The Innocence Project is a non-profit legal organization that is
committed to exonerating wrongly convicted people through the use of
DNA testing and to reforming the criminal justice system to prevent
The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by
Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld.
The work of the
Innocence Project has led to the freeing of more than
350 wrongfully convicted people based on DNA, including 20 who spent
time on death row, and the finding of 150 real perpetrators.
2.1 Wrongful convictions
4 Innocence Network
6 In popular culture
6.4 Stage productions
7 See also
9 External links
The Innocence Project was established in the wake of a study by the
United States Department of Justice
United States Department of Justice and United States Senate, in
conjunction with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, which found
that incorrect identification by eyewitnesses was a factor in over 70%
of wrongful convictions. The original
Innocence Project was founded
in 1992 by Scheck and Neufeld as part of the Cardozo School of Law of
Yeshiva University in New York City. It became an independent
501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2003 but maintains institutional
connections with Cardozo. The current[when?] executive director of
Innocence Project is Madeline deLone.
The Innocence Project has
become widespread as countries are using scientific data to overturn
wrongful convictions and in turn freeing those wrongly convicted. One
such example exists in the Republic of Ireland where in 2009 a project
was set up at Griffith College, Dublin.
The Innocence Project focuses on cases in which
DNA evidence is
available to be tested or retested.
DNA testing is possible in 5 to 10
percent of criminal cases. Other members of the Innocence Network
also help to exonerate those in whose cases
DNA testing is not
In addition to working on behalf of those who may have been wrongfully
convicted of crimes throughout the United States, those working for
Innocence Project perform research and advocacy related to the
causes of wrongful convictions.
Some of the Innocence Project's successes have resulted in releasing
people from death row. The successes of the project have fueled
American opposition to the death penalty and have likely been a factor
in the decision by some American states to institute moratoria on
District Attorney's Office v. Osborne
District Attorney's Office v. Osborne (2009), US Supreme Court
Chief Justice Roberts
Chief Justice Roberts wrote that post-conviction challenge "poses
questions to our criminal justice systems and our traditional notions
of finality better left to elected officials than federal judges." In
the opinion, another justice wrote that forensic science has "serious
deficiencies". Roberts also said that post-conviction
risks "unnecessarily overthrowing the established system of criminal
justice." Law professor Kevin Jon Heller wrote: "It might lead to a
reasonably accurate one."
As of July 2017, 351 people previously convicted of serious crimes in
the United States had been exonerated by
DNA testing since 1989, 20 of
whom had been sentenced to death. Almost all (99%) of the wrongful
convictions were of males, with minority groups constituting
approximately 70%. The
National Registry of Exonerations lists
1,579 convicted defendants who were exonerated through
DNA and non-DNA
evidence from January 1, 1989 through April 12, 2015. According to
a study published in 2014, more than 4% of persons overall sentenced
to death from 1973 to 2004 are probably innocent. The following
are examples of notable exonerations:
In 2000, Neil J. Miller was exonerated after serving 10 years of a
22-year prison sentence for the rape of a Boston college student.
The Innocence Project and Cardozo law student E. Elliot Adler took the
lead in Miller's case, representing only the second inmate in
Massachusetts history to be cleared on
DNA evidence. After
Miller's exoneration, Lawrence Taylor, the true perpetrator of the
crime, was identified.
Steven Avery was exonerated after serving 18 years in prison
for a sexual assault charge.
Darryl Hunt was exonerated after serving 19 ½ years in
prison of a life sentence for the rape and murder of a newspaper copy
editor, Deborah Sykes.
In 2007, after an investigation begun by The Innocence Project, James
Calvin Tillman was exonerated after serving 16 ½ years in prison
for a rape he did not commit. His sentence was 45 years.
In 2007, Lynn DeJac's 1994 conviction was reversed on the basis of DNA
evidence. She had been convicted of murdering her daughter Crystallynn
Girard in February 1993. She was the first woman to be exonerated of
murder on the basis of
In 2007, Floyd Brown was exonerated for the murder of an 80-year-old
woman in Wadesboro, North Carolina. Brown had served 14 years in
Dorothea Dix Hospital and had the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. He
had been convicted solely on the basis of a false confession by a
State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) agent, who claimed that Brown had
dictated the confession to him; however, Brown's mental state
precluded that possibility. Brown sued the state of North Carolina
following his release.
In December 2009, James Bain was exonerated by
DNA testing for a
kidnapping, burglary, and rape he did not commit. Bain's appeal had
previously been denied four separate times. His 35-year imprisonment
made him the longest-incarcerated victim of a wrongful conviction to
be freed through
In June 2010, Barry Gibbs was awarded a civil rights settlement by the
City of New York of $9.9 million. He received an additional $1.9
million settlement from New York state in late 2009. He was wrongly
convicted of the 1986 murder of
Brooklyn woman Virginia Robertson
based on coerced testimony by a witness during the investigation by
NYPD detective Louis Eppolito, who was later convicted for serving as
a mob hit man on the side. Gibbs's original sentence was 20 years to
life, of which he served just under 19 years. Gibbs had been
repeatedly denied parole because of his lack of admission of guilt.
