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Dallas District Attorney's office will add special DNA review team

Posted: April 24, 2007

New Dallas DA Craig Watkins won approval today from county commissioners for a special new group in his office that will be devoted to reviewing cases involving DNA evidence. One of the team's tasks will be to review nearly 400 convictions in which defendants claim innocence and have been denied DNA testing. The Innocence Project of Texas will be working with Watkins' office on this project. In several other jurisdictions nationwide in recent years, District Attorneys or state law enforcement leaders have created institutional structures to review a similar number of convictions to determine whether innocent people are in prison.

“What we’re doing in Dallas County is going to send a message to everybody,” Mr. Watkins said after the vote. “It’s a good day in Dallas County.”

Read the full story. (Dallas Morning News, 4/24/07)

Tags: Innocence Commissions, Access to DNA Testing



National Public Radio talks with Dallas District Attorney

Posted: May 2, 2007

National Public Radio featured an interview this week with Craig Watkins, the Dallas District Attorney who is working with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 300 cases in which a convicted defendant has claimed innocence but been denied DNA testing. Thirteen people have been proven innocent by DNA in Dallas County alone, more than in any other county in the nation.

Watkins told NPR’s Michel Martin that “Out of 13 exonerations that we have had in the past five years, they were as a result of testing 35 cases. That's almost half. And so I believe that when we test 400, if we just look at the numbers, there is obviously going to be someone that has been wrongfully convicted that's actually sitting in prison right now.

Download the show in MP3 format.
Read more about the work underway in Dallas and the 13 men proven innocent by DNA testing in that county.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



NY legislators call for reforms at press conference today

Posted: May 3, 2007

At 2 p.m. today in New York City, leaders in the State Legislature will join New Yorkers who have been exonerated through DNA testing and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck to announce a package of sweeping reforms to address wrongful convictions statewide. The measures proposed today include access to post-conviction DNA testing, preservation of evidence that can prove innocence, mechanisms for people to prove their innocence by using forensic databases that can identify true perpetrators of crimes, the formation of a state Innocence Commission and others.

Speakers at the conference including Alan Newton, who first requested DNA testing in 1994 and was told his evidence was lost or destroyed for 12 years before it was finally found. He was exonerated by testing on the evidence 10 months ago. Exoneree Douglas Warney will also be at the event.

For more logisitics on attending today’s press conference, email Matt Kelley at

Tags: Innocence Commissions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



NY legislators join Innocence Project in supporting sweeping reforms

Posted: May 4, 2007

Leaders in the New York legislature joined Innocence Project officials and New Yorkers who were exonerated by DNA evidence yesterday in announcing broad-based reforms to fix the state’s criminal justice system and help prevent wrongful convictions from happening.

The reforms proposed in several bills before the legislature include the creation of an innocence commission, improving requirements on evidence preservation, post-conviction DNA testing, use of forensic databases to prove innocence and compensation for people exonerated after serving time in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

Also in attendance yesterday were Alan Newton, who served 22 years in New York prisons for a rape he didn’t commit, and Douglas Warney, who served nine years after falsely confessing to a murder.

Read the Innocence Project’s press release on the reform package.

Read coverage of yesterday’s announcements in the New York Times and Newsday.

Learn more about reforms underway nationwide in our “Fix the System” section.

Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, False Confessions



Column: Louisiana should invest in justice reform

Posted: May 14, 2007

A column in Saturday’s Shreveport Times calls for serious reforms to Louisiana’s criminal justice system in the wake of the 200th DNA exoneration nationwide. Emily Maw, the director of Innocence Project New Orleans, writes with Heather Hall that the state needs to direct its focus to indigent defense and to providing access to DNA testing for inmates claiming innocence. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate per capita in the United States, and nine people have been exonerated in that state by DNA evidence.

Perhaps it is not surprising — Louisiana puts more people in prison per capita than any other state in the United States, has neglected the broken public defender system for decades and has demonstrated a complete lack of initiative to address the root causes of wrongful conviction.

Read the full column here
. (Shreveport Times, 5/12/07)
Read more about the nine people exonerated by DNA testing in Louisiana.

How many exonerations have there been in your state? View a map here.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing, Bad Lawyering



NY Times: Spitzer's DNA proposal needs revision

Posted: May 29, 2007

A package of legislation supported by New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer was approved by the state Senate last week and is currently pending in the Assembly, but another package of reforms in the Assembly goes further to prevent wrongful convictions and protect the rights of defendants.

On Friday night, Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, both New York City Democrats, introduced their own bill that would expand the DNA database to all misdemeanors, as the governor proposed in his bill this month. Currently DNA samples are collected from people convicted of all felonies and a few misdemeanors.
But the assemblymen felt the governor did not go far enough in ensuring that DNA would be used to exonerate those wrongly imprisoned as well as to convict the guilty. DNA evidence has led to 23 exonerations in New York State, according to the Innocence Project, a legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. The state has had a DNA database since 2000.

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 5/28/07)

And a New York Times editorial yesterday said proposed reforms need better safeguards to allow the wrongfully convicted to file appeals.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer is right to want to expand New York State’s use of DNA evidence to solve crimes and exonerate the innocent. But, disappointingly, his proposed plan includes an unrelated — and unworthy — new provision that would seriously undermine his declared goal of minimizing injustice.

Read the full editorial here. (New York Times, 5/28/07)
The Innocence Project is working with legislators to ensure that reforms reflect the lessons of DNA exonerations and meaningfully improve the criminal justice system, and we will post updates in this space throughout the week.

Tags: New York, Access to DNA Testing



Hearing today on DNA reforms in New York Assembly

Posted: May 31, 2007

Today in Albany, a New York Assembly committee heard testimony from Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and three New York men exonerated after serving a total of 45 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

Members of the Assembly are considering a new package of reforms that would help prevent wrongful convictions and use DNA to enhance the state’s criminal justice system. The Assembly reforms address these critical issues far more substantially and meaningfully than proposals that passed in the state Senate last week, according to the Innocence Project.

Joining Neufeld in testifying were New York exonerees Alan Newton, Roy Brown and Douglas Warney.

Read the Innocence Project press release on today's testimony here.

Tags: New York, False Confessions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



New York legislators near deal on reform legislation

Posted: June 1, 2007

Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and four New Yorkers exonerated by DNA testing testified before a state Assembly committee yesterday that a package of reforms introduced in the Assembly would bring “serious, meaningful and badly needed” reforms to the state’s criminal justice system. Now it appears that legislators might be close to reaching a compromise between a bill that passed the Senate and the bill pending in the Assembly. The Innocence Project supports the package of reforms in the Assembly because it is addresses critical issues more substantially and more meaningfully than the Senate bill. Gov. Elliot Sptizer said yesterday that certain reforms from the Assembly bill were “reasonable…”

"I would be willing to support ... an innocence commission," Spitzer said. And as for the widening the window for appeal, he said: "That is a reasonable compromise."

Read the full story here. (Elmira Star-Gazette, 5/31/07)
Read the Innocence Project’s press release here.

More news coverage: Wrongfully convicted: DNA expansion must include protections (Journal-News, 6/1/07)

The four exonerees testiftying yesterday were Alan Newton, Doug Warney, Roy Brown and Jeff Deskovic; together they served 60 years in prison for crimes they didn't commit. They are among 23 people proven innocent by DNA testing in New York. Only Texas and Illinois have seen more convictions overturned by DNA testing.

Tags: New York, False Confessions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



NY Times: New Dallas DA means end to old ways

Posted: June 4, 2007

The first five months in office for new Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins has brought major change to the county’s justice system, and an article in yesterday’s New York Times considers the differences between Watkins and prosecutors of decades past. But political change often moves slowly:

“I encounter resistance every day,” Mr. Watkins said. “It’s part of my job. It doesn’t make any difference. Let them be on the wrong side of history.” But, he said, his critics “are just waiting for me to make a mistake.”
Since 2001, DNA testing has overturned 13 Dallas County wrongful convictions. Only the states of Illinois, New York and Texas have more exonerations than Dallas County itself. Watkins announced in February that his office would cooperate with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 400 cases in which an inmate applied for DNA testing to prove innocence and was denied the tests. In May, his office named a new special prosecutor to focus on this review process as well as other DNA-related cases.
“We’re getting ready to make history, not only in Dallas County and Texas but the rest of the country,” said Jeff Blackburn of the West Texas Innocence Project at Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock. “We have what no other county or state has — a D.A. determined that innocent people don’t get convicted.”
“You don’t have to be bloodthirsty to be elected,” Mr. Blackburn said. “People are not as crazy as prosecutors and judges think.”
Read the full story here. (New York Times, 6/3/07)

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Vermont Gov. signs reform bill into law

Posted: June 5, 2007

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas signed a bill last week granting access to DNA testing for people who claim innocence after being convicted of certain crimes in the state.

