The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, has been a beacon of hope for those wrongfully convicted of crimes. The organization has helped free or exonerate more than 200 people, most of whom come from communities of color that are disproportionately policed and face persistent discrimination. The twin missions of the Innocence Project are to use DNA evidence to exonerate those wrongfully convicted and to address the causes of wrongful convictions. On Monday night, Jane Pucher, lead attorney for the Innocence Project, spoke with a group of students from Saint Michael's College about “The Role of Innocence in Criminal Law Reform.” She shared some heartbreaking aspects of her job, such as the inability to help people due to the absence of evidence or the loss of evidence.
Pucher also discussed the emotional toll that comes with working on cases involving wrongful convictions. In 1997, Professor Jacqueline McMurtrie founded the Northwest Innocence Project at the University of Washington Law School, which has been tasked with exonerating 14 people wrongfully convicted in the state of Washington. The Innocence Project Northwest is a member of the Innocence Network, an organization that connects the nearly 70 Innocence Project organizations around the world. In 2004, after 12 years and approximately 150 exonerations, the Innocence Project became an independent nonprofit organization, although it remains affiliated with the Cardozo Law School. The success of these projects has resulted in an influx of requests for representation submitted by prisoners who claim to have been wrongfully convicted. The figures provide an overview of wrongful convictions rectified with the help of the Innocence Project.
Both the New York Innocence Project and the Northwest Innocence Project have advocated for policy changes. Conviction of innocence or error establishes the difference between not having committed a crime and not having obtained due process guarantees. Jane Pucher is committed to ensuring that those tried enjoy their rights to due process regardless of their innocence or culpability. The Innocence Project has been successful in its mission to free those wrongfully convicted and to address systemic flaws in the criminal justice system.