Ninety-one exonerations occurred in 2013 and 18 people were proven innocent through DNA evidence according to the National Registry of Exonerations. One organization that helps exonerate American inmates is the Innocence Project.
The litigation and public policy organization was founded in 1922 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld while attending the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. The organization was originally associated with the Cardozo School of Law until it became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2004. The nonprofit is also a founding member of the Innocence Network, a cluster of organizations that are also on a mission to fight injustice within the American legal system and aid people who have been wrongfully convicted.
In addition to exonerating innocent people, Scheck and Neufeld started the Innocence Project to reform the criminal justice system. False confessions, lying police informants, botched forensic evidence and false eyewitness testimonies are just some of the reasons why an innocent person can be sent to prison. To combat this, the Innocence Project works with lawmakers to change certain systemic problems, like requesting additional requirements for forensic evidence to be admissible in court, to prevent additional wrongful convictions in the future.
The non-profit organization uses forensic DNA testing to exonerate innocent people who have otherwise “fallen through the cracks” of the legal system and were wrongly convicted. Thanks to the efforts of their staff and conclusive post-conviction DNA test results, the Innocence Project has exonerated 333 people since 1992 and 20 of them had spent time on death row. More than 70% of the people freed because of the organization’s efforts were of African, Hispanic or Asian descent. On average, the people were convicted at 26 years old and exonerated at 41 years old. The time served by exonerees ranged from five months to 35 years, with the average being 14 years in prison before their release.
Six full-time attorneys, co-directors and students from the Cardozo School of Law volunteer their time to work on cases for the Innocence Project. According to their website, over 3,000 people reach out to their organization for help. Due to this high volume of requests, their staff is constantly evaluating between 6,000 to 8,000 potential cases at any given time.
Their staff determines which cases they should take on by carefully researching each applicant to see if a DNA test can be conducted to prove they were wrongfully convicted. The Innocence Project’s process for identifying and vetting a case is very extensive and labor intensive. They may find a case that they want to pursue only after the volunteers spend hours analyzing the case’s evidence. Then their attorneys will approach the court and request that the prisoner’s case is reopened and a private or public lab conducts DNA testing.
Generous financial contributions from the public and other charitable foundations help fund the Innocence Project. Corporations, fundraising events and the Cardozo School of Law also bring in additional support for the non-profit. The Innocence Project uses the funds that were raised to pay for DNA testing, travel expenses, legislative hearings and other costs associated with reopening a criminal case in court. The non-profit organization also offers several social work services to help their clients successfully transition back into society. For example, when one of their clients is recently released from prison the non-profit can assist them by providing free financial planning resources and job tools that can help train them for a new profession.
Like the Innocence Project, we fight to protect the rights of people accused of crimes. Please contact us to learn more about our criminal defense services and schedule a free consultation. We will work hard to defend your rights.