The bill also grants compensation to people exonerated after being convicted of a crime they didn’t commit, and it creates committees to study new state policies on evidence preservation, eyewitness identification reform and recording of custodial interrogation.

Click here to read the full text of the bill as passed by Vermont’s House and Senate.

View a map of post-conviction DNA access laws and exoneree compensation laws nationwide.

Tags: Vermont, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



Op-Ed: Scheck and Neufeld call for NY to enact real reforms

Posted: June 18, 2007 11:02 am

In today’s New York Daily News, Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld write that recent DNA exonerations have demonstrated the urgent need for criminal justice reforms in New York state, including improved access to DNA testing and improved procedures for the preservation of evidence.

Nobody benefits from a wrongful conviction. Not the victim, police, prosecutor, judge, jury, nor the public at large. Well, maybe one person benefits: the real perpetrator, who can relax knowing an innocent person took the rap.

There have been nine DNA exonerations in New York State since 2006, putting our total at 23. And given that it's harder to find preserved evidence in New York than in most states, and that DNA can prove innocence in so few crimes, the situation is likely far worse than those numbers indicate.

Read the full article. (New York Daily News, 06/18/07)


Tags: New York, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



New North Carolina innocence inquiry panel gets to work

Posted: September 12, 2007 4:09 pm

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission was created last year to review possible wrongful convictions and refer cases to a three-judge panel for potential appeal. The eight-member commission is the only group of its kind in the U.S., and it has recently begun its substantative work. The group will have three full-time staff members and is currently investigating three cases, two of which may involve post-conviction DNA testing. The commission has received requests from 200 inmates seeking to have their cases reviewed.

And other major reforms aimed at preventing wrongful convictions in North Carolina are also set to take effect. At the end of August, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley signed three significant criminal justice reform bills into law. The new laws will create statewide standards for police lineups, require recording of police interrogations and strengthen the requirement the law enforcement agencies preserve biological evidence from crime scenes.

Recording interrogations has enormous benefits for both defendants and the police, said Chris Mumma, the executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, which coordinates efforts by the state’s law schools to help the wrongfully convicted. Defendants get added protection, and police get the ability to review the interrogation tapes to get more information.

Mumma said that over 500 law-enforcement departments across the country are recording interrogations in some or all of their criminal investigations.

"They have reported that they would never go back,” she said.

Read the full story here. (Winston-Salem Journal, 09/10/07)
Last month, Dwayne Allen Dail was released from prison in North Carolina after DNA testing proved that he did not commit the rape for which he was serving life in prison. Dail was represented by Chris Mumma at the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. Read more about Dail’s case here.

Download the full text of the new criminal justice reform laws in North Carolina:

  • HB 1625 (Eyewitness Identification)
  • HB 1626 (Recording of Custodial Interrogation)
  • HB 1500 (Access to DNA Testing)

Tags: Dwayne Dail, Innocence Commissions, False Confessions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



Radio interview on bills before Michigan legislature

Posted: November 8, 2007 7:00 am

In an interview yesterday on Michigan Public Radio, the co-director of an organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions in Michigan said bills currently pending before the state’s legislature would improve access to DNA testing and help to prevent future wrongful convictions.

Donna McKneelen, the Co-Director of the Cooley Innocence Project at Cooley Law School (an Innocence Network member), said innocent inmates could possibly be denied DNA testing due to restrictions in the current law. A pending bill, HB 5089, would amend that law to remove unnecessary restrictions on applying for testing. McKneelen also said she supports the bill that would provide compensation to exonerees.

Listen to McKneelen’s interview here.

Tags: Michigan, Exoneree Compensation, Access to DNA Testing



Dispatch from Philadelphia: Why I tell my story

Posted: November 9, 2007 12:45 pm

By David Shephard, Exoneree; President, Northeast Council on the Wrongfully Convicted

Twenty-three years ago I was convicted in New Jersey of a horrible rape I didn’t commit, simply because I worked at the Newark airport, near where the victim’s stolen car was found. I was in prison for almost a decade before DNA testing proved my innocence and led to my release. I was 32 years old and I walked into a changed world. I had to rebuild old relationships. I had to look for a job and explain what I had been doing during my twenties. It wasn’t easy.

Now I’ve been out for 12 years and I’m proud to say I live a happy and productive life. I have a beautiful family, I work hard at my county’s Department of Citizen Services and, whenever I can, I tell anyone who will listen about my case and the causes of wrongful conviction. This morning I’m writing from Philadelphia, where I joined Innocence Project Executive Director Maddy deLone on a panel at the 29th annual conference of the National Association of Women Judges. I’m excited to be here, because telling my story is one of the most important contributions I can make to the innocence movement.

I tell my story because people in this country still have too much faith in our broken criminal justice system. They watch TV and they think the courts are just like they seem in “Law & Order.” I can tell you from experience that they aren’t. I’ve spoken to thousands of people over the years, and many of them already knew about the problem of wrongful convictions before they met me. I’ve learned, however, that they don’t really feel the depths of the issue until they meet an exoneree. It doesn’t have to be me – it can be anyone who has been through the minefield of wrongful conviction. I was speaking in southern New Jersey last week and during my speech I saw faces changing from skeptical to intrigued to devoted. Events around the world are often posted on this blog. If you read about an exoneree’s speech in your town, go hear it. You won’t regret it.

This morning, I spoke to an audience of judges from across the country, all of whom have firsthand knowledge of how our justice system works. But even among this group of insiders, I was the first exoneree many have met in person. And the same holds true for anyone I meet: you can read about this problem all you want, but until it has a human face, it isn’t real.

During this morning’s panel, I told the audience that every inmate with a valid claim of innocence should have access to DNA testing. Why should we have this all-powerful science and not use it? It’s a tragedy that eight states still don’t have laws allowing inmates to apply for DNA testing when it can prove innocence. Even in many of the 42 states with DNA access laws, defendants are still often denied access due to technicalities. If the prosecutor in my case hadn’t agreed to test the evidence, I might not be writing this today. But this issue is bigger than me, it’s bigger than the 208 DNA exonerees. It’s a national problem and we need a national standard for DNA testing access. I told my story this morning, and I will continue to speak out, because there are more innocent people behind bars and we shouldn’t rest until they are free.

David Shephard was exonerated in New Jersey in 1995. He lives with his family in Newark, New Jersey, and serves as the Founding President of the Northeast Council of the Wrongfully Convicted. Learn more about his case here.

Tags: David Shephard, Access to DNA Testing, Dispatches



Dallas prosecutors approve testing for seven inmates

Posted: November 26, 2007 4:16 pm

The Dallas District Attorney’s office announced  Monday that it would grant DNA testing access to seven inmates who had applied for tests under the previous district attorney and been denied. The seven cases were identified from a group of 57 cases; about 350 additional cases are still waiting for review.

Mike Ware, who oversees the district attorney’s public integrity unit, said tests would be granted in every case where DNA could potentially prove innocence. The tests will be performed by a private lab and funded by the Innocence Project of Texas and a $25,000 donation from the Texas Bar Foundation. The Innocence Project of Texas raised $15,000 at a fundraiser blues concert on Saturday night.

Read more here. (Dallas Morning News, 11/26/07)

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Wyoming legislature considers DNA access law

Posted: November 27, 2007 6:05 pm

There’s one thing all 208 exonerees have in common – at some point they were able to secure DNA testing in their cases. Sometimes prosecutors agree to testing immediately upon request, but other times it takes a long court battle for an innocent defendant to obtain testing. Today 42 states have some form of law allowing inmates to apply for DNA testing if it could prove innocence. Eight states still have no such law, meaning inmates in those states are often unable to prove their innocence, even when key biological evidence is sitting untested in a storage facility.

