Innocence Project launches “200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted,” month-long national campaign to address and prevent wrongful convictions
(CHICAGO, IL; April 23, 2007) – With new DNA tests proving that Jerry Miller did not commit a brutal rape in Chicago for which he was convicted in 1982, the Innocence Project said today that Miller is the 200th person in the nation exonerated through DNA evidence.
In 1981, Miller was arrested and charged with kidnapping, raping and robbing a woman in downtown Chicago. He was convicted in 1982 and served 24 years in prison. Eleven months ago, he was released on parole as a registered sex offender, requiring him to wear an electronic monitoring device at all times and prohibiting him from answering his door on Halloween or leaving his job for lunch. Miller, who served more than three years in the military, was 22 years old when he was arrested and is now 48. DNA testing on semen from the rape proves that Miller did not commit the crime – and instead implicates another man as the actual perpetrator.
“Like many of the 200 people who have been exonerated through DNA, Jerry Miller lost nearly his entire adult life because of a wrongful conviction. It’s impossible to put ourselves in his shoes, but we all have a moral obligation to learn from these exonerations and prevent anyone else from enduring this tragedy,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project.
Miller, who always maintained his innocence, was convicted based on eyewitness misidentification. The victim in the case was approached by a man in a parking garage at night; he beat, robbed and raped her, before locking her in the trunk of her car and attempting to drive out of the garage. Attendants recognized that the car the perpetrator was driving actually belonged to the victim, and stopped the car before it could leave. The perpetrator fled on foot, and the attendants released the victim from the trunk of the car. Both of the attendants identified Miller as the perpetrator, and the victim provided a more tentative identification at trial. A rape kit was not collected after the attack (because the rape was so brutal and caused injuries that made it impossible), but semen on the victim’s clothing that could only have come from the perpetrator was recently subjected to DNA testing, which proves Miller’s innocence. The Cook County State Attorney’s Office joined the Innocence Project and the Cook County Public Defender’s Office in a joint motion to vacate and dismiss Miller’s conviction.
Today in Chicago, Neufeld and Barry Scheck, who co-founded the Innocence Project at Cardozo School of Law in 1992 and are Co-Directors of the national organization, said the 200 DNA exonerations “are the greatest data set ever on the causes of wrongful convictions in the U.S. and yet just the tip of the iceberg,” since so few cases involve evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing. Immediately following Miller’s exoneration, the Innocence Project launched “200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted,” a month-long national campaign to address and prevent wrongful convictions. A booklet and video released today by the Innocence Project, along with other resources that are part of the educational campaign in all 50 states, are online here
“The first 200 DNA exonerations have transformed the criminal justice system in this country. These exonerations provide irrefutable scientific proof of the causes of wrongful convictions, and they provide a roadmap for fixing the criminal justice system,” Scheck said. “As a result of the first 200 DNA exonerations, laws and policies around the country have changed, but it’s only a beginning. We still have a tremendous amount of work to do to make the criminal justice system fair and accurate.”
A primary goal of the national campaign launched today is to support the formation of state Innocence Commissions, statewide entities that identify causes of wrongful convictions and develop state reforms that can improve the criminal justice system. Six states already have such commissions, and seven states are currently considering legislation to create them. The existing commissions vary, but they are generally comprised of a range of people involved in criminal justice issues (including, for example, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, victims’ advocates, defense attorneys and experts in specific fields).
“The 200 DNA exonerations across the country show fundamental problems in the criminal justice system, and Innocence Commissions are able to identify and address all of the causes of wrongful convictions, rather than only some of them. Innocence Commissions bring serious, systemic remedies to serious, systemic problems,” Neufeld said.
According to the Innocence Project, which analyzes each DNA exoneration in the country to determine what caused the wrongful conviction and then advocates for systemic reforms that can prevent future injustice, the first 200 exonerations have clear patterns – and have led to specific reforms across the country (in addition to the six Innocence Commissions). For example, based on the DNA exonerations and Innocence Project reform tracking:
- Eyewitness misidentification plays a role in 77% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA (of those, nearly half are cross-racial misidentifications). Several dozen states and cities have reformed their identification procedures (lineups, etc.) to improve accuracy. Legislation was introduced in 13 states this year to improve eyewitness procedures.
- Forensic errors (ranging from simple mistakes or exaggerations to outright fraud) played a role in 63% of the first 86 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA (according to an analysis published in Science magazine). Federal law passed in 2004 requires states to have independent oversight mechanisms in order to receive federal money for crime labs. Legislation was introduced in four states this year to create or improve statewide forensic science commissions.
- Racism continues to be a significant cause of wrongful convictions. While 29% of people in prison for rape are black, 64% of the people who were wrongfully convicted of rape (and then exonerated through DNA) are black. Moreover, most sexual assaults nationwide are among perpetrators and victims of the same race (the federal government says just 12% of sexual assaults are cross racial), but two-thirds of all black men exonerated through DNA evidence were wrongfully convicted of raping white people.
- False confessions play a role in nearly 25% of wrongful convictions overturned with DNA. More than 500 jurisdictions now record interrogations (nine states mandate the recording), and legislation to require such recording was introduced in 20 states this year.
- Evidence is often lost or destroyed after a conviction, making DNA testing impossible. In 22 states, statutes require some type of preservation of evidence in criminal cases. Legislation was introduced in six states this year to improve or enact such laws.
- In 40 states, laws are on the books granting prisoners access to DNA testing to prove their innocence; this year, legislation to enact such a law was introduced in five of the 10 states that currently don’t provide statutory access.
- In 21 states, laws provide some level of compensation to people who were wrongfully convicted; this year, legislation was introduced in 13 states to create or improve compensation laws.
for more details on reforms that have been enacted at least in part because of the DNA exonerations – and legislation that is pending in states nationwide.
In Illinois, Governor Ryan’s Commission on Capital Punishment issued 85 recommendations to prevent wrongful convictions in capital cases. Those recommendations are still under consideration by the State Legislature. “Jerry Miller’s case is a powerful call to extend the commission’s term and expand its scope to include non-capital cases,” said Colin Starger, Staff Attorney at the Innocence Project, which represents Miller with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office.
Attorneys on Miller’s case include Bill Wolf of the Chicago Public Defender’s Office and Colin Starger of the Innocence Project. Cardozo School of Law clinic students Marsha Indych and Mineh Givens worked on the case at the Innocence Project and attended today’s hearing in Chicago.