law, and International Transactions and Comparative Law (for foreign lawyers), and a Master of Legal Studies in Taxation (MLST) for non-lawyers. The USF School of Law is fully accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. For more information, visit usfca.edu/law.
About the University of San Francisco
The University of San Francisco is a private, Jesuit Catholic university that reflects the diversity, optimism, and opportunities of the city that surrounds it. USF offers more than 230 undergraduate, graduate, professional, and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, law, education, and nursing and health professions. At USF, each course is an intimate learning community in which top professors encourage students to turn learning into positive action, so the students graduate equipped to do well in the world — and inspired to change it for the better. For more information, visit usfca.edu.