Wyoming is one of those eight states without an access law, but lawmakers there say it’s time for a change. A joint legislative committee yesterday heard testimony on the issue from a cross-section of criminal justice experts, and many are hoping to see a bill passed during the 2008 session.

Rep. Edward Buchanan, R-Torrington, who raise the issue with the committee last year, warned against rushing the bill to the full Legislature if it is not “rock solid.”

But other committee members, including Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, said the committee should push the bill forward.

“For those people who may be sitting in jail or prison who are in fact not guilty, for us to sit there and say, 'We want to wait until it's absolutely perfect,' that's unacceptable in my mind," Burns said.

Read the full story here. (Jackson Hole Star-Tribune, 11/27/07)
Does your state have a DNA access law? View our interactive map.

Tags: Wyoming, Access to DNA Testing



Applying for DNA testing in Ohio: an uphill battle

Posted: December 17, 2007 12:50 pm

A report published yesterday in the Lebanon (Ohio) Western Star examines the difficulties faced by convicted defendants in Ohio applying for DNA testing that could potentially prove their innocence. Of the 315 Ohio cases in which a defendant has requested DNA testing to prove innocence, courts have granted testing to only 19 people, with 66 cases awaiting rulings. Prosecutors have fought testing in most cases, based on legal grounds or due to lost or destroyed evidence (Ohio doesn’t have an evidence preservation law). Ohio is one of the 42 states with a post-conviction DNA testing law, but these numbers indicate that even among these states the path to testing isn’t always easy.

Ohio's DNA testing law, revised and made permanent last year, also closes the door to many potential applicants, including ex-convicts trying to clear their names and anyone who pleaded guilty. Another hurdle: Inmates must demonstrate that the testing would change the outcome of their trials.

Read the full story here. (Western Star, 12/17/07)
Does your state have a post-conviction DNA access law? What are the restrictions? Find out with our interactive map.

Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing



NY Times editorial calls for reforms nationwide

Posted: January 10, 2008 11:00 am

An editorial in today’s New York Times considers the release last week of Charles Chatman in Dallas and calls for critical reforms nationwide to address and prevent wrongful convictions. Hundreds of innocent people remain behind bars, the editorial says, and the risk of convicting innocents will remain strong until we implement reforms that are proven to improven the accuracy and fairness of the criminal justice system – including reforms to eyewitness identification, interrogation procedures and crime lab oversight.

While DNA evidence has captured the popular imagination, Mr. Chatman’s story — and that of many postconviction exonerations — is also in large part about eyewitness misidentification, the most common factor in wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project has proposed some important reforms that states should use in upgrading their criminal justice system. These include improvements in the use of eyewitness testimony and electronic recording of interrogations.

Better oversight and funding of crime labs is also crucial, along with creation of innocence commissions to manage claims of wrongful conviction. A groundbreaking federal law now grants federal inmates access to DNA testing. Most states and localities are lagging in doing this, and in properly preserving evidence.

Read the full editorial here. (New York Times, 01/10/08)

Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



Test of Convictions: An Ohio investigative report

Posted: January 28, 2008 5:41 pm

A five-part investigative series this week in the Columbus Dispatch uncovers major flaws in the way the criminal justice system in Ohio uncovers and overturns wrongful convictions.

The flaws have ruinous consequences for inmates, victims and society at large.

Presented with The Dispatch's findings, Gov. Ted Strickland immediately called for a compete overhaul that would speed up the review process, open up testing to more inmates and establish statewide standards for preserving evidence.

"It's not honoring the victim to take the chance that an innocent person is paying the price for victimizing them, because the flip side of the coin is that means the guilty party has escaped justice," Strickland said.

"It's just a matter of trying to do everything we can to be as careful and as accurate as we possibly can be.”
The Columbus Dispatch reviewed hundreds of requests for DNA testing and found that they are often denied without cause.  The series also found that Ohio’s law granting post-conviction DNA testing is inadequate.
Convicts lose their chance for a DNA test when they are released from prison, whether they leave on parole or in a hearse.

Ohio is among 15 states that require a person to be alive and in prison to qualify. Had that restriction been in place nationally, it would have prevented clearing the names of at least 22 men wrongly convicted of rape or murder.

If Ohio allowed for expanded DNA testing, the number of exonerations "would be higher, there's just no question," said Stephen Saloom, policy director of the Innocence Project of New York."You've got to ask: Who benefits from refusing to learn whether or not an innocent person was convicted of a serious crime? Nobody benefits -- except the real perpetrator. Everyone else loses."
Read the first two articles in the series and view special online features.

Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing



Ohio investigative series identifies 30 inmates in need of DNA tests

Posted: January 31, 2008 2:10 pm

The final stories in a five-day investigative report by the Columbus Dispatch ran today, and the results are being felt across the country. Today’s story focuses on 30 prisoners identified by the newspaper and the Ohio Innocence Project as candidates for DNA testing that could overturn their convictions if it proves innocence. Public defenders and attorneys at the Ohio Innocence Project began today to file appeals for testing in the cases of the 30 prisoners. And an Ohio lab, DNA Diagnostics Center, will perform any approved testing for free.

The Dispatch, as part of a yearlong investigation, gathered public records and built files on the 313 cases in which Ohio prisoners applied for a DNA test under an old law, which stymied nearly everyone. Advocates hope that modest changes to the law in 2006 have created new opportunities for them.Through consultation with the Ohio Innocence Project, a legal clinic based at the University of Cincinnati, The Dispatch identified prospects for testing.
This week’s series covered the cases of inmates unable to secure DNA testing, others whose evidence is lost, others who were released but remain labeled as sex offenders, and drew important feedback from the Ohio Governor and others. Read the stories, watch videos and learn more here.


Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing



Wyoming lawmakers approve DNA testing bill

Posted: February 22, 2008 4:52 pm

Wyoming is one of the eight states without a law explicitly granting defendants access to post-conviction DNA testing when it could prove innocence or guilt, but some state lawmakers hope that this won’t be the case for long. The Wyoming Senate yesterday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would provide DNA testing access. The state’s current law only allows inmates to prove their innocence through the standard appeals process, which normally expires two years after conviction. This means inmates convicted before DNA tests were first used in courtrooms in 1989 wouldn’t be able to apply for testing.

Read more:

Wyoming Tribune-Eagle: Senate Oks post-conviction DNA tests

Caspar Star-Tribune: Panel approves DNA bill

Is your state one of the eight without DNA testing access? View our map to find out.

Tags: Wyoming, Access to DNA Testing



New Ohio coalition calls for criminal justice reform

Posted: February 25, 2008 3:42 pm

A report delivered to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland last week by leaders from across the state’s criminal justice system calls for lawmakers to address wrongful convictions with a package of reforms proven to prevent injustice. The report, delivered by the state’s head public defender, a former attorney general and the director of the Ohio Innocence Project, suggests statewide standards for evidence preservation, eyewitness identification procedures, recording of interrogations and crime lab oversight.

"We need to establish additional safeguards to make sure this stuff doesn't happen here," said former Attorney General Jim Petro, a Republican who while in office pushed for DNA testing that freed a man wrongfully convicted of rape and murder.

Ohio Public Defender Tim Young agreed. "Make a list of the worst things that can happen in life, and being locked in prison for a crime you didn't do is near the top of that list. We have a fundamental responsibility, especially with DNA evidence, to make sure justice was done."

Read the full article, and view maps of other reforms passed around the country to address and prevent wrongful convictions. (Columbus Dispatch, 02/24/2008)

Tags: Ohio, Innocence Commissions, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



Mississippi legislators pass DNA testing bill

Posted: February 28, 2008 4:10 pm

The Mississippi House of Representatives passed two bills this week providing DNA testing access to small groups of people convicted of – and charged with – murder. The bills would provide access to post-conviction DNA testing for people on death row, and would provide DNA testing access to people facing capital murder charges.

Mississippi is one of eight states in the U.S. with no state law allowing access to DNA testing. But the Innocence Project recommends that states allow testing in all cases in which DNA testing could change the conviction – not only death-penalty cases.

