Fighting Wrongful Conviction: The Innocence Project


BARRY SCHECK: What went wrong and how can
we fix it when there’s a total system failure and that’s what the conviction of an innocent
is, a total system failure. BARRY SCHECK: It’s just extraordinary. BARRY SCHECK: The Innocence Project was founded
in 1992 and what we do is use DNA testing to get people out of jail who did not commit
the crimes. It really began for us in a case 1987-88 involving an inmate named Marion Coakley,
who was wrongfully convicted of a robbery-rape in the Bronx. And in that case, we tried to
use DNA testing. And this was before DNA testing was even in the courts. It was 1988. And there
was not enough high molecular weight DNA to get a result, but we realized from that moment
that this could be a transformative technology and it would be able to exhonerate a lot of
innocent people and would be able to apprehend the real perpetrators and it also would shine
a window on what we believed were lots of wrongful convictions. My colleague, Peter
Neufeld, and I we actually knew from the very beginning..um..that there were many many more
wrongfully convicted people than anybody believed and that DNA could demonstrate it. We knew
that. But obviously, when you live through it and you start seeing this one after another,
uh..it’s quite extraordinary. By the time you see this, there will be 293 post-conviction
DNA exonerations, at least, in the United States. But remember, and this is really the
key to the Innocence Movement and why police, you know, have been very receptive to some
many of our suggestions, is that everytime you’ve got the wrong guy, right, and there’s
a misidentification and a conviction, everytime you do that, the real perpetrator is out there
and will and does commit more crimes. In our 293 post-conviction DNA exhonerations, 48%
of the time, the real perpetrator has been identified with the DNA and those are frequently
instances where there are..the real perpetrator is someone who has committed more than one
rape, more than one murder. BARRY SCHECK: Only 5% of cases have any biological
evidence where you can do a DNA test and determine identity or guilt or innocence. So, what about
the other 95% of the cases where you have what we know to be the causes of wrongful
convictions: eye witness misidentification, false confessions, unreliable..uh..or fraudulent
forensic science, police or prosecutorial misconduct, defense lawyers that don’t do
their job, jailhouse snitches, and of course the most intractable problem, that of racial
bias. So, we try to take on all of those policy issues and we have an agenda for reform that
includes both state and federal legislation that we’ve been pretty successful in getting
passed and..uh..we work very closely with police departments, with prosecutors, and
of course with defense lawyers and judges across the country really in an effort to
try to transform the criminal justice system. And that’s something modest. We’ve done okay,
I mean, there are 55 “Innocence Projects” in the United States. There are 7 of them
abroad. Thety’re forming projects in Taiwan, in China, uh…so..uh…I mean, you know,
the influence of this movement is..uh..that broad then..uh.. it’s by no means a failure.
It isn’t. But you know..uh.I get disappointed sometimes because I want things to move faster. BARRY SCHECK: Subscribe to THNKR.

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