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Posted May 27, 2010

Engle to Join Law School Innocence Project Clinic

Matthew Engle

Matthew Engle, an experienced death penalty defense attorney, has joined the faculty as the new legal director of the Law School’s Innocence Project Clinic.

Engle is joining the law school from the Office of the Capital Defender, a public defender office that specializes in death penalty cases at the trial level.

He said he is excited to join Deirdre Enright, the investigative director of the Innocence Project Clinic, in what he considers meaningful and important work.

“The focus of the clinic is to identify cases of wrongful convictions and to look for available legal remedies,” he said. “There are many potential cases, and many people who reach out to the clinic looking for help.”

Launched in 2008, the clinic is part of the Innocence Network, an international affiliation of organizations dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions. Twelve students participate in the clinic each year, and dozens more participate in the Virginia Innocence Project Student Group.

“A big focus of my job will be to figure out, once we’ve identified cases where there’s a chance to be successful, what the best avenues are to pursue, and then to work with students to pursue them,” Engle said.

In addition to assisting students in the representation of the wrongfully convicted, Engle said he is excited to work with the clinic on looking for ways to improve the criminal justice system.

“The clinic will address problems such as false confessions, access to DNA testing, ineffective representation, and other issues. I think we have a real opportunity to find ways of improving the criminal justice system, both from the law enforcement and the defense perspectives, in order to prevent wrongful convictions from happening in the first place,” he said.

Engle, a Cleveland native, graduated from Washington and Lee School of Law in 2001. While a student, he participated in the school’s two-year death penalty clinic. After graduation, he took a job in Charlottesville at the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center.

In 2007, he moved to Northern Virginia to work with the Capital Defender’s Office. While there, he partnered with local defense attorneys on death penalty cases throughout the Northern Virginia region.

Enright, who has worked extensively with Engle on post-conviction capital murder cases, said he is both a diligent and innovative litigator and an inspirational educator. 

“Clinic students, clients and colleagues will benefit enormously from having Matthew Engle here,” said Enright.  “He a perfect fit for the clinic and for the law school.”

Engle said he is excited to return to Charlottesville and to work in a situation where he can help innocent clients.

“Obviously, the cause is a very important one. I don’t think anyone disputes the notion that we should be doing everything we can to get innocent people out of prison and out of the legal system,” he said.

Engle said he is also enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with law students in a clinical setting.

“The opportunity to work with students is very appealing,” he said. “For me, working in a clinic and applying what I was learning in the classroom to actual cases was when I really understood what legal advocacy meant. I think it’s a wonderful educational tool and I’m glad to be a part of it.”