Earlier this month, the Mississippi Senate passed a bill addressing preservation of evidence in cases so that DNA testing can be done to determine guilt or innocence.  That bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Read more about the bills here. (The Commercial Dispatch, 02/28/08)

The bills, which will now go to the Mississippi Senate, come in the wake of the Feb. 15 exoneration of Kennedy Brewer and the release of Levon Brooks, both of whom spent 15 years behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit. Read more about their cases here.

Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



Colorado DA seeks to review cases for possible wrongful conviction

Posted: March 3, 2008 2:55 pm

In the wake of the release of Tim Masters in Fort Collins in January, a northern Colorado prosecutor has said he plans to review all contested cases in his county for the possibility of wrongful conviction. About 1,100 people are serving time in state prison after convictions in Larimer County, and District Attorney Larry Abrahamson recently announced that he would review all appealed cases, in case new DNA testing could overturn a wrongful conviction.

Abrahamson said he wants to ensure that convicts are truly guilty and, if any case could benefit from new DNA testing techniques, he would review it.

Read the full story here. (Fort Collins Coloradan, 02/28/08)
Read the latest on the Tim Masters case. (Denver Post)

Tags: Colorado, Access to DNA Testing



DNA access bill moves forward in Wyoming

Posted: March 6, 2008 4:30 pm

A bill to allow some inmates to seek DNA testing to prove their innocence took another step toward approval this week in Wyoming, when the state’s House of Representatives granted preliminary approval. The Wyoming Senate passed a similar bill last month.

Wyoming is currently among eight states without a law explicitly granting defendants access to post-conviction DNA testing when it could prove innocence or guilt. Many of the 42 states however, grant broader access than the proposed Wyoming House bill, which would strictly limit the convictions that could be challenged.

The bill would need two more rounds of approval from the House, then Senate approval of amendments and the governor’s signature in order to become law.

Read more here. (Billings Gazette, 03/04/08)

Tags: Wyoming, Access to DNA Testing



Wyoming Legislature Passes DNA Testing Bill

Posted: March 7, 2008 4:37 pm

A bill that would explicitly allow post-conviction DNA testing in Wyoming passed in the House today.  It already passed in the State Senate, so now it goes to Gov. Dave Freudenthal for his signature.

If the governor signs the bill, Wyoming would become the 43rd state with a statute explicitly granting post-conviction DNA testing that can resolve claims of guilt or innocence.

Does your state have a law granting access to DNA testing?  Check out out interactive map to find out.

Learn more about why states should grant access to DNA testing. 

Tags: Wyoming, Access to DNA Testing



Innocence Project officials testify on critical reforms today and tomorrow in South Carolina, Colorado and Connecticut

Posted: March 19, 2008 4:19 pm

It has been nearly 20 years since the first DNA exoneration, and seven states still have no law allowing prisoners to seek post-conviction DNA testing that can prove their innocence. But the tide is turning in at least two of those states. Last week, Wyoming’s governor signed a bill granting DNA testing access to some prisoners, and the law will go into effect this summer.

And today in the South Carolina legislature, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck testified in support of a bill that would allow prisoners to apply for DNA testing if it could potentially prove their innocence.

“This kind of legislation has demonstrated again and again that it doesn’t just protect the innocent, it helps law enforcement identify the person who really committed the crime — often somebody who is a serial rapist or a serial murderer,” said Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, which is based in New York. “South Carolina knows this law is long overdue.”

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 03/18/2008)
Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown will testify today in the Colorado legislature on a bill including preservation of biological evidence from crime scenes, and Policy Director Stephen Saloom will testify tomorrow on an eyewitness identification reform package before the Connecticut legislature.

Read more about status of criminal justice improvement in your state here.


Tags: South Carolina, Access to DNA Testing



Roundup: Lawmakers in South Carolina and Colorado consider DNA reforms

Posted: March 20, 2008 2:28 pm

Lawmakers in Colorado and South Carolina yesterday heard testimony from the Innocence Project on bills to address and prevent wrongful convictions. In Colorado, Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown told legislators that the state’s proposed evidence preservation bill doesn’t go far enough to protect the innocent.

And Tim Masters, who was recently freed after serving 10 years for murder when evidence of his innocence surfaced, said that these laws affect people like him who are still behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit.

"If this bill is to serve as a standard for evidence-preservation practices, it will devastate innocence claims," testified Rebecca Brown, policy analyst for the Innocence Project, which has helped free 214 wrongfully convicted prisoners. "We're incredibly concerned that there will be no protections for the innocent."
…Tim Masters, recently freed by DNA testing, described how Larimer County prosecutors in his case opposed preservation of the evidence early in his appeal proceedings.

"I'd still be locked up" if the evidence had been tossed, Masters said, holding a copy of the district attorney's court motion citing current state law providing no duty to preserve the DNA.

Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 03/20/08)
In South Carolina, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck told lawmakers yesterday that access to DNA testing is a vital right for prisoners. The bill, which would make South Carolina the 44th state to offer DNA access to prisoners, received preliminary approval and will head to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Read more here.

Today in Connecticut, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom will testify on a bill to reform eyewitness identification procedures.

Tags: South Carolina, Colorado, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



Editorial: Alabama needs to join 43 states in granting access to DNA testing

Posted: March 25, 2008 2:51 pm

An editorial in yesterday’s Birmingham News calls on Alabama lawmakers to create a system allowing prisoners to apply for DNA testing that can definitively prove innocence or guilt. Earlier this month, Wyoming became the 43rd state to pass a DNA access law, and South Carolina lawmakers advanced similar legislation. The Birmingham editorial calls the bill “honorable” and says it would ensure that Alabama tax dollars are not going to keep an innocent person behind bars.

For several years running, state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, has introduced a bill that would establish a legal procedure for inmates to get DNA tests. This year is no exception. But as in past years, the measure doesn't appear to be a big priority for our lawmakers. That's a shame.

Providing inmates a forum to prove their innocence isn't a way to coddle criminals. It's a way to ensure the right people are locked up for the right crimes. If one person is wrongly convicted of a crime, it stands to reason that another person has wrongly escaped punishment for it.

Read the full editorial here. (Birmingham News, 03/25/08)
The seven states without laws granting access to DNA testing are: South Carolina, Alaska, Alabama, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Dakota. But not all laws are equal – does your state go far enough to provide DNA testing access to prisoners? Check our interactive map to learn more.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing, Tommy Arthur



Why Philadelphia needs an innocence project

Posted: April 28, 2008 1:13 pm

Since the Innocence Project was founded in 1992, a network of organizations doing similar work has grown around the world, and today the International Innocence Network has more than 40 member organizations. Many members are clinics associated with law schools. Together, the local regions served by these groups cover most of the U.S. map. The Innocence Project (which accepts cases from all 50 states) only accepts cases involving DNA testing, and many local groups work on a broader range of cases – including wrongful convictions that can be overturned by evidence other than DNA tests.

There are still some gaps in the Innocence Network map however, and Philadelphia may be the most glaring one. It is the largest U.S. city without a local innocence organization. Nine wrongful convictions have been overturned by DNA testing in Pennsylvania, and others have been overturned by non-DNA evidence. Many of these cases were handled by the Innocence Project or the Innocence Institute of Point Park University – which covers the western half of the state.

An editorial in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer called for an office in the city to work on wrongful conviction issues.

The leading cause of the wrongful convictions in the 200 plus cases has been eyewitness misidentification. Other factors include false confessions, forensic fraud, government misconduct, lying snitches and bad lawyers.
All of those issues have cropped up in cases in Philadelphia over the years. That's all the more reason why an Innocence Project office is needed here. In fact, it's surprising the city lacks such an office, given its rich legal history.
The need is there. Just ask the more than 200 people who spent years in jail for crimes they didn't commit who have been set free.

Read the full editorial here. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 04/27/08)

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



South Carolina's most influential paper supports post-conviction DNA testing bill

Posted: May 13, 2008 5:00 pm

In its lead editorial today, South Carolina’s largest and most influential paper, The State, urged the legislature to pass a bill that would provide access to post-conviction DNA testing for people convicted of violent crimes.

