The Innocence Project aims to free the staggering numbers of innocent people who remain incarcerated and bring substantive reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.
What is The Innocence Project and how did it get started?
The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.
The Innocence Project was founded at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in 1992, and became an independent nonprofit organization (still closely affiliated with Cardozo) in 2004. Since the organization’s founding, 292 people have been exonerated through DNA testing in the United States, including 17 who were at one time sentenced to death. In most of these DNA exonerations, the Innocence Project either was the attorney of record or consulted with the defendant’s attorneys. Our unique combination of science, law, and social justice has created a cohesive and powerful program for individual freedom and policy reform.
How does The Innocence Project decide to represent a case?
The Innocence Project gathers extensive information about each case application, and their intake and evaluation staff researches each potential case thoroughly – and, along with their legal staff, ultimately determines whether DNA testing can be conducted and, if so, whether favorable results can prove innocence.
How can someone ask the Innocence Project to get involved in a case?
All cases for consideration should be mailed to the Innocence Project (40 Worth St., Suite 701, New York, NY 10013) with a brief factual summary of the case and a list of the evidence used against the defendant. No other documents should be submitted for initial review. The Innocence Project is not equipped to handle telephone or email applications. For more information, view the Contact Us page.
The Innocence Project only accepts cases on post-conviction appeal in which DNA testing can prove innocence. If the case does not involve biological evidence or DNA, visit the Other Projects By State page to see if there is a program in your area that provides broader legal and investigative assistance.
How does DNA evidence prove innocence? What does the testing process entail?
The Innocence Project works with prosecutors or courts to agree on private or public labs to conduct testing on evidence connected to a particular crime. In 82% of cases for which records are available, prosecutors eventually agreed to grant testing. In other cases, access to DNA testing was granted through court orders.
Once testing is granted, scientists choose from several forms of DNA testing depending on the evidence (for example, a particular type of testing is used on hair). The DNA profile from evidence in the case is compared to our client’s DNA sample to determine whether their client is the source or someone else is.
What are the largest hurdles in bringing about an exoneration?
The Innocence Project faces numerous hurdles in litigating cases. They include time-consuming and painstaking efforts to find evidence; degraded evidence that cannot be accurately tested; lost or destroyed evidence; and prosecutorial objections leading to lengthy litigation.
What are the causes of wrongful convictions?
Research into the underlying causes of wrongful convictions has revealed several common factors.
Many wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing involve multiple causes: 75% involve eyewitness misidentification; in 50%, unvalidated or improper forensic science played a role; a false confession or admission contributed to 25%; in 15% of the cases, unreliable informants played a role. Prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective defense, police misconduct and racism are harder to quantify but were also factors in many of the wrongful convictions that have been overturned with DNA testing. Read more about these issues in their Understand The Causes section.
Only 5-10% of all criminal cases in the U.S. involve biological evidence, and the underlying causes of wrongful convictions have played a role in countless cases where DNA testing is not available.