By Amy Pino

Currently, there have been 273 post-conviction exonerations in the United States. Out of the 273 people exonerated, 17 served time on death row; most served at least 13 years in prison. All of these convicted prisoners were innocent. The Innocence Project is responsible for exonerating the wrongfully convicted. When condemned, the average mindset of the wrongly accused is not that of hope and happiness; it is full of hostile feelings and confusion. Originally thinking that you will be spending the majority to all of your life in jail would usually induce these angry feelings; more so, of course, if you knew you were innocent. Luckily, there is an answer for prisoners who have been wrongfully convicted: The Innocence Project. Many have turned to The Innocence Project seeking help with hopes of exoneration, and The Innocence Project will work with them to provide the necessary testing and evidence for their release from prison.

A non-profit legal organization created by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld in 1992, The Innocence Project works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing. The Innocence Project is also working towards reforming our country’s criminal justice system to avoid further injustice. DNA testing is one of the main factors in identifying faults in the criminal justice system, and also in freeing the wrongfully convicted. Often times, innocent people are sentenced to jail without the proof of DNA testing, an important factor in not only identifying, but also exonerating the convicted. The Innocence Project has used the aid of DNA testing to prove the innocence of many, and will continue with their efforts in bringing hope to the innocent sentenced to prison.

Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest cause in wrongful convictions. Since more than 75% of the exonerated were originally convicted because of this, it brings to light an important issue. The Innocence Project, and many others associated with similar organizations, are working to solve this issue. The problem is that the memories of witnesses are not always the most reliable sources for needed information in a case. The human mind is not necessarily capable of recording and replaying information exactly as it happened; more often than not, the events are altered in our minds. As many of the wrongfully convicted can testify to, eyewitness misidentification should not play a major role in providing evidence to convict these individuals, as it has not proved to be a very reliable source. The Innocence Project is working to change the weight that eyewitness identification holds in court decisions.

Poor forensic science is the second greatest cause in wrongful convictions. While many forensic scientists do their best to provide reliable evidence for cases, often times it is the tested evidence that is inadequate, and while still used in the case, does not provide truthful justification for the accusations against the convicted.

False confessions are another major cause in wrongful accusations. There are a number of reasons one may make a false accusation when questioned, including ignorance of the law, fear of violence or the actual infliction of harm, and misunderstanding the situation. These examples, among many others, prove that a witness will not always make a truthful statement, which will inevitably lead to a wrongful conviction by prosecutors.

These issues are only a few of many that lead to false accusations and the imprisonment of innocent people. The Innocence Project works towards judicial reform, while continuing to exonerate many wrongfully convicted citizens. The Innocence Project is part of a larger system called the Innocence Network, which consists of law schools, journalism schools, and public defender offices around the country that all work towards the same goal: freeing the innocent men and women that have been wrongly sentenced to prison, and fixing the criminal justice system that sent them there.