Gibbs was exonerated in 2006 with help from the Innocence Project.
In September 2010, days before he was to be executed, Kevin Keith was
granted clemency by
Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, thanks in part
Ohio Innocence Project.
In February 2010, Greg Taylor was exonerated for the murder of a North
Carolina woman after serving 17 years in prison. Taylor had been
convicted without physical evidence, and the SBI failed to report all
of their testing results during Taylor's original trial. Taylor
described his experience as "the perfect storm of bad luck."
In 2014, Glenn Ford was exonerated in the murder of Isadore Newman.
Ford, an African American, had been convicted by an all-white jury
without any physical evidence linking him to the crime, and with
testimony withheld. He served 30 years on death row in Angola Prison
before his release.
In 2016 Joseph A. Buffy was exonerated for rape and robbery of an
elderly woman after serving 14 years.
In 2016 Andre Hatchett was exonerated after serving 25 years for
second-degree murder he did not commit. This was based on the
testimony of a career criminal, Gerard Williams, who claimed to have
witnessed the killing. A private investigator, Maureen Kelleher,
was instrumental in finding Williams.
In 2016 Richard Rosario after serving 20 years was exonerated for the
murder of Bronx resident George Collazo.
In the history of the United States (as of July 2017) there have been
351 post-conviction exonerations due to
DNA testing. According to
Innocence Project these statistics were found on those exonerated:
The average sentence served was 13 years.
70 percent exonerated are a part of minority groups.
40 percent of these
DNA cases were able to find the actual person who
committed the crime.
About 50 percent of those exonerated through
DNA testing have been
financially compensated for their time in prison. The federal
government, 27 states, and
Washington D.C. have passed laws providing
some level of financial compensation to wrongfully convicted
The Innocence Project has had to close 22 percent of its cases because
DNA evidence was missing or had been destroyed.
There have been exonerations in Washington D.C and 35 states. There
are innocence projects in the majority of the 50 states.
The Innocence project originated in
New York City
New York City but accepts cases
from any part of the United States. The majority of clients helped are
of low socio-economic status and have used all possible legal options
for justice. Many clients hope that
DNA evidence will prove their
innocence, as the emergence of
DNA testing allows those who have been
wrongly convicted of crimes to challenge their cases. The Innocence
Project also works with the local, state and federal levels of law
enforcement, legislators, and other programs to prevent further
About 3,000 prisoners write to the
Innocence Project annually, and at
any given time the
Innocence Project is evaluating 6,000 to 8,000
All potential clients go through an extensive screening process to
determine whether or not they are likely to be innocent. If they pass
the process, the
Innocence Project takes up their case. In roughly
half of the cases that the
Innocence Project takes on, the clients'
guilt is reconfirmed by
DNA testing. Of all the cases taken on by the
Innocence Project, about 43% of clients were proven innocent, 42% were
confirmed guilty, and evidence was inconclusive and not probative in
15% of cases. In about 40% of all
DNA exoneration cases, law
enforcement officials identified the actual perpetrator based on the
DNA test results that led to an exoneration.
The Innocence Project receives 45 percent of its funding from
individual contributions, 30 percent from foundations, 15 percent from
an annual benefit dinner, 7 percent from the Cardozo School of Law,
and the rest from corporations.
The Innocence Project is a founder of the Innocence Network, an
organization of law and journalism schools, and public defense offices
that collaborate to help convicted felons prove their innocence. 46
American states along with several other countries are a part of the
network. In 2010, 29 people were exonerated worldwide from the work of
the members of this organization.
Innocence Network brings together a growing number of innocence
organizations from across the United States as well as includes
members from other English-speaking common law countries: Australia,
Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
In South Africa, the Wits Justice Project investigates South African
incarcerations. In partnership with the Wits Law Clinic, the Julia
Mashele Trust, the Legal Resource Centre (LRC), the Open Democracy
Advice Centre (ODAC), and the US Innocence Project, the Justice
Project investigates individual cases of prisoners wrongly convicted
or awaiting trial.
There are many reasons why wrongful convictions occur. The most common
reason is false eyewitness identification, which played a role in more
than 75 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by the Innocence
Project. Often assumed to be incontrovertible, a growing body of
evidence suggests that eyewitness identifications are unreliable.
