JIFS Welcomes Home Exonerated Giovanni Hernandez

Giovanni Hernandez flanked by Marisa Harris (left) and JIFS Clinic Director Chris Hawthorne (right)

On December 13, 2023, Giovanni ("Gio") Hernandez, a client of Juvenile Innocence and Fair Sentencing Clinic, was exonerated and declared factually innocent after spending 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Hernandez was only 14 years old when he was arrested and charged in adult court for a fatal drive-by shooting that took place in Culver City. Despite his conviction, Hernandez and his family have always maintained his innocence knowing he was at home with his family at the time of the shooting.

When JIFS met Hernandez, he had already been denied a review by the District Attorney’s conviction integrity unit (CIU).  Students in JIFS, including Marisa Harris, ’17, worked for years to develop sufficient information for a new presentation to the CIU in 2021. Harris, by then a Supervising Attorney with JIFS, advocated for Hernandez and persuaded the CIU to take another look. Thanks to new evidence, including analysis of cellphone records by the FBI, it was determined that Hernandez was not at or near the location of the fatal shooting, but home with his family as he had always claimed. 

"Gio has always proclaimed his innocence, he has been steadfast. Gio never gave up on the JIFS Clinic, and our ability to find him innocent. Gio had a chance to go with a big law firm, and I fully expected, and even advised him to take the offer. But Gio said, 'I want to go with the people who believe in me. And who are willing to fight this thing all the way to the end,'" said Loyola Law School Professor and JIFS clinic director Christopher Hawthorne, who has been a leader in juvenile justice reform in Los Angeles.

At the news conference held to announce Hernandez’s exoneration and release, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón apologized to Hernandez for his wrongful conviction.
 
Hernandez thanked God, his family and his legal team. "I want to thank Marisa Harris, Christopher Hawthorne and the JIFS team at Loyola Law School who, since day one, believed in my innocence. And they've done anything and everything just to see this day come forward," said Hernandez. 

He added that in this new chapter in his life, he hopes to help others who are in similar situations like the one he was in. “I just want to be that voice for those who cannot speak who are still in juvenile hall, or L.A. County Jail filing a case, or in prison spending decades for a crime they did not commit,” Hernandez said.