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Wrongful Convictions Clinic

Color photo of Elaina Steenson, Lauren Wheeler, Erica Nichols Cook

 Drake Wrongful Convictions Clinic staff - Elaina Steenson, Lauren Wheeler, and Erica Nichols Cook

The Drake Wrongful Convictions Clinic provides students with the opportunity to investigate and contribute to work on post-conviction litigation for Iowa inmates claiming factual innocence.

Students will assist in all aspects of assigned cases including reviewing trial transcripts and case files, visiting incarcerated clients, interviewing witnesses, collecting records, consulting subject matter experts, conducting legal research, drafting pleadings, and attending court hearings.

The Wrongful Convictions Clinic was made possible by a unique collaboration between Drake Law School and the Iowa State Public Defender. The Iowa State Public Defender, Wrongful Conviction Division collaborates with The Midwest Innocence Project.

To request assistance of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic, please visit The Midwest Innocence Project at and complete the application for assistance form located on the website.

Student requirements:
Enrollment in the Wrongful Convictions Clinic is open to students who have completed three semesters or more of law school and are eligible to receive a student practice license. Prerequisite: Evidence (Law 113) and Ethics and Professional Responsibility (Law 114).

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Color photo of Erica Nichols Cook      Erica Nichols Cook, Director and
      Clinician in Residence


Erica Nichols Cook, LW ’09, is director of the Wrongful Conviction Division of the Office of the Iowa State Public Defender and supervises Drake’s Wrongful Conviction Clinic. She is also a member of the Law School’s adjunct faculty. Nichols Cook previously served as an assistant appellate defender for Illinois, Cook County public defender, and a staff attorney with the Illinois Innocence Project. She was also an adjunct professor of law at Southern Illinois University, teaching about wrongful convictions and supervising an externship program with the Illinois Innocence Project. Nichols Cook is a sought-after speaker on the topics of wrongful convictions and justice reform. She received her BA in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois, and her JD from Drake University where she served on the editorial board of the Drake Law Review.

Color headshot of Lauren Wheeler, Wrongful Convictions Clinic      Lauren Wheeler, Investigator


Lauren Wheeler is an investigator with the Iowa State Public Defender, Wrongful Conviction Division.  She received her Bachelor’s Degree in psychology from the University of Northern Iowa. Lauren has worked as a trial consultant in Iowa and across the country for both criminal and civil cases. She has also been a mediator for small claims court. Her job as an investigator involves gathering facts and evidence through interviewing witnesses, online research and record locates. She also assists attorneys in preparation for depositions, hearings and trials. At the Drake Legal clinic she teaches investigation skills to student attorneys in the Wrongful Conviction Clinic.

      Color headshot of Elaina Steenson, Wrongful Convictions ClinicElaina Steenson, Staff Attorney
      Wrongful Conviction Division
      Special Defense Unit
      Office of the State Public Defender

Elaina Steenson, LW’21, is a staff attorney with the Wrongful Conviction Division, Special Defense Unit of the Iowa State Public Defender’s office. She has a Bachelor of Music degree in Viola Performance and Music Business from Drake University and a Juris Doctor from Drake University Law School. Steenson served as a student attorney with the Criminal Defense and Wrongful Convictions Clinics at Drake Law, held clerkships with Root & Rebound (Oakland, CA) and Whitfield & Eddy Law (Des Moines, IA), and was a Polk County Judicial Intern. As a student, she created a guide to navigating reentry post-incarcerations that is currently used by the Incarcerated Parent Representation Program at Drake. Steenson has particular interest in challenges to unreliable forensic science and recently taught a ballistics evidence and firearm identification training.  

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