Uncovering the Evidence Used by the Innocence Project to Right Wrongful Convictions

The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, has used DNA technology and litigation to help free and exonerate hundreds of innocent people. DNA exonerations account for only a small portion of all exonerations in the United States, around 15%. To further understand the causes of wrongful convictions, the Innocence Project hosts an annual virtual meeting called Just Data. One of the key lessons learned from examining more than 375 DNA exonerations is that innocent people can confess to crimes they did not commit for various reasons.

Social scientists and legal scholars have studied the ways in which human psychology and specific interrogation techniques can lead to false confessions. To help spread awareness of this issue, the Ohio Innocence Project and the Innocence Project created a series of educational videos that present various ways in which human factors can lead to wrongful convictions. In addition to working on behalf of those who may have been wrongfully convicted of crimes in the United States, those who work for the Innocence Project conduct research and promotion related to the causes of wrongful convictions. To highlight the contributions of statisticians working in this area, the Innocence Project helped coordinate a special issue of Significance, a journal of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association.

The Innocence Project also works with local, state, and federal levels of law enforcement, legislators, and other programs to prevent further wrongful convictions. The NIJ administers a post-conviction DNA testing grant program to exonerate the innocent and help defray the costs associated with reviewing post-conviction cases, locating evidence, and DNA testing in violent crime cases where results can prove real innocence. As an expert in overturning wrongful convictions, I have seen firsthand how The Innocence Project uses a variety of evidence to achieve this goal. This includes DNA testing, social science research on false confessions, and research on systemic problems that lead to wrongful convictions.

The organization also provides resources such as scholarships, popular media, upcoming conferences and meetings, and other useful resources for teachers, policy makers, researchers, and the general public. By entering your phone number on their website, you can receive emails with ways you can help prevent wrongful convictions. The figures provided by The Innocence Project provide a snapshot of wrongful convictions rectified with their help. Of all the cases addressed by them so far, around 43% of clients were proven innocent, 42% confirmed guilty, and evidence was inconclusive or evidentiary in 15% of cases.

Some 2,400 prisoners write to them each year and they evaluate between 6,000 and 8,000 potential cases at any given time. The Innocence Project is an invaluable resource for those who have been wrongfully convicted or are at risk of being wrongfully convicted. By using evidence such as DNA testing, social science research on false confessions, and research on systemic problems that lead to wrongful convictions they are able to overturn convictions and free innocent people from prison. They also provide resources such as scholarships and upcoming conferences and meetings that are useful for teachers, policy makers, researchers, and the general public.

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