Unreliable or improper forensic science played a role in some 50
Innocence Project cases. Scientific techniques such as
bite-mark comparison, once widely used, are now known to be
subjective. Many forensic science techniques also lack uniform
In about 25 percent of
DNA exoneration cases, innocent people were
coerced into making false confessions. Many of these false confessors
went on to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit (usually to
avoid a harsher sentence, or even the death penalty) Another instance
for misidentification is when a "show-up" procedure occurs. This is
where a suspect is shown at the scene of a crime in a poorly lit lot
or in a police car. Someone might also misidentify when they learn
more about the suspect; it may cause them to change their description.
Government misconduct, inadequate legal counsel, and the
improper use of informants also contributed to many of the
wrongful convictions since overturned by the Innocence Project.
In popular culture
After Innocence (2005) is a documentary that features the Innocence
Conviction (2010), is a film about the exoneration of Kenneth Waters,
who was a client of the Innocence Project.
Hilary Swank plays Waters'
sister Betty Anne, who went to college and law school to fight for his
Sam Rockwell plays Waters.
Barry Scheck is portrayed by
The Courage of Her Convictions is a documentary of Maureen Kelleher,
private investigator, worked with Innocence Project, NYC, [non-DNA
investigation] and was instrumental in finding the "snitch" witness,
Jerry Williams, leading up to the April 2016 exoneration of Andre
In the non-fiction book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a
Small Town (2006),
John Grisham recounted the cases of Ron Williamson
and Dennis Fritz, who were assisted on appeal by the Innocence Project
and freed by
DNA evidence, after being wrongfully convicted of the
murder of Debra Ann Carter.
Serial Season 1 referenced the
Innocence Project in episode 7 where
Deirdre Enright, director of investigation for the Innocence Project
at the University of Virginia School of Law, and a team of law
students analyzed the case against Adnan Syed.
The Exonerated (2002) is a play by Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank about
six people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, but
In Justice is an American TV series with a similar premise.
Castle is an American TV series; in the episode "Like Father, Like
Daughter" (season 6, episode 7), the
Innocence Project was mentioned,
as well as Frank Henson who was wrongfully convicted in 1998 of the
death of Kimberly Tolbert.
The Innocence Project, a
BBC One drama series that aired from 2006 to
2007, is based on a UK version of the Innocence Project.
The Innocence Project was discussed in season 2, episode 9 of The Good
Wife, "Nine Hours" (December 14, 2010).
Innocence Project co-founder
Barry Scheck played himself in the episode, which was largely based on
Innocence Project case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Cary
Agos, a recurring character on The Good Wife, is said to have worked
Innocence Project after law school (and is a family friend of
In season six of the U.S. legal dramedy Suits, law student and
paralegal Rachel Zane takes on an
Innocence Project for a man
wrongfully accused of murder.
List of wrongful convictions in the United States
Northern California Innocence Project
Capital punishment in the United States
Innocent prisoner's dilemma
List of miscarriage of justice cases
Medill Innocence Project, Illinois
Miscarriage of justice
Michael Morton (Criminal Justice)
Nebraska Innocence Project
The Justice Project (Australia)
Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (Canada)
Other persons exonerated by
Innocence Project efforts
Cornelius Dupree, exonerated by the Innocence Project
Douglas Echols, exonerated by the Innocence Project
Benjamin LaGuer, defended by the Innocence Project
Anthony McKinney, considered for the Medill Innocence Project
Anthony Porter, exonerated by the Medill Innocence Project
Ken Wyniemko, exonerated by the Innocence Project
Ryan Ferguson, defended by Missouri Innocence Project
Clarence Elkins, defended by
Ohio Innocence Project
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Row Inmate". New York Times. New York. p. A13.
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Punishment. Criminal Brief.
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overrides unanimous parole board decision". Mansfield News Journal.
Mansfield, Ohio. Archived from the original on September 6,
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The Innocence Project home page
The Innocence Network's projects
Times Online article about Innocence Projects in the UK
Griffith College Dublin –
Innocence Project in Ireland (Irish:
Tionscadal Neamhchiontachta na hÉireann)
"On the Trail of the Innocent" by Michelle McDonagh, Irish Times,
Tuesday, May 26, 2009.
The Innocence Project page on BestFutureLawyers.com
Miscarriage of justice
Types of misconduct
Abuse of process
Abuse of discretion
Gaming the system
Spoliation of evidence
False accusation of rape
False allegation of child sexual abuse
Tampering with evidence
List of wrongful convictions in the United States
List of exonerated death row inmates
Miscarriage of justice
List of miscarriage of justice cases
Overturned convictions in the United States
National Registry of Exonerations
Right to a fair trial
Race in the United States criminal justice system
Capital punishment in the United States
Innocent prisoner's dilemma
Ineffective assistance of counsel
Equal Protection Clause
Batson v. Kentucky
List of United States death row inmates