Appellate Investigation Project

Michigan’s indigent felony appellate defense system is divided into two parts. The State Appellate Defender Office (SADO) represents approximately 25% of indigent appellants and provides its staff attorneys and clients with support, on-staff investigative services, and expert witness funds. 
The remaining 75% of indigent appellants—over 2,000 individuals—are handled by approximately 150 private attorneys overseen by the Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System (MAACS), a division of SADO. Although regulated at the state level, MAACS roster attorneys are funded by counties. MAACS representation has historically suffered from inadequate and unpredictable attorney fees and resistance to funds for investigative and expert witness support. Not surprisingly, surveys reveal that relatively few MAACS roster attorneys conducted fact investigations for their indigent clients or were comfortable using newly developed facts on direct appeal. 
From 2015-2018, MAACS received funding from a federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant to form the Appellate Investigation Project (AIP), which extended investigative services and litigation support to the MAACS roster. This has led to new forensic testing of critical evidence, expert witness testimony, evidence of jury bias, challenges to the reliability of convictions, the presentation of new mitigating evidence for resentencing purposes (including juvenile life without parole resentencing proceedings), and new trials.

Currently, Jessica Zimbelman, MAACS Litigation Support Counsel, continues to offer services and support through the AIP. Jessica will screen cases submitted by MAACS attorneys, and will provide MAACS attorneys with litigation assistance and help formulating investigation strategies. Jessica will provide assistance on identifying expert needs, obtaining local funding, and interacting with expert witnesses. Read more about the resources and training currently offered to MAACS roster attorneys through the AIP and other litigation support. 


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How to Request AIP Services:
The AIP is currently accepting cases for consideration. The AIP can be reached at 517-334-6069 or by emailing Jessica Zimbelman at 

Conflicts Policy:
The AIP thoroughly screens cases for potential conflicts. The AIP has developed a conflict policy for scenarios where a co-defendant is represented by a SADO attorney. Firewalls are in place for this scenario and MAACS attorneys should feel free to discuss this further with the AIP if a conflict is identified.

AIP in the News
"Katherine Marcuz on the Appellate Investigation Project"
Detroit Legal News, March 31, 2016 (PDF)

"Innovative Appellate Investigation Project Launched"
Detroit Legal News, January 27, 2016 (PDF)