The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Notes from the Field: Olivia Morrison '16

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Rockefeller Center-funded interns reflect on their experiences as part of our "Notes from the Field" series. Click here to read more about the Rockefeller Center's Internships program. To read the entire series, click here.

Student Intern: Olivia Morrison '16

Internship Organization: Innocence Project New Orleans – New Orleans, LA

How would you describe your employer in one paragraph? What’s the elevator pitch?
Innocence Project New Orleans works to exonerate people who have been wrongly convicted in Louisiana and southern Mississippi. IPNO works on both DNA and non-DNA cases, and uses those cases to help effect change in laws and policies that result in the wrongful conviction of indigent prisoners. We are a nonprofit law firm, and work to help our clients (all of whom are indigent) at no cost to them. IPNO maintains a personal relationship with each client even after they become an exoneree, helping them after their release. Since its beginning 13 years ago, IPNO has secured the freedom or exoneration of 23 wrongly convicted prisoners, and continues to work to help the victims of the broken justice system.

What are your specific responsibilities in the organization? 
My main responsibilities are to answer mail - whether to send someone an application or an update on their case - and to screen cases. That means looking at all of the information in a particular case, including appeal opinions and sometimes trial transcripts, to try to get an idea of what happened and what claims the individual might have. I am also doing some minor investigative work, picking up records from different courts, and researching for different cases.

How did you feel on the first day of your internship? 
I was nervous on my first day! I spent all of my first day reading lots of materials, trying to get myself up to speed on how an innocence project like IPNO operates. That was intimidating, but once I started working on different tasks, I got the hang of things.

What is your favorite part of the internship so far? 
Screening cases has been one of my favorite things to do so far. I get to look into a case in-depth and try to determine where the court went wrong and what possible legal claims or new evidence the prisoner might have. In some instances, I am the first person to give the case a thorough review, and I do my best to provide as detailed and complete a screening as possible.

What challenges have you faced so far? 
Figuring out how to respond to different requests or pieces of information from prisoners and how to properly screen a case - learning what constitutes a good legal claim in various situations - was a steep learning curve. I asked a lot of questions in the beginning to make sure I was doing everything right! But as I've spent more time at my internship, I've grow more confident and I have a much better understanding of what to do or think in different situations.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of your internship?
I hope to have learned as much as possible about the criminal justice system, and in particular about post-conviction, as possible. I hope to do as good of a job as I can, and to somehow, in some case, make a difference in someone's life.

What have been some practical lessons you've learned in the day-to-day life of your internship?
If you have (and use) a Winn Dixie card when you shop, you can get $0.10/gallon off of gas. U-turns are not only accepted but necessary in New Orleans -- a lot of times you have to make a U-turn just to make a left! Staff outings can be fun -- last night we participated in an inflatable horse race at a New Orleans Zephyrs baseball game (I came in second)!

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences