Innocence Project

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Innocence Project
Logo of The Innocence Project.gif
Formation1992; 27 years ago (1992)
FounderBarry Scheck and
Peter Neufeld
Founded atCardozo School of Law
at Yeshiva University
TypeNon-profit organization;
  • Exoneration
  • Justice reform
Headquarters40 Worth Street, Suite 701
New York, NY 10013
United States
Executive Director
Maddy deLone
AffiliationsThe Innocence Network
Budget (2015)
$23,500,000 [2]

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 future injustice.[4] The group cites various studies estimating that in the United States, between 2.3 and 5% of all prisoners are innocent.[5] 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 362 wrongfully convicted people based on DNA, including 20 individuals who spent time on death row, and the finding of 158 real perpetrators.[6]


The Innocence Project was established in the wake of a study by the 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.[7] 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.[8] As of September 5, 2018 the executive director of the Innocence Project is Madeline deLone.[9] 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.[10]


The Innocence Project focuses on cases in which DNA evidence is available to be tested or retested. DNA testing is possible in 5–10% of criminal cases.[11] Other members of the Innocence Network also help to exonerate those in whose cases DNA testing is not possible.

In addition to working on behalf of those who may have been wrongfully convicted of crimes throughout the United States, those working for the 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 criminal executions.[12]

In District Attorney's Office v. Osborne (2009), US Supreme Court 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 DNA testing risks "unnecessarily overthrowing the established system of criminal justice." Law professor Kevin Jon Heller wrote: "It might lead to a reasonably accurate one."[13]

Overturned convictions[edit]

As of January 2019, 362 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.[6] Almost all (99%) of the wrongful convictions were of males,[14] with minority groups constituting approximately 70%.[6] 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.[15] According to a study published in 2014, more than 4% of persons overall sentenced to death from 1973 to 2004 are probably innocent.[16] 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.[17] 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.[17] After Miller's exoneration, Lawrence Taylor, the true perpetrator of the crime, was identified.[18]
  • In 2003, Steven Avery was exonerated after serving 18 years in prison for a sexual assault charge.[19]
  • In 2004, Darryl Hunt was exonerated after serving 19 1/2 years in prison of a life sentence for the rape and murder of a newspaper copy editor, Deborah Sykes.[20][21]
  • In 2007, after an investigation begun by The Innocence Project, James Calvin Tillman was exonerated after serving 16 1/2 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. His sentence was 45 years.[22]
  • 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 DNA evidence.[23]
  • 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.[24]
  • 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 DNA evidence.[25][26][27]
  • In June 2010, Barry Gibbs was awarded a civil rights settlement of $9.9 million from the City of New York.[28] 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.[29]
  • In September 2010, days before he was to be executed, Kevin Keith was granted clemency by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland,[30] thanks in part to the Ohio Innocence Project.[31][32]
  • 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 State Bureau of Investigation failed to report all of their testing results during Taylor's original trial. Taylor described his experience as "the perfect storm of bad luck."[24]
  • 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.[33]
  • In 2016 Joseph A. Buffy was exonerated for rape and robbery of an elderly woman after serving 14 years.[34]
  • 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.[35] 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.[citation needed]


In the history of the United States (as of January 2019) there have been 362 post-conviction exonerations due to DNA testing.[6] According to the Innocence Project these statistics were found on those exonerated:

  • The average sentence served was 14 years.[6]
  • 70% exonerated are a part of minority groups.[6]
  • 44% of these DNA cases were able to find the actual person who committed the crime.[6]
  • About 72% 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 people.[6]
  • The Innocence Project has had to close 29% of its cases because DNA evidence was missing or had been destroyed.[6]
  • There have been exonerations in Washington D.C and 37 states. There are innocence projects in the majority of the 50 states.[6]

The Innocence project originated in 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 wrongful convictions.[4]

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 potential cases.[36]

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 same DNA test results that led to an exoneration.[37]


The Innocence Project receives 45% of its funding from individual contributions, 30% from foundations, 15% from an annual benefit dinner, 7% from the Cardozo School of Law, and the rest from corporations.[38]

Innocence Network[edit]

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.[4] 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.[39]

The 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.[40]

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.[41]


There are many reasons why wrongful convictions occur. The most common reason is false eyewitness identification, which played a role in more than 75% of wrongful convictions overturned by the Innocence Project. Often assumed to be incontrovertible, a growing body of evidence suggests that eyewitness identifications are unreliable.[42]

Unreliable or improper forensic science played a role in some 50% of 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 scientific standards.[43]

In about 25% 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.[44][45]

Government misconduct,[46] inadequate legal counsel,[47] and the improper use of informants[48] also contributed to many of the wrongful convictions since overturned by the Innocence Project.

In popular culture[edit]


  • After Innocence (2005) is a documentary that features the Innocence Project.
  • 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 freedom, and Sam Rockwell plays Waters. Barry Scheck is portrayed by Peter Gallagher.
  • 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 Hatchett.



  • 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.

Stage productions[edit]

  • 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 were exonerated.


