Hamline News

Injustice exposed

By Marla Holt

As an intern with the Innocence Project of Minnesota (IPMN), which is housed at Hamline University, Sophia Maceda ’17 and a law student from the University of St. Thomas searched for and interviewed witnesses to discover inconsistencies or previously undisclosed facts that might aid in IPMN’s handling of a case. The work was often excruciatingly incremental—“We never found a smoking gun,” Maceda says—but essential to the ongoing work of the Innocence Project, which generally has 40 to 50 open cases, all at differing stages of screening, investigation, or litigation. The organization has succeeded in getting five men out of prison since 2007. Those successes came from roughly 1,300 requests for assistance, which were narrowed down to 400 to 500 cases in which the Innocence Project did significant investigative work.

“Proving innocence is a tough, tough fight,” says Julie Jonas, attorney and legal director at IPMN. Jonas screens IPMN’s potential cases, oversees investigations, and coordinates litigations once proof of innocence is found.

Maceda says her work at the Innocence Project brought her face to face with the reality of the American criminal justice system. “So many of the cases I read through had me thinking: ‘How did this case even go to trial? How can these injustices go by without anyone noticing?’ I realized how evidence can be manipulated, how certain things can be withheld, how perceptions by the jury can be shaped solely by one piece of evidence or the testimony of one person.

“The experience taught me that real people’s lives are being impacted and there are collateral consequences to their families and to their communities because of it,” she says.

Maceda majored in criminal justice and psychology at Hamline. In December, she transitioned from the Innocence Project to her first job as a youth support specialist for the YMCA, mentoring girls aged 13 to 18 who are on probation in Hennepin County. Most of the girls have experienced trauma in their lives, and Maceda helps them achieve their educational and employment goals.

Hamline is an ideal partner for IPMN, Jonas says, citing Maceda’s experience as an example of how the university and the organization can work toward common goals. “In addition to physical space, Hamline provides human resources—students who have proven helpful in our investigative work,” she says. The IPMN is also affiliated with Hamline’s Center for Justice and Law, for which Jonas serves as an ex officio board member. 

Maceda echoes that sentiment: “The IPMN is exactly where it should be—at Hamline, amidst a body of people who care deeply about social justice issues.”