Class Presentations and Papers
You can learn more about wrongful convictions — and build awareness among your classmates at the same time — by focusing on the topic for a class paper or presentation. If your assignment is to work on a paper or presentation in a specific subject area, focusing on wrongful convictions can fit many categories (for example: a science presentation can focus on the DNA testing that is used to overturn wrongful convictions, while a history or government paper can examine the policy reforms that are being enacted to prevent wrongful convictions). While you will need to do more research to make your paper or presentation strong, here are some general tips:
Step 1: Learn about a case
Presentations and papers are sometimes more compelling and easier to understand when they start by focusing on one person who was wrongfully convicted, then explore the issues raised by that person's case. Click here for multimedia slideshows on 11 people who were wrongfully accused between the ages of 14 and 22 and exonerated years later through DNA testing. Click here for full background on every person in the U.S. who has been exonerated through DNA testing.
Several people who have been exonerated are featured on the Innocence Project's YouTube page. You can getter a better sense of their personalities and their stories by watching the videos. If you are working on a class presentation, you can use any of the videos on our YouTube page in the presentation.
After reading the case profile and watching any videos about the exoneree, search for more information about the case on the Internet. Most exonerations were covered by the press, and sometimes newspapers, magazines and television stations have great photos and videos on their websites.
Step 2: Learn the issues
The Innocence Project examines each exoneration case to determine what caused the wrongful conviction in the first place. In many cases, multiple factors contributed to the injustice. Find out what led to the wrongful conviction you are considering for your paper or presentation (false confession, eyewitness misidentification, etc) and learn more about that cause. Click here for more information on each of the causes of wrongful convictions.
Then visit our interactive map to find out whether your state has passed reforms to address the cause of wrongful convictions that you are researching. If your state has already passed a reform, find out whether it's as strong as it could be, and whether neighboring states have also passed laws on the issue.
Step 3: Choose your multimedia (for presentations) or graphics (for papers)
If you chose a case with an interview on our YouTube page, you may want to show that video to your class. If you chose another case, you can show your class the video "Freed by DNA" about Marvin Anderson's case and the need for access to DNA testing. You can copy any of them from our website or YouTube.
For papers, you can use the photo that appears with the full case profile on our website, or any images from our multimedia slideshows. You can also use any of the charts and graphs that appear on the Innocence Project website or in the hour-long multimedia presentation. (Permission is granted to use this material, provided you specifically state that the material was created by the Innocence Project.)
If you need help downloading any material from the Innocence Project website or copying photos or charts from the website, email us at email@example.com.
Step 4: Get creative
How can you make these issues seem real to your classmates? Here are some ideas that have worked in other classrooms:
- Involve a local police officer. If you are working on a presentation, ask the officer to speak to the class about how local law enforcement agencies are trying to make sure innocent people are not convicted. If you are writing a paper, interview a police officer.
- Similarly, involve a local defense attorney and/or prosecutor in your presentation or paper. They can discuss whether they have seen cases where the wrong person was arrested or convicted, and what more can be done locally and in your state to prevent wrongful convictions.
- Perform a scene from the play “The Exonerated” in your classroom.
- Learn about the science behind DNA testing and create a presentation or model about how people can be identified using DNA. Click here for a good place to start – which can also be a great handout for your class.
Step 5: Start a discussion
If you're doing a class presentation or reading part of your paper to the class, get people engaged about wrongful convictions. Ask whether they’ve ever remembered seeing something and then learned they were wrong about the details (which can lead to a discussion about eyewitness misidentification) or whether they’ve ever admitted to something they didn’t do (which can lead to a conversation about false confessions). Talk about whether students can imagine themselves being wrongfully accused of a crime – and nobody believing them when they insisted they were innocent.
Step 6: End presentations with a call to action
Once you’ve made your classmates more aware of wrongful convictions, you can get them engaged in working to reform the criminal justice system. Ask them to go to www.innocenceproject.org/petition to sign the Innocence Project’s Petition for Access to Post-Conviction DNA Testing. If your school already has a student organization focused on wrongful convictions, ask your classmates to join. If there’s not yet a student group on your campus, tell your classmates that you are hoping to form one – and ask them for help. Click here for more on starting a campus organization.
Step 7: Stay connectedEmail us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help, materials or information. Also, once your project is finished, send us an email to let us know how it went.