Under current law, there’s no mechanism for such testing; in most cases, judges can’t order DNA testing — or do anything about it if such testing is somehow done and demonstrates the convict’s innocence — unless the solicitor agrees to the request.
That wouldn’t be a problem in an ideal world, because the job of prosecutors is to do justice, and so they would be just as anxious as anyone to make sure the wrong person isn’t in prison. The reality is different. Prosecutors are human and dislike admitting their mistakes; and besides, they grow cynical from hearing the inevitable claims of innocence from criminals who really aren’t innocent, so with rare exceptions, they fight tooth and nail against those claims.
The Senate bill (S.429) passed last month and is headed to the House. It would make South Carolina the 44th state with a law on the books explicitly granting post-conviction DNA testing . In March, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck told lawmakers that access to DNA testing is a vital right for prisoners.

And The State agrees that denying that right can harm all of us.
When the wrong person is convicted of a crime, the only clear winner is the actual criminal — although police and prosecutors might appear to be winners, since they were able to score a conviction. The person wrongly convicted certainly doesn’t win, and in fact we do incomprehensibly grave harm to that person. Neither do the rest of us, who are less safe because the real criminal remains free to harm others.
Read the editorial. (The State, 5/13/08)

Tags: South Carolina, Access to DNA Testing



South Carolina lawmakers approve DNA testing access

Posted: June 5, 2008 3:42 pm

A bill clearing the way for wrongfully convicted prisoners to seek DNA testing in South Carolina gained key approval Wednesday from the South Carolina House. The bill, which has already passed the State Senate and needs another vote in the House, would make South Carolina the 44th state to provide this access to prisoners. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck testified in March in South Carolina to support the bill.

Read an editorial supporting the bill here. (The State, Updated 06/25/08)

The six other states without DNA access laws are Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, South Dakota and Oklahoma.

Your voice will be crucial in our efforts to ensure DNA testing access for prisoners in these states. Sign our petition for DNA access today and help us call for this critical reform where it is needed most.

Tags: South Carolina, Access to DNA Testing



Grant will ensure more case review in Dallas

Posted: June 6, 2008 1:01 pm

The Dallas County District Attorney’s office will receive a grant for more than $450,000 to ensure that the office can continue reviewing past convictions for possible injustice and can pay for DNA testing in cases that were already reviewed but on hold due to lack of funds. The Justice, Equality, Human Dignity and Tolerance Foundation, a major Innocence Project supporter, announced the grant on Thursday.

The Dallas DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit was created in 2007 to review the cases of prisoners denied access to DNA testing by former administrations. Dallas County has seen more wrongful convictions overturned by DNA since 2001 – with 18 so far – than any other county in the nation.
Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 06/06/08)

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Innocence Project client to get DNA testing in Pennsylvania

Posted: June 17, 2008 1:32 pm

Kevin Siehl has been in prison since 1992 for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. Last week, a judge approved a joint request from Innocence Project lawyers and Cambria County, Pennsylvania, prosecutors to order DNA testing on biological evidence from the apartment where Siehl’s estranged wife was found stabbed to death in 1991.

Siehl is represented by Innocence Project Staff Attorney Craig Cooley. The Innocence Project will pay for DNA testing in the case.

Cooley praised the prosecutors and police for locating the evidence and for their cooperation.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said of the on-going efforts by the project on Siehl’s behalf.

Read the full story here. (Jonestown Tribune-Democrat, 06/13/08)

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



SC editorial: Grant prisoners access to DNA testing

Posted: June 25, 2008 4:02 pm

At a hearing today in South Carolina, lawmakers are considering making their state the 45th in the country to allow prisoners access to DNA testing that can prove innocence. An editorial in The State today says it is time for legislators to take action on this important bill.

When an innocent person goes to prison, a guilty person roams our streets, free to victimize again.
That is the practical reason we need to do all we reasonably can to make sure that the innocent aren’t convicted and that, if they are, those convictions are reversed and an investigation re-opened. The moral reason, of course, is that it’s wrong to imprison the innocent.

We will never get those initial convictions correct 100 percent of the time, but there is a way we can improve our chance of identifying and correcting the errors. Our Legislature will have the opportunity to put it into place today.

A bill awaiting final approval by the House and Senate would add our state to the 44 others that allow people convicted of murder, rape and a handful of other violent crimes to have DNA testing done if they can convince a judge it would likely prove them innocent. That’s something that, in most cases, cannot happen today.

Read the full editorial here. (The State, 06/25/08)

Tags: South Carolina, Access to DNA Testing



SC lawmakers consider veto override in DNA bill

Posted: July 2, 2008 3:23 pm

Last week, the South Carolina legislature passed a bill allowing prisoners to seek DNA testing when it could prove their innocence. The bill was coupled, however, with another that would collect DNA samples from people who are arrested for crimes but never convicted. Gov. Mark Sanford, citing civil liberties concerns about the database expansion, vetoed the bill today, as he vetoed a similar bill last year. The legislature may vote to override the veto. 

In an Associated Press article yesterday, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom said the pairing of the bills was unfortunate. Access to DNA testing is a critical reform to overturn wrongful convictions, and it should not have been tied to the database bill.

Read the full article. (Associated Press, 07/01/2008)

Wyoming yesterday became the 43rd state with a DNA access law, when its new guidelines took effect. Learn about the law in your state and get involved today in changing the system.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



S.C. Governor vetoed DNA testing bill because of "bitter-pill amendment"

Posted: July 18, 2008 2:00 pm

The Columbia Free Times reports that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was forced to veto a bill supporting access to DNA testing when some legislators tacked on a provision that he had opposed in a separate bill. Gov. Sanford supported the bill’s original language which would have established laws for evidence preservation and would allow prisoners to seek DNA testing to prove their innocence, a path to exoneration that the state does not currently provide.

“We applaud the first part of the bill because it provides those who may have been wrongly accused a chance to clear their names and we fully support the notion of due process in all cases,” Sanford wrote in a July 2 veto letter to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who presides over the state Senate. “If this were the only provision of [the bill], we would have signed this legislation into law.”

But a tacked-on provision would allow police to take DNA swabs from anyone arrested of a serious crime, even before they were convicted, which has raised concerns about civil liberties. Palmetto Innocence Project president Joe McCulloch told the Free Times that the amendment is what sank the legislation.

That legislation seemed to be on the fast track to passing but was torpedoed at the 11th hour by political maneuvering, McCulloch says.

At the end of the legislative session, lawmakers lifted language from a different and controversial DNA bill, which the governor had vetoed, and added it to the original legislation.

The tacked-on language, added on the last day of the legislative session, exploded any chance of the bill he supported passing, McCulloch says.

Read the Columbia Free Times article.


Tags: South Carolina, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



DNA testing points to Ohio man's innocence

Posted: July 24, 2008 10:57 am

Robert McClendon has been behind bars in Ohio for 18 years for a rape he has always said he didn’t commit. On Tuesday, he got the DNA test results he’s been waiting for – tests on semen found on the underwear of the 10-year-old female victim showed that McClendon could not have been the attacker. The test results were shared with prosecutors, who are reviewing the case and may request additional tests. But McClendon celebrated the news immediately:

"Hello, truth!" he exclaimed. With steely eyes and a choked voice, he added, "I never, ever raped anyone."

…"I knew it wouldn't be a match for me," McClendon said. "My worst fear was it being inconclusive."

Read the full story here. (Columbus Dispatch, 07/23/08)
McClendon’s case was featured in a Columbus Dispatch series in January highlighting 30 cases where a defendant seemed a prime candidate for DNA testing but had been denied access to the tests. Prosecutors have granted testing in 15 cases, and a private lab provided the testing for free. McClendon’s is the first result announced.

Read the full series here

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Evidence preservation in Alabama raises more questions about death row case

Posted: August 19, 2008 12:45 pm

After years of denying DNA testing to Thomas Arthur, who faces execution for a murder he says he didn’t commit, Alabama’s Attorney General now claims that the evidence in the case is missing. Last week the Innocence Project wrote a letter to Gov. Bob Riley calling on him to intervene with a thorough search and inventory of all the agencies that may have been in possession of the evidence at some time.

The Tuscaloosa News reports that there are individual agencies in Alabama that have procedures and protocols for preserving evidence, filling the gap left by lack of a state law and providing plenty of places to look for evidence in Arthur’s case.

