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Major reforms eyed across the country
Below are highlights of the Innocence Project's work around the country this month.
To see what's happening in your state, view our interactive reform map.
Seven cases head to testing
Seven people in Ohio prisons who were denied DNA testing or granted testing that was never conducted will now get DNA testing that might help prove their innocence.
An investigative report in the Columbus Post-Dispatch earlier this year identified 30 cases that are “prime candidates” for DNA testing, which led to testing for the first seven. The inmates are represented by the Ohio Innocence Project and the Ohio Public Defenders Office, and a local lab has offered to conduct DNA testing pro bono.
Exoneree fights for compensation
James Ochoa, who served 10 months in prison for a carjacking DNA proves he didn’t commit, is seeking compensation for his wrongful incarceration. State officials, however, have said he is not entitled to compensation because he pled guilty. His hearing is set for next month.
Five years of freedom for Julius Ruffin
Today is the five-year anniversary of Julius Ruffin’s exoneration. Ruffin was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1982 and served two decades in prison before DNA proved his innocence. The victim who erroneously identified Ruffin as her attacker spoke out in O: The Oprah Magazine last year, saying, “The criminal justice failed all of us” and calling for eyewitness identification reforms nationwide. Ruffin’s case and others in Virginia helped spark a systemic review of other possible wrongful convictions, which has already led to two exonerations.
New trial for Clay Chabot?
A state judge last week ruled that Innocence Project client Clay Chabot deserves a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct that contributed to his conviction.
Chabot served 21 years in prison for a 1986 murder before he was released last year after DNA test results showed that the main witness against him at trial lied on the stand and actually committed the crime. Charges against Chabot have not been dropped, and he is on bond awaiting a decision from the courts about a new trial.
Visit our page on YouTube.com to watch online videos from exonerees, supporters, events and more.
We welcome your feedback Please contact us at the address below. Cases for review must be submitted via postal mail.
The Innocence Project
Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University
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New York, NY 10011
Major reforms eyed across the country
Today and tomorrow, legislatures in four states are considering critical reforms that can help prevent wrongful convictions, clear a path for innocent people to be exonerated and compensate the wrongfully convicted.
Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck (above) will testify in South Carolina today in support of a bill that would allow post-conviction DNA testing and require the preservation of evidence. Last week, the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill granting access to post-conviction DNA testing, and that legislation is now awaiting the governor’s signature. South Carolina and Wyoming are two of just eight states that do not yet have laws on the books granting post-conviction DNA testing.
In Colorado today, Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown will testify at the State Legislature on a bill that could improve the way Colorado law enforcement agencies collect and store biological evidence from crime scenes. A major series last year in the Denver Post now a Pultizer Prize finalist explored evidence preservation issues in Colorado and uncovered several cases in which inmates claiming innocence will never obtain DNA testing because evidence has been destroyed.
Meanwhile, legislators in Michigan will vote today on a bill that would compensate people who have been exonerated. The bill would provide at least $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration, as well as access to health care and transitional services. Tomorrow, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom will testify at the Connecticut Legislature in support of a bill that would improve eyewitness identification procedures statewide.
Visit our interactive map to see what reforms have already been enacted nationwide to address and prevent wrongful convictions.
Levon Brooks (left) is rebuilding his life this week, after a Mississippi judge dismissed all charges against him at a hearing Thursday, finally clearing him of a heinous child murder for which he served 15 years in prison. Brooks was sentenced to life in prison for the 1990 murder of his ex-girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter after false forensic testimony implicated him in the crime. Another recently exonerated Innocence Project client, Kennedy Brewer, was sentenced to death for a similar child murder in the same town 18 months later. DNA testing from Brewer’s case led to the identity of an alternate suspect, who has confessed that he committed both murders alone.
Now, as Brooks and Brewer move forward with their lives, they hope their cases will help improve the criminal justice system that failed them so terribly. The Innocence Project is working with state legislators, officials in Mississippi and the medical community to ensure that other people are not wrongfully convicted at the hands of Steven Hayne, whose misconduct contributed to Brooks and Brewer’s wrongful convictions. Hayne conducts 80% of criminal autopsies in Mississippi six times the recommended limit earning him more than $1 million a year. He may be improperly using federally funded labs for his highly questionable autopsies, and he has been discredited by professional organizations. The Innocence Project is currently investigating several other convictions in which Hayne was involved.
Next week, more than 50 exonerees and hundreds of lawyers, advocates and students will come together in Santa Clara, California, for the annual Innocence Network conference. Hosted by the Northern California Innocence Project and Santa Clara University, the conference will run from Friday, March 28, through Sunday, March 30. Also in Santa Clara on March 28, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice will hold a hearing on the state’s death penalty.
Innocence Project staffers will post updates on the Innocence Blog each day from the hearings and the conference, so be sure to check the blog for new posts. Conference registration is still open. Download a schedule of events and register online here.
A donation to the Innocence Project’s Exoneree Fund can help send an exoneree to the conference, where a set of programs and meetings is designed to build an exoneree community and provide counseling, financial advice and other assistance for people who have been exonerated. Donate to the Innocence Project Exoneree Fund today.
I was a Texas State Trooper from 1978 to 1985. The disparity of treatment between the poor and rich in our criminal justice system has always bothered me. I often say that our criminal justice system is the “best system money can buy.” Poor people with public defenders end up taking plea bargains and people who can afford a paid attorney get a fair trial. When I heard about the Innocence Project in the mid-1990s, I became a supporter because of my strong belief that our system needs an outside review to ensure that innocent people are not going to prison.
Here in Texas, there's a pervasive “tough-on-crime” culture. The public wants a decrease in crime and demands more convictions. Prosecutors are pushed to have high conviction rates. But wrongful convictions don't help anybody, as the Innocence Project has shown. Putting an innocent person behind bars isn't “tough on crime,” it is simply wrong, and it leaves the real perpetrator of a crime out of the street. The same people who claim to be “tough on crime” change their position when their relatives get caught up in the system -- all of a sudden they want fairness. It's human nature to want your own rights to be protected, and I think people who push for convictions don't put themselves in the shoes of the accused. Publicity about wrongful convictions is showing people that the system isn't fair, and awareness among jurors, voters and leaders will eventually help us to build a more just system.
We also need lawmakers in Texas and across the country to stand up for what's right. Every month, when I get the Innocence Project's email newsletter, I forward it on to my state Senator and state Representative. I want them to do something about the reforms that the IP talks about -- like a Texas Innocence Commission and the electronic recording of interrogations. Coming from a law enforcement background, I can say that police departments are skeptical of these reforms because they have an instinct to hide from the public what is going on behind closed doors. But a reform like requiring the recording of interrogations helps everyone and it protects the integrity of the interrogation.
I support the Innocence Project's work because a fair criminal justice system is important to me, and the exoneration of the innocent is the most powerful way to expose the flaws in our current system.