Stopping Wrongful Convictions Before They Happen
DNA has changed the criminal justice system forever – but the system has not changed enough.
The exonerations of innocent people have shown that our criminal justice system is fundamentally flawed. DNA exonerations do not solve the problem — they provide scientific proof of its existence, and they illuminate the need for reform.
Over the last 19 years, there has been a major shift in criminal justice legislation as a result of DNA exonerations. Policymakers are increasingly recognizing and addressing the problems these exonerations demonstrate – and they are beginning to enact common-sense reforms that have been proven to improve accuracy in the criminal justice system.
Reforms with Broad Support and Proven Success
The Innocence Project works with people from across the criminal justice system – including prosecutors, victims, law enforcement agencies and defense advocates – to enact meaningful reform. Improving fairness and accuracy in the criminal justice system benefits all segments of society. Victims and their families can see justice; prosecutors and police can have the tools to do their jobs well; the public can have more confidence in the system; and innocent people and their families can avoid the tragedy of wrongful convictions.
The Innocence Project’s priorities for reforming the criminal justice system reflect the lessons that have been learned from DNA exonerations over the last 19 years. These priorities also reflect the need to address fundamental shortcomings in the criminal justice system while implementing specific reforms to law enforcement procedures. All of the reforms that the Innocence Project and its partners advocate have been proven to increase the accuracy of the criminal justice system, often through decades of scientific research. The reforms that can address and prevent wrongful convictions include:
- Eyewitness Identification
- Forensic Oversight
- DNA Testing Access
- Exoneree Compensation
- Evidence Preservation
- Innocence Commissions
- False Confessions
Many of these recommended reforms have already met with success. In recent years, the Innocence Project and its partners have helped enact a number of policy reforms that benefit wrongfully convicted people and help improve law enforcement procedures. Also, some law enforcement agencies have voluntarily adopted these reforms. Examples include:
- Reformed eyewitness identification procedures to reduce the rate of misidentification in states including New Jersey, Ohio and North Carolina and in major cities including Boston, Minneapolis, Dallas and others.
- Enabled prisoners with claims of innocence to apply for post-conviction DNA testing in 48 states (every state but Massachusetts and Oklahoma).
- Mandated electronic recording of interrogations in 18 states, the District of Columbia and more than 750 law enforcement agencies to prevent false confessions.
- Created Innocence Commissions in more than ten states, including California, Texas, Illinois and New York, and passed legislation for a federal innocence commission in the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Developed compensation statutes to benefit wrongfully convicted people in 27 states, including social services like job training, temporary housing and health care in 10 states.