Although Alabama has no criminal statute that specifically addresses the issue, Rules of Appellate Procedure authorized by the state Supreme Court require circuit clerks to keep all evidence used during a trial and an index in the court file indicating where the evidence is stored.
Individual law enforcement agencies also have taken matters into their own hands.
Investigators with the Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit document any pieces of evidence they collect, and document what it is and where it was collected before handing it over to the department's evidence custodian. The custodian enters the evidence into a computer, then prints a bar code and uses it to tag the evidence. Using this system, the custodian is able to find out where a piece of evidence is stored, when it is moved and when it is turned over to the court system.
The Innocence Project maintains that the state Attorney General’s office has not conducted a thorough search for evidence in Arthur’s case. In an affidavit filed several weeks ago, the Attorney General’s office said it started looking for the evidence just six months ago – even though Arthur first requested DNA testing six years ago. The Attorney General’s office made a couple of phone calls to ask agencies if they had the evidence, then deemed it “missing” based on those phone calls. Apparently, no attempt has been made to find documentation of the evidence whereabouts or to access the index described in the Tuscaloosa News’ reporting.

Read the Tuscaloosa News article.

Read more about Thomas Arthur’s case.

Does your state have a law on evidence preservation? Find out on our interactive map.

Tags: Alabama, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, Tommy Arthur



Friday roundup

Posted: September 5, 2008 3:07 pm

New projects and investigations launched this week by innocence organizations, law schools, prosecutors and attorneys general across the country show the momentum nationwide to overturn wrongful convictions and address the root causes of wrongful conviction to prevent future injustice. Here’s this week’s roundup:

Questions were raised about standards of DNA collection and preservation in Massachusetts after improper procedures were revealed in a high-profile case. Mass. is one of 25 states without a DNA preservation law.

The Mississippi Attorney General said this week that the state is underfunding DNA tests and DNA collection and a new task force is examining the state problem.

San Jose opened California’s largest crime lab, training began in Maryland before a new law expanding the state’s database took effect and cutbacks in Georgia led to furloughs for prosecutors and could cause lab closings.

The Midwest Innocence Project this week launched an investigation into a 1988 fire that killed six Kansas City firemen and led to the conviction of five people who say they’re innocent. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a first-of-its-kind panel dedicated to investigating cases of possible wrongful conviction, finished reviewing its first case, deciding that there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the conviction of Henry A. Reeves. And  Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins asked county officials to allow filming in his offices in coming months for a Discovery Channel documentary.

Some of the best policy analysis and research to help improve our criminal justice system comes, of course, from our nation’s law schools – and now many of those schools have blogs. Marquette University Law School launched a new faculty law blog, and a post by Keith Sharfman finds that “blogging’s potential as a medium for serious legal discourse can no longer be doubted.” 

A column on asks: “Is the future of legal scholarship in the blogosphere?”

Here at the Innocence Project, we read law school blogs everyday. Among our favorites are Crim Prof Blog and Evidence Prof Blog

New York University Law School has formed a new Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, which will seek to promote “good government practices in criminal matters.”

Tags: California, North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas, Innocence Commissions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, DNA Databases



Michigan DNA law in jeopardy

Posted: October 2, 2008 4:45 pm

Michigan is one of 43 states with a law allowing inmates to seek post-conviction DNA testing if there is potential to prove their innocence, but that could change if state lawmakers don’t act in the next six weeks. The state’s DNA access law is set to expire on January 1, 2009, if lawmakers don’t act by the end of the legislative session. The measure, which also requires that evidence be preserved after prisoners are convicted, passed the House of Representatives, but it is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Marla Mitchell-Cichon, the co-director of the Cooley Law School Innocence Project in Lansing, Michigan, wrote in today’s Detroit News that it is critical that lawmakers protect justice by passing this law.

Lawmakers have an obligation to Michiganians to extend a law that promotes justice and is cost-effective. The time to act is now -- before an innocent person loses his or her chance for freedom. Justice demands it.

Read the full story here. (Detroit News, 10/2/08)
Watch a video of exoneree Ken Wyniemko explaining why he believes all innocent men and women should be able to prove their innocence, as he did in 2003.

What you can do:

Innocence Project supporters in Michigan are sending emails today to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging them to move the legislation to the full Senate. Do you have friends in Michigan? Tell them about the campaign here.

If you live outside of Michigan, please sign our petition for DNA access today.

Tags: Michigan, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



A call to action in Michigan

Posted: October 3, 2008 4:39 pm

With five weeks left in the Michigan State Senate’s legislative session, the deadline for lawmakers to extend a critical DNA access law is fast approaching. For months, the Senate Judiciary Committee has stalled progress of a bill to extend the state’s DNA access law, which allows prisoners to apply for DNA testing to prove their innocence and expires on January 1, 2009. If the committee doesn’t send the bill to the full Senate soon, prisoners in Michigan could lose their last chance at proving their innocence.

In an article in today’s Detroit News, Michigan exoneree Ken Wyniemko calls for lawmakers to extend the right to DNA testing because there are more innocent people behind bars in the state.

"Time is running out," said Wyniemko of Rochester Hills, who is among four people in Michigan freed from prison with the help of DNA. "Nobody else should have to go through what I went through, and what the others went through."

Read the full article here.
Innocence Project supporters across Michigan this week are sending letters to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

Do you live in Michigan? Send your letter today.

Have friends or family in Michigan? Forward them info on this campaign so they can protect justice in their state.

Yesterday’s blog post on this issue included a video interview with Wyniemko about the pending legislation.

Tags: Michigan, Access to DNA Testing



Deadline approaches in Michigan

Posted: October 8, 2008 12:10 pm

As the deadline nears for Michigan lawmakers to renew a DNA access bill, there is speculation about when – or whether – the State Senate will act to extend the rights of prisoners to apply for DNA testing that can prove their innocence.

Donna McKneelen, the co-director of the Innocence Project at Cooley Law School in Lansing,  says enacting the testing law is necessary to protect the rights of defendants, and public safety.

"Unless the state Senate makes this bill a priority," she says, "innocent people will remain in prison while the actual perpetrators of crime remain at large."

Read an update here. (Detroit Metro Times, 10/08/08)
Read coverage of the issue in the Grand Rapids Media Mouse blog.

Innocence Project supporters in Michigan are speaking up to their Senators this week, urging them to extend the law. If you live in Michigan, send your email now.

If you live outside of Michigan, send the campaign to friends in the state.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



New trial ordered in Nebraska case

Posted: October 16, 2008 4:16 pm

Joseph White walked out of a Nebraska courtroom yesterday a free man for the first time in nearly two decades, becoming the first defendant in Nebraska history freed due to DNA evidence.

White was serving a life sentence for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit, and new DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene suggests that he and two co-defendants were wrongfully convicted in 1989. A Nebraska judge tossed out his conviction and he was released on his own recognizance while charges are still pending. His co-defendant, Thomas Winslow, is expected to be resentenced Friday. Winslow’s  family members said they also hoped he would be freed.

“It’s been a long, hard road and I’m glad it’s over,” he said, shuffling down the courthouse steps with a sheriff’s deputy at his side.

“I’m going to go home and start trying to rebuild my life,” he  said, explaining that he has family in Cullman, Ala., and that he will voluntarily come back if ordered to do so.

Read the full story here. (Lincoln Journal-Star, 10/16/08)
White’s release showed the importance of an eight-year-old state law allowing prisoners to seek DNA testing to prove their innocence, said State Sen. Ernie Chambers, who sponsored the legislation.
“This was the purpose to be served by this legislation,” he said.

Read the full story here. (Lincoln Journal-Star, 10/16/08)

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



New South Carolina law requires evidence preservation and access to DNA testing

Posted: October 23, 2008 4:51 pm

South Carolina this week became the 44th state in the U.S. with a law allowing convicted defendants to seek DNA testing when it has the potential to prove innocence. The  State House voted 86-25 Tuesday to override a veto by Gov. Mark Sanford, and the Senate voted 36-0 to override the veto on Monday.

The bill also ensures that crime scene evidence will be preserved in most serious felony convictions until the defendant is released from custody (unless they pled guilty, in which case the evidence would only be preserved for seven years).

