DNA Testing Key to Releasing the Wrongly Imprisoned
The Innocence Project
Chris Bennett is one of the many prisoners that the Innocence Project has proven innocent through the discovery of new evidence such as DNA. The Innocence Project has proven the innocence of 202 prisoners who have collectively spent nearly 2,500 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
The Innocence Project was established in 1992 and has grown to more than 35 groups today, connected by the struggle to free wrongly convicted people. Using DNA testing technology and the help of law students, the Innocence Project reviews past criminal trials to determine if accused individuals were convicted under false pretenses.
The driving force of the program is the knowledge that there are numerous innocent prisoners sitting in jail with untold stories. Many of these stories are discounted because of bad eyewitness testimony and racism. According to the Innocence Project, of the wrongfully imprisoned people freed by the organization:
• 62% were African American.
• 48% of those misidentified were cross-racial, meaning a Caucasian victim would incorrectly identify an African American person.
• 14 of the misidentified men, who were later exonerated, were serving time on death row.
Aside from the hurdles of misidentification and race, the group still has to fight the prosecutors just to get to the evidence that may set innocent people free. The group spends most of its resources on litigation just to get the rights to test the evidence again, according to Mark Godsey, the Innocence Project's faculty advisor at the University of Cincinnati's College of Law.
"Most prosecutors don't do additional DNA testing because of the cost," said Godsey. "They make up their mind and become convinced right away of who's guilty."
Barry C. Sheck and Peter J. Neufeld founded the Innocence Project in 1992 at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. The program has full-time attorneys with students to provide assistance to solve the cases. The organization is totally nonprofit and believes their mission is to reform the legal system that has imprisoned so many innocent people.
Even before the Innocence Project was created, a Columbia Law School study revealed that as many as 100,000 prisoners had been wrongly convicted because of the estimated 5% failure rate of the U.S. justice system.
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