The Florida Bar Foundation has cut its grants through the Improvements in the Administration of Justice grant program from $2.7 million in 2008-09 to $502,516 in 2012-13 due to the lack of revenue from Florida’s IOTA program.
Among the projects still funded through the program is the Innocence Project of Florida, which has used DNA evidence to exonerate 13 men wrongfully convicted of crimes. Collectively, these men spent 259 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
“It’s like a man in the desert that finally finds water,” is how exoneree William Dillon described the feeling of being set free after serving 27 years in prison for a murder he had no involvement in whatsoever, other than being a visitor to the same beach where the crime took place.
The IPF continues to consider 750 new requests for help each year, with 350 cases currently in the document collection phase. IPF Executive Director Seth Miller had no doubt about one conviction when addressing The Florida Bar Foundation’s board of directors at its December meeting: “None of this could have happened without the unwavering support of The Florida Bar Foundation.”
The Foundation has provided more than $2.2 million in funding for the IPF since its initial grant to the organization in 2004-05. The IPF has been working to diversify its financial base through fundraising events and appeals as well as government grants, which now make up roughly a third of its support. The IPF board has been instrumental in this effort.
At $294,000, Florida Bar Foundation funding made up 36 percent of the IPF’s budget in 2012. This amount included $12,000 in matching funds for the Exoneree Emergency Fund, which provides limited assistance for exonerees after their release from prison.
Besides working to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, the IPF seeks remedies to the leading causes of wrongful conviction, including witness misidentification, false confessions, junk science, and overreliance on jailhouse informants.
An IPF eyewitness identification training session co-sponsored by the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Florida Public Defender Association had the added benefit of raising $10,000 for the IPF’s work. Among the organization’s expenses are expert witnesses, forensics such as DNA testing, investigation, litigation, and travel.