Sanford said he vetoed the bill because he didn’t support a provision that allows law enforcement agencies to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony. This is a provision that the Innocence Project also does not support, as we believe that collecting DNA from people who were not convicted of felonies violates personal privacy and impedes law enforcement.

Read more here. (The Greenville News, 10/22/08)

What are the DNA access and evidence preservation laws in your state? Find out on our interactive map.

Tags: South Carolina, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



DA: Review of 3,242 Colorado Cases Turns Up No Questionable Convictions

Posted: October 29, 2008 5:50 pm

After DNA testing and other evidence led to the release on Tim Masters in Colorado earlier this year, Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson said his office would review thousands of convictions to see if any current inmates were candidates for post-conviction DNA testing. Prosecutors started with a universe of 3,242 cases in which defendants are currently in prison and were convicted by a jury in the county. They narrowed that list to 36 cases where identity may have been a factor, and determined that none of the case warranted testing.

"After a lengthy evaluation, I am satisfied that there are no defendants convicted in the Eighth Judicial District serving time in the Colorado State Penitentiary who would benefit from current advances in DNA technology," Abrahamson wrote in a press release.

Read the full press release here.
In the press release, Abrahamson lists criteria for excluding cases. First of all, people who pled guilty were excluded, despite the fact that 11 defendants of the 223 cleared by DNA testing so far nationwide pled guilty. At least 12 cases were excluded because eyewitness testimony was used to convict the defendant. Two others were excluded because fibers and blood testing were used in the trial. DNA testing has shown that eyewitness identification is often unreliable, and that some forms of forensic science – such as fiber comparison – are limited in their ability to identify a defendant.

Abrahamson notes in his press release that the review does not preclude defendants from appealing for DNA testing in their cases.

Read more about the causes of wrongful conviction here.

Tags: Colorado, Access to DNA Testing



U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Case on Access to DNA Testing

Posted: November 3, 2008 5:00 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court said today that it will review an Alaska case on whether defendants have the right to DNA testing that can prove innocence.

The Innocence Project represents William Osborne, who was convicted of rape and related charges in 1994. The state has fought motions for DNA testing that could prove Osborne’s innocence. Earlier this year, a federal appeals court ruled that Osborne has a constitutional right to DNA testing, but the state appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

If the new testing shows that Mr. Osborne was indeed guilty, prosecutors should be pleased, the Ninth Circuit said. And if the testing points to his innocence, prosecutors should still be pleased, because the state’s paramount interests are in “seeking justice, not obtaining convictions at all costs,” and the tests will yield better evidence to catch and convict “the real perpetrator.”

Read the New York Times report on the Supreme Court’s decision to review the case here.
Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said today that the state has no justification to deny DNA testing when it can prove guilt or innocence. In a statement issued today, Scheck said:
“The State of Alaska concedes that DNA testing could prove William Osborne’s innocence, while fighting his right to testing. Why would anyone be afraid to learn the truth in this case? There is no rational reason to deny DNA testing that could prove innocence or confirm guilt.

“We believe that people clearly have a constitutional right to post-conviction DNA testing when it can prove innocence. Many courts have recognized this right, and we’re optimistic that the Supreme Court will affirm it if they reach that question in this case.”
Learn more about access to post-conviction DNA testing.


Tags: Alaska, Access to DNA Testing



Crime Labs Suffer Under Backlogs and Budget Crunches, Help on the Way

Posted: November 10, 2008 4:30 pm

Towns and cities in Arizona are refusing to pay the state for forensic tests that used to be done for free. After the Arizona state legislature cut the state crime lab’s budget by half in July, lab officials announced that they would bill law enforcement departments for forensic tests, hoping to collect $2.5 million this fiscal year. But law enforcement officials say they can’t afford the fees for testing.

Police in Douglas, a border town in southeastern Arizona, owe about $23,000 in lab fees. To pay the Department of Public Safety would mean Douglas police could not hire an officer or buy a squad car, Chief Alberto Melis said. The department has four vacancies.
Melis of Douglas said, "For me to come up with this money, I'm going to have to do without something. In a profession where 95 percent of your cost is personnel, I might not be able to hire somebody."
Officers in Payson, Arizona, said they are sending less evidence for testing, which is slowing down investigations.  
Detective Matt Van Camp said he uses every aspect of the crime lab, from firearm testing to its criminalists.

“We used to send everything, but now we have to screen what we send out automatically,” Van Camp said. “This limits the tools available for the prosecutor and police.”

Prosecutors may now have to decide if they want to go to trial before they have the necessary evidence in hand.

“This makes the prosecutor’s job harder,” he said. “Crime labs also prove people innocent, not just guilty.”

Read the full story here. (Payson Roundup, 11/4/08)
Lab backlogs are hurting police investigations in Texas, as well. Results from state labs can take months.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley explains that in today's 'CSI world' where jurors see scientific evidence easily gleaned from most crime scenes in TV dramas, they expect to see the same in court cases. But because there are so many requests for testing, and too few state technicians to keep up with demand, he says, "When you ask for DNA testing and results, you're buying in to a six month to one year delay in your case."

Read the full story here. (Key TV, 11/06/08)

Federal assistance should help to defuse the crisis somewhat in Arizona and Texas. The two states, along with Washington, Kentucky and Virginia, recently received a combined $7.8 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to help with DNA testing in serious felony cases. The DOJ’s grant program requires states to comply with standards for storage and testing of evidence, and also to significantly reduce backlogs through improved training and technology. Read more about the DOJ grant program here.


Tags: Arizona, Texas, Access to DNA Testing



Houston Man on His Way to Exoneration

Posted: December 11, 2008 6:00 pm

After spending five years in prison, a Houston man is set to be released tomorrow because DNA testing shows he did not commit a 2002 child rape.  The Harris County District Attorney's Office announced this afternoon that it would make arrangements for a bond hearing to take place December 12 in Houston.

Convicted in 2003, Ricardo Rachell was originally sentenced to serve 40 years after being charged and convicted of sexually assaulting an eight-year-old child. Despite having been denied a DNA test in his original trial and subsequent appeals, Rachell's case is one of 540 currently under investigation by Harris County District Attorney Kenneth Magidson and his office as a result of Houston's crime lab debacle.

DNA evidence collected by Houston police during their investigation of Rachell was never tested, which was a mistake, Magidson said. He said his office has reopened the case and identified a new suspect, who has not been charged.
Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 12/11/2008)
In a press release today, Magidson made assurances that his office would continue to investigate cases where DNA testing could prove innocence. Over the last several years, the Innocence Project has called for the review of several hundred Harris County cases that may have been tainted by improper work in the Houston crime lab. Read the Harris County DA's Office press release here and a timeline of events in the Rachell case here.

Read more about the Houston Crime Lab on our blog or view a list of Texas exonerees here.


Tags: Texas, Access to DNA Testing, DNA Databases



Kansas Man Granted Hearing on DNA Tests

Posted: January 5, 2009 2:30 pm

Merrill Andrews was convicted of murder in 1977 and sentenced to life in prison. Having been granted parole in 1999, Andrews is now requesting DNA tests in order to prove his innocence. Although he is currently serving a 10-year sentence for an unrelated crime, Andrews maintains his innocence in the 1977 murder of Nola Babb, a 91-year-old retired businesswoman in Wichita.

Andrews’ request for DNA testing was denied by a Sedgewick County judge, who thought Andrews was misusing a 2001 DNA state law that grants anybody convicted of rape or murder a hearing regarding any forensic evidence relevant to the case. But the Kansas Court of Appeals overruled that decision and ordered the lower court to hold a hearing on Andrews’ request. The hearing will take place later this month.

According to Deputy District Attorney Ann Swegle, the DNA testing law is rarely used in Sedgewick County, and there might be issues with evidence preservation:

"My understanding is that they keep it forever now," she said. "I'm not sure that's always been the case."
Carl Maughan, Andrews’ attorney, said his client has consistently maintained his innocence.
"Yes, he's already done his time, but if you were accused of murder and you were the wrong guy, I would assume you'd want to clear your name," Maughan said. "He just maintains that he's innocent on this charge and wants to get it cleared up."
Read the full story here. (Wichita Eagle, 1/4/09)

Read about previous exonerees in Kansas, Joe Jones and Eddie James Lowery.

