Sommervold to speak at Doane
Sara Sommervold, Clinical Fellow and Intake Attorney with the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago, Illinois, will be the featured speaker at Doane’s Scholar Leader Seminar Series on Saturday.
Sommervold will visit with students in the Doctorate of Education program at Noon on Doane’s Lincoln campus, discussing her research on “The issues and factors that contribute to wrongful convictions: causes and consequences.”
Sommervold has worked at the Center on Wrongful Convictions since March 2014. She focuses on analyzing requests for representation, research, assisting with representation, and public events. Her research has focused on the issues and factors that contribute to the wrongful conviction of women.
Sommervold is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she was a student attorney in the first federal commutations clinic in the United States.
The Center on Wrongful Convictions, housed in Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, was formed in 1999. The CWC represents individuals who have been wrongly convicted of a crime and receives over 3,500 inquiries a year from inmates around the country seeking legal representation.
As the intake attorney, Sommervold is responsible for evaluating each case to determine which cases the Center can take on. Because the CWC has a limited number of attorneys, they also partner with outside pro bono attorneys and CWC students to review the requests and represent imprisoned clients who have claims of actual innocence.
Sommervold says that every letter is read and addressed, but because of their small staff (5 full-time attorneys), there are roughly 60 active cases the Center is able to work on.
The CWC is a part of the Innocence Network, an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to people seeking to prove their innocence, working to rectify the causes of wrongful convictions, and to support the exonerated after they are freed.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, since 1989, there have been 2,280 exonerations in the U.S. Since 1973, 69 people have been exonerated from death row.
“I hope people realize this is happening to human beings in your community and all across the country,” Sommervold said. “Progress in this area isn’t possible without research.”
Sommervold’s presentation represents the first visitor of the Scholar Leader Seminar Series this academic year. The series begun last year under the direction of Cate Sommervold, director of the education doctorate program and Karla Cooper, an education adjunct faculty member.
“Our students will be able to see how important research and scholarship are to change and social justice,” Cate said. “Our students are interested in making the world a better place and this is one more avenue for them to explore relative to how to accomplish that goal.”
Sara Sommervold’s visit to Doane is very timely as well. The Center on Wrongful Convictions is featured prominently in the hit Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer,” as Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin, co-directors of the Center, represent Brendan Dassey, who is serving a life sentence in prison for murder. Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery, are the two main subjects in the documentary. Season two of the show was released last month.
“What I’m hoping to expose to these students is the idea that scholarship is important,” Sara said. “It doesn’t just exist in the academia bubble, it’s disseminated throughout the country and helps support change.”
For more information on The Center on Wrongful Convictions, visit their website at http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/.
Sara will be speaking to Doane Doctoral students at Noon on Saturday in room 117 in the Administration Building on the Lincoln campus.