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Wrongful Conviction 2020: Litigating Claims of Innocence


Speaker(s): Adnan Sultan, Jane Pucher, Paul Casteleiro, Vanessa Potkin
Recorded on: Nov. 24, 2020
PLI Program #: 277634

Paul Casteleiro is the legal director for Centurion, the oldest exoneration nonprofit in the nation. He has been the primary attorney in 18 exonerations of people serving life in prison and currently has pending cases in state and federal courts in Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Numerous national and local publications have profiled Paul; in 1998 he was the lawyer in the James Landano retrial, covered in its entirety on Court TV. Millions watched the jury’s acquittal of Landano for the murder of a police officer that he did not commit.

In addition to winning many exonerations, Paul has been a trailblazer in criminal justice reform. A leader in exposing false confessions, he obtained the first ever published opinion in New York State that admitted expert testimony on the psychology of police interrogations and false confessions. His other achievements include proposing New Jersey’s law to compensate wrongfully imprisoned people; overturning the Supreme Court of New Jersey’s law admitting hypnotically enhanced testimony in criminal trials; establishing the unreliability of the F.B.I.’s bullet lead composition analysis, which led the FBI to stop offering such testimony. Following the widespread publicity that exposed the glaring injustices present in the case of Ralph Lee, Jr. and Erik Kelley who each served 24 years for a murder they did not commit, the State of New Jersey established the first statewide Conviction Review Unit in the nation to examine inmate claims of actual innocence.

A graduate of Rutgers Law School, Paul clerked for civil rights attorney Morton Stavis, a co-founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights. After law school, Paul’s first assignment was assisting Stavis in the Chicago 8 retrial. Shortly thereafter Paul became a public defender in Hudson County, New Jersey.

In 1979, Paul launched a solo practice with a focus in criminal and appellate cases. Early in his practice he met Jim McCloskey, founder of Centurion, who retained Paul to represent Centurion’s first client and exoneree. With that case, Paul began his 35-year collaboration with Centurion.


Adnan Sultan is a staff attorney at the Innocence Project. He litigates post-conviction cases nationwide on behalf of individuals seeking access to DNA testing and relief from wrongful convictions. He also instructs law students as part of the Innocence Project clinic at Cardozo. Prior to joining the Innocence Project, he worked as a staff attorney at The Bronx Defenders for five years where he represented thousands of clients charged with misdemeanors and felony crimes from arraignments to trial. In addition, he was a member of the Bronx Defenders' Forensic Practice Group where he consulted with attorneys and conducted trainings on DNA evidence. Before working at the Bronx Defenders, Adnan was a Prettyman Fellow at Georgetown Law School where he both represented clients charged with misdemeanor and felony crimes in D.C. Superior Court and supervised third year law students in Georgetown's Criminal Justice Clinic. He graduated from American University's Washington College of Law.


Jane litigates post-conviction cases nationwide on behalf of individuals seeking access to DNA testing and relief from wrongful convictions.  She also instructs law students as part of the Innocence Project clinic at Cardozo Law School. Prior to joining The Innocence Project, Jane worked for five years as a public defender with The Bronx Defenders, representing thousands of individuals charged with misdemeanor and felony crimes from arraignment through trial. She also served as a supervising attorney, training newer attorneys who were just beginning to represent clients charged with felonies, and mentoring them in all areas of practice. Jane graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 2011, where she was a student attorney in the Criminal Justice Clinic, and where she volunteered at the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, at the Northern Virginia Capital Defender Office, at the Public Defender Service of D.C, and at the Southern Center for Human Rights. She graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Political Science in 2008.


Vanessa Potkin joined the Innocence Project in 2000 as the project’s first staff attorney. She helped pioneer the model of post- conviction DNA litigation used nationwide to exonerate wrongfully convicted persons. She has represented and exonerated over 25 innocent individuals, from Louisiana to Montana, who collectively served over 450 years of wrongful imprisonment, five of whom were originally prosecuted for capital murder. Vanessa maintains a post-conviction docket, crafting litigation strategy, writing motions, and litigating in trial and appellate courts nationwide to secure post- conviction DNA testing and to obtain relief based DNA test results, and other exculpatory evidence in cases involving: false confessions, erroneous eyewitness identification, informant testimony, faulty forensics, prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. She works with a wide-range of forensic experts. She also helps train and mentor newer attorneys at the Innocence Project. Vanessa is a nationally recognized expert on wrongful convictions and the use of DNA to establish innocence; she is regularly consulted by attorneys, judicial and legislative committees, and media outlets. She was a member of eight person multidisciplinary technical working group that collaborated on a report for criminal defense attorneys published in 2012 by the National Institute of Justice to increase understanding of the science of DNA and its application in the courtroom (“DNA for the Defense Bar”). Vanessa is an adjunct professor of law at Cardozo School of Law, and has co-taught the Innocence Project legal clinic since 2000.