Understanding the “Innocence Penalty”

Elizabeth DeLosaElizabeth A. DeLosa, managing attorney of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, and adjunct professor with both Duquesne University's School of Law and The University of Pittsburgh's Law School, will co-present "The 'Innocence Penalty': Is it More Pronounced for Juveniles?" with Nilam A. Sanghvi, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and adjunct professor of law at Penn State Dickinson Law, during the "Wrongful Convictions: Pursuing Justice for Juveniles and Correcting a Flawed System" Symposium. The Dickinson Law Review will present this virtual event on April 9.

The talk will highlight issues and disparities juveniles face when charged with a crime. It will also highlight some of the limitations juveniles may face when charged with a crime either in the adult or juvenile justice systems.

"The topic of false confessions regarding juveniles is often talked about. Our idea was to highlight the process in its entirety from the levying of charges to the certification and / or decertification process through to potential conviction and post-conviction proceedings. Here in Pennsylvania, some juveniles depending on their history and the crime for which they are charged will be automatically charged as adults. In some counties, that means housed in an adult jail facility along with adults awaiting trial or serving county sentences. We want to shed light on what that looks like and the various implications this process can have when faced by a child or adolescent, especially if that person is maintaining their innocence." DeLosa said.

Many of DeLosa's clients were juveniles when they were charged and convicted with the offense for which they are incarcerated.

She said, "It is hard for adults to face the overwhelming power of criminal justice system. However, it may be exponentially more difficult for a juvenile due to their lack of experience and sophistication; both necessary to make these very real and very difficult decisions."

The Pennsylvania Innocence Project at Duquesne, housed in the Tribone Center for Clinical Legal Education, provides pro bono services to exonerate those who are wrongfully convicted of a crime and works to prevent innocent people from being convicted.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University's academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim. 

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