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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions about the Innocence Project
FAQ D source code What is the Innocence Project? How did it get started?
Founded in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, the Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.
FAQ How can someone ask the Innocence Project to get involved in a case?
The Innocence Project is not equipped to handle case applications or inquiries by email or over the phone. All case submissions and follow-up correspondence will be handled by mail or overnight delivery services only. Click the link for further instructions.
FAQ How many people write to you each year?
Every year, more than 3,000 people write to us for the first time asking for help, and at any given time we are evaluating between 6,000 and 8,000 potential cases.
FAQ chemical/x-pdb How do you decide who to represent?
We gather extensive information about each case application, and our intake and evaluation staff researches each potential case thoroughly – and, along with our legal staff, ultimately determines whether DNA testing can be conducted and, if so, whether favorable results can prove innocence.
FAQ How many cases do you currently have, how many lawyers work on the cases and how long does each case take?
In addition to our co-directors and a managing attorney, the Innocence Project has six full-time staff attorneys and nearly 300 active cases.
FAQ What are your largest hurdles in bringing about an exoneration?
The Innocence Project faces numerous hurdles in litigating cases. These include time-consuming and painstaking efforts to find evidence; degraded evidence that cannot be accurately tested; lost or destroyed evidence; and prosecutorial objections leading to lengthy litigation.
FAQ D source code How is the Innocence Project funded?
We receive 45% of our funding from individuals, 30% from foundations, 15% from our annual benefit dinner, 7% from the Cardozo School of Law and most of the rest from corporations.
FAQ D source code How are the donated funds used?
About 85% of support we receive goes to direct program costs (rather than administrative overhead or fundraising), including DNA testing for our clients, court costs and travel to court appearances and legislative hearings.
FAQ What is the relationship between the Innocence Project and other organizations doing similar work?
The Innocence Project is a founding member (along with several longtime partners) of the Innocence Network, an affiliation of independent organizations working to overturn wrongful convictions and improve the criminal justice system.
FAQ What is the Innocence Project's relationship with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law?
The Innocence Project was founded at Cardozo School of Law and housed there until becoming an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2004.
FAQ How does DNA evidence prove innocence? What does the testing process entail?
We work with prosecutors or courts to agree on private or public labs to conduct testing on evidence connected to a particular crime. In 82% of cases for which records are available, prosecutors eventually agreed to grant testing. In other cases, access to DNA testing was granted through court orders.
FAQ What is the science behind forensic DNA testing?
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a molecule that contains genetic information. It is found in an organism's cells and is the blueprint for that organism's functions. Each person's genetic code is inherited and unique, so each DNA profile is distinct (except in identical twins).
FAQ Troff document How often do DNA tests prove innocence in your cases? Does testing ever prove guilt?
Among our cases that go to DNA testing, the DNA proves our clients innocent about as often as it suggests they are guilty.
FAQ Troff document How much does DNA testing cost?
When the Innocence Project pays for testing, DNA testing costs over $1,000 per test, and some of our cases involve multiple rounds of testing on several different items of evidence.
FAQ How many innocent people are there in prison?
We will never know for sure, but the few studies that have been done estimate that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the U.S. are innocent (for context, if just 1% of all prisoners are innocent, that would mean that more than 20,000 innocent people are in prison).
FAQ What happens to prosecutors or police or lab analysts whose misconduct leads to wrongful convictions (do they lose their jobs or end up in prison)?
Officials are rarely held accountable. Very few police, prosecutors and crime lab analysts have ever faced criminal prosecution for their role in wrongful convictions in the United States.
FAQ What are the causes of wrongful convictions?
Research into the underlying causes of wrongful convictions has revealed several common factors.
FAQ How many of the wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence had multiple causes or contributing factors?
170 (52%) of the 333 DNA exonerations involved more than one contributing factor (eyewitness misidentification, flawed forensics, false confessions, and/or informants).
FAQ D source code What are the remedies for systemic problems? Are they being adopted?
For each cause of wrongful conviction, there are straightforward, proven remedies that make the system more accurate: police can change how they administer lineups to reduce errors; forensic science standards and oversight can increase the reliability of evidence; recording interrogations can reduce false confessions.
FAQ What is the Innocence Project's position on the death penalty?
The Innocence Project supports a moratorium on capital punishment while the causes of wrongful convictions are fully identified and remedied.
FAQ How many people have been exonerated through DNA testing?
Since 1989, 333 people in 37 states have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing. View our map of exonerations by state to learn more about geographic trends and individual cases.
FAQ How much time did the exonerees serve in prison?
The sentences served by DNA exonerees spans from five months to 35 years, and on average people served 13.5 years in prison (and several years on parole, in many cases) before they were exonerated through DNA testing.
FAQ ECMAScript program What is the racial breakdown of exonerees?
More than 70% are people of color (African American, Latino or Asian) while the remainder are white.
FAQ ECMAScript program What are the ages of exonerees?
On average, they were 26 years old when they were convicted and 41 when they were exonerated; fully one-third were between the ages of 14 and 22 when they were wrongfully arrested.
FAQ Are any of the exonerees women?
Four of the first 330 DNA exonerees are women; most DNA cases involve sex crimes or violent physical struggles, which most often are perpetrated by men.
FAQ How many of the exonerees had criminal records before the wrongful conviction?
We don’t know the exact number, but we do know that the vast majority of exonerees did not have significant criminal histories before they were wrongfully convicted; many of them had no criminal record at all.
FAQ D source code What happens to exonerees when they are released?
While the experience is unique to each individual, many exonerees struggle to rebuild their lives but ultimately create strong social networks and career paths.
FAQ D source code Can people sue after they are exonerated?
Only some of the exonerees have viable civil rights claims, where they must show intentional harm.
FAQ C header How often are exonerees compensated? How much?
More than half of states have compensation laws on the books, and about 60% of the exonerees have been compensated (through state laws or civil lawsuits); those compensated under state laws received a median of $240,000 in total compensation, which is a median of $24,000 per year of time served. Read more about exoneree compensation here.
FAQ Are services available to exonerees after release?
Very few states provide any services to exonerees, so the Innocence Project has a social work program to provide its former clients with emergency and transitional financial help, connections to local job training and financial planning agencies, assistance navigating government benefits programs, and other vital social services.
FAQ Troff document How can I donate to the Innocence Project?
Click the link to find the many easy ways to donate to the Innocence Project!
FAQ Are there volunteer opportunities available?
Specific volunteer postings are posted here. Most volunteer opportunities are in our New York office, though there are sometimes virtual volunteer positions.
FAQ How can I stay in touch and learn more about the work?
Sign up here to receive monthly email newsletters and timely bulletins about our work or subscribe to receive a daily feed from our blog; you can also find us on Facebook and Twitter to connect with us and other supporters.
FAQ Pascal source code What else can I do to help?
Anyone can build awareness about the causes of wrongful convictions, reforms to improve the criminal justice system and the Innocence Project’s work by speaking out in their communities, hosting house parties, contacting policymakers or taking other simple but important steps.
FAQ Troff document Are you affiliated with the American Innocence Project?
No, the Innocence Project is not affiliated with an organization operating under the name "American Innocence Project," and the American Innocence Project does not have authorization to solicit funds under the Innocence Project name. If you have been contacted by this group or a similar organization, please contact us at
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