  • 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.[49]
  • 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 the actual Innocence Project case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Cary Agos, a recurring character on The Good Wife, is said to have worked for the Innocence Project after law school (and is a family friend of Scheck's).[50]
  • 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Charity Ratings | America's Most Independent, Assertive Charity Watchdog | CharityWatch". Retrieved 7 July 2016.
  2. ^ "Innocence Project | 2016-website-financials-.pdf" (PDF). Archived from the original (pdf) on 4 August 2016. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
  3. ^ "About – Innocence Project". Innocence Project. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
  4. ^ a b c "About Us". Innocence Project. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  5. ^ "How many innocent people are there in prison?". The Innocence Project. Archived from the original on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "DNA Exonerations in the United States". Innocence Project. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  7. ^ "Facts about Wrongful Convictions >>Mistaken Eyewitness Identifications". Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project. Archived from the original on August 22, 2008. Retrieved December 12, 2006.
  8. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Innocence Project. Archived from the original on December 28, 2007. Retrieved December 9, 2011.
  9. ^ "Staff Directory". The Innocence Project.
  10. ^ "The Irish Innocence Project Symposium: An International Exploration of Wrongful Conviction 80 University of Cincinnati Law Review 2011-2012". Retrieved 2017-11-14.
  11. ^ "The Innocence Project". New York: Innocence Project. 2012. Archived from the original on 2010-10-15. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  12. ^ Rosenthal, Brian (2011). "Death Penalty Moratoria". Evanston, IL: Northwestern University. Archived from the original on 2011-03-14. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
  13. ^ Lundin, Leigh (June 28, 2009). "Dark Justice". Capital Punishment. Criminal Brief.
  14. ^ "Female DNA Exonerees Represent Only a Few of the Women Who Have Been Wrongfully Convicted Nationwide". The Innocence Project. Archived from the original on 2012-04-05. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  15. ^ "The National Registry of Exonerations". Michigan Law.
  16. ^ "More than 4% of death row inmates wrongly convicted, study says". Los Angeles Times.
  17. ^ a b Neil J. Miller; New England School of Law; Law Review Article. "Reflections of the Wrongly Convicted ; Vol. 35:3" (PDF). Retrieved March 5, 2015. External link in |publisher= (help)CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ Weber, David (August 3, 2004). "Suspect arraigned in three 1989 rapes". Boston Herald. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  19. ^ "Steven Avery". The Innocence Project.
  20. ^ Zerwick, Phoebe (February 6, 2004). "Hunt exonerated". Winston Salem Journal. Archived from the original on April 29, 2013. Retrieved June 2, 2013.
  21. ^ Zerwick, Phoebe (2003) "Murder, Race, Justice: The State vs. Darryl Hunt" Journal Now
  22. ^ James Tillman – 17 Years in Prison: Innocent Archived 2010-06-27 at the Wayback Machine Innocence Project
  23. ^ Lou Michel. "DeJac expects worst from state in suit". Archived from the original on January 17, 2012. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
  24. ^ a b "Rogue Justice". CNN. Atlanta. January 30, 2011.
  25. ^ "US man freed by DNA evidence after 35 years in prison". BBC News. 2009-12-18. Retrieved 2009-12-19.
  26. ^ "Man exonerated, freed from prison after 35 years". CNN. December 17, 2009. Retrieved December 22, 2009.
  27. ^ "James Bain | Innocence Project of Florida". Retrieved November 29, 2016.
  28. ^ Marzulli, John; McShane, Larry (June 3, 2010). "Barry Gibbs, man framed by 'mafia cop,' gets $9.9M settlement for 18-year prison sentence". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on 2010-06-06. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  29. ^ Purnick, oyce (October 3, 2005). "Metro Matters: 19 Years Late, Freedom Has A Bitter Taste". New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  30. ^ Driehaus, Bob (2010-09-02). "Ohio's Governor Spares Life of a Death Row Inmate". New York Times. New York. p. A13.
  31. ^ Lundin, Leigh (2010-08-29). "Death and Destruction". Capital Punishment. Criminal Brief.
  32. ^ Welsh-Huggins, Andrew (September 3, 2010). "Kevin Keith: Clemency overrides unanimous parole board decision". Mansfield News Journal. Mansfield, Ohio. Archived from the original on September 6, 2010.
  33. ^ Harris, Dan; Yu, Katie; Effron, Lauren (April 18, 2015). "Exonerated Death Row Inmate Meets the Former Prosecutor Who Put Him There". Nightline. ABC. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  34. ^ Innocence Project – Joseph Buffey
  35. ^ Remnick, Noah (March 10, 2016). "Brooklyn Man Is Exonerated After 25 Years in Prison for Murder". Retrieved May 12, 2017 – via
  36. ^ "How many people write to you each year?". The Innocence Project. Archived from the original on 2012-06-11. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
  37. ^ "How often do DNA tests prove innocence in your cases? Does testing ever prove guilt? — The Innocence Project". Archived from the original on 2015-01-05. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
  38. ^ "Funding". The Innocence Project. Archived from the original on 2012-06-07. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
  39. ^ "The Innocence Network". The Innocence Network. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  40. ^ "Mission Statement". Innocence Network. Retrieved 2006-12-12.
  41. ^ Gordin, Jeremy (August 2009). "The Justice Project". Witwatersrand, SA: Wits Journalism Programme. Retrieved 2011-01-04.
  42. ^ "Eyewitness Misidentification". The Innocence Project. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
  43. ^ "Improper Forensics". The Innocence Project. Archived from the original on 2012-06-07. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
  44. ^ "False Confessions". The Innocence Project. Archived from the original on June 7, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
  45. ^ Kassin, S.M., Drizin, S. A., Grisso, T., Gudjonsson, G.H., Leo, R.A., & Redlich, A.D. (2010). Police-induced confessions: Risk factors and recommendations. Law and Human Behavior, 34, 3-38 (Official White Paper of the American Psychology-Law Society). [1]
  46. ^ "Government Misconduct". The Innocence Project. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  47. ^ "Inadequate Defense". The Innocence Project. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  48. ^ "Informants". The Innocence Project. Archived from the original on 2015-08-14. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  49. ^ Smallman, Etan (April 23, 2007). "The Innocence Squad". The Times. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  50. ^ "Scheck on "The Good Wife"". The Innocence Project Blog. Archived from the original on August 3, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2012.

External links[edit]