Does your state have a law granting access to DNA testing? View our interactive map.

Tags: Kansas, Access to DNA Testing



Alabama Man Still Pursuing Evidence for DNA Testing

Posted: January 6, 2009

The Tuscaloosa News reports that Thomas Arthur's attorneys are still pursuing DNA tests to prove his innocence in a 1982 murder in Alabama.

Arthur, who faces execution for the murder of Troy Wicker, has been on Alabama’s death row for a quarter century. Last September, the Alabama Supreme Court delayed Arthur’s execution and said the state must wait for the Jefferson County Court to rule on the DNA testing claim before it can set an execution date. Last fall, the state claimed that evidence in the case is missing – the first time the state has made such a claim, even though Arthur has been requesting DNA testing on the evidence for years. Arthur's attorneys are requesting a thorough, state-wide search for the evidence, which has not been conducted.

Although there was no DNA evidence used in the original, largely circumstantial prosecution, Arthur's attorneys are asking the state for a rape kit of the victim's wife, Judy Wicker, which was collected after the murder.

“The invaluable role of DNA testing in this case cannot be seriously disputed,” [attorney Jordan] Razza wrote. “This court should therefore direct the state to undertake a thorough search, and to the extent that it is still unable to find the rape kit, Mr. Arthur requests discovery relating to this issue.”

Attorneys at Sullivan & Cromwell represent Arthur; the Innocence Project is assisting in the case. Arthur's attorneys also want the court to listen to a confession made by inmate Bobby Ray Gilbert, who confessed to the murder of Troy Wicker. He also said he had sex with Judy Wicker on the day of the crime.

Judy Wicker initially told police that a man broke into her home, raped her and killed her husband. Police did not believe her, and she was convicted of killing her husband. Only then, in a deal for a reduced prison sentence, did she change her story and claim that Arthur committed the crime. DNA testing could show that her initial story was true, or it could show that Gilbert’s confession is accurate.

Read the full story here. (Tuscaloosa News, 1/5/09)

To see what kind of access inmates have to DNA testing in your state, visit our interactive map.

Tags: Alabama, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, Eyewitness Misidentification, Death Penalty, Tommy Arthur



Arizona State University to Host Forensic Science Conference

Posted: January 7, 2009 4:00 pm

Some of the world's leading scholars and experts in evidence, forensic science and criminalistics will gather to discuss the future of forensic science in the criminal justice system in April. The Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University announced this week that it is hosting "Forensic Science for the 21st Century: The National Academy of Sciences Report and Beyond" April 3 and 4. 

Organizers said the conference is being held “in light of the highly anticipated report of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community” that is expected to be released within the next couple of months. Harry T. Edwards, Chief Judge Emeritus of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Co-chair of the NAS Forensic Science Committee, is scheduled to deliver the Center's annual Willard H. Pedrick Lecture, titled "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward."
The event will also feature discussions about the NAS report, an unprecedented examination of forensic science nationwide that will outline findings and recommendations for how to ensure that the criminal justice system relies on sound science.

In addition to experts from major research institutions such as the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard Law School, the University of Michigan Law School, the University of California, Irvine, the University of Virginia and ASU, among others, participants will include state and federal judges, the co-chairmen of the National Academy of Sciences Forensic Science Committee, the president of the American Association of Forensic Sciences. The directors of the FBI Crime Laboratory and the Innocence Project, and prosecutors, defense attorneys, forensic scientists, and criminalists also will be involved.
Visit the conference's website for more information, including registration and scheduled events.


Tags: Arizona, Reforms, Forensic Oversight, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



DNA Tests in Texas Case May Prove Two Men Innocent

Posted: January 8, 2009 2:00 pm

New DNA evidence may exclude two men long considered to be guilty of one of the most controversial homicide cases in Austin, Texas. Robert Springsteen, Michael Scott, Maurice Pearce and Forrest Welborn were all charged in 1991 for the murder of four teenagers, but only Springsteen and Scott were tried and convicted.

The four teenage girls were murdered at an I Can't Believe its Yogurt shop 17 years ago, but preliminary forensic DNA evidence from three of the four victims is reported be from multiple sources, none of which match Springsteen or Scott (nor do they match Maurice Pearce or Forrest Welborn ). Although both men also made admissions of guilt, they have since told the court that the confessions were coerced by investigating police officers.

Both Springsteen and Scott were in court this week, and although the final DNA test report will not be ready until next week, the judge told Springsteen and Scott that he would allow two more attorneys to help the defendants with their case.

Read the full story here
. (News 8 Austin, 1/7/09)

Read background on the case here.

Tags: Texas, False Confessions, Access to DNA Testing



Five to Go

Posted: March 12, 2009 4:44 pm

Yesterday, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed a new law making his state the 45th in the country to explicitly grant access to post-conviction DNA testing to prisoners claiming innocence.

Like many post-conviction DNA access laws around the country, however, South Dakota’s new law includes procedural hurdles that could make it difficult for some prisoners to get DNA testing.

Download the full text of South Dakota’s new law here, and find out the specifics of your state’s law here.

The remaining states with no DNA access law are Alaska, Alabama, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Four to Go

Posted: March 17, 2009

It’s been a good week for DNA testing access. Yesterday, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour signed a new law granting DNA testing access to prisoners when it can definitively prove innocence or guilt. Mississippi’s law comes on the heels of the new DNA access law passed last week in South Dakota. When the Innocence Project started doing this work 15 years ago, not a single state had a DNA testing access law. Now there are just four states to go: Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts and Oklahoma.

The Mississippi law also requires that law enforcement agencies preserve biological evidence collected as long as a case is unsolved or a convicted defendant is under state supervision in connection with the case. About half of the states now have laws requiring evidence preservation.

Click here for more on these two landmark laws, and for an interactive map on the reforms in place in your state.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Exonerations Spark Reforms in Ohio

Posted: March 26, 2009 4:31 pm

After the recent exonerations of Robert McClendon and Joseph Fears in Ohio, state lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – are seeking to pass a package of reforms that would help free innocent prisoners and prevent future wrongful convictions. A bill pending before the Ohio legislature would grant wider access to post-conviction DNA testing and would require changes to lineup procedures and the electronic recording of some interrogations.

But some police and prosecutorial organizations are resisting the changes, saying they would be burdensome and costly for police departments to implement and would prevent police from doing their jobs.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said even with compromises this bill would be a step in the right direction and would help prevent wrongful convictions.

"It will be progress that will save the system money," he said, noting that it will mean fewer arguments and appeals over the legitimacy of confessions.

Seitz stressed that he wants to work out issues and move the bill, noting two recent cases of innocence and "countless other cases in which people hoped to get exonerated only to find that the dog ate my homework and the (DNA) evidence was gone.
"This issue is too important. We've got real problems with real-life people. All I would say to anybody who doesn't like this bill is: What if it was you in jail for 18 years for a crime you didn't commit?"

Read the full story here. (Columbus Dispatch, 03/26/09)

Tags: Joseph Fears, Robert McClendon, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Access to DNA Testing



New Discovery Channel Series, 'Dallas DNA,' Premieres Tomorrow

Posted: April 27, 2009 1:00 pm

A new television series premiering tomorrow explores the importance of DNA testing and how a group of prosecutors in Texas are working to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

Chronicling the efforts of local Dallas prosecutors to review possible wrongful convictions, “Dallas DNA” takes a look at the work of the county’s conviction integrity unit, which was created by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins in January 2007 in response to the county's 19 DNA-based exonerations. The show premieres on Investigative Discovery on Tuesday, April 28 at 10 p.m. EST (check your local listings).

Tonight there will be a special screening of the new series at 6 p.m. at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where both Watkins and Innocence Project Executive Director Madeline deLone will speak and take questions about the importance of post-conviction DNA testing.

Special screening of “Dallas DNA”
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University
Greenberg Center for Student Life, Third Floor
55 Fifth Avenue (map)
The event is free to the public. To attend, please RSVP by e-mailing

Learn more about “Dallas DNA” here.

Tags: Texas, Reforms, Access to DNA Testing



Houston crime lab implicated in another possible wrongful conviction

Posted: April 28, 2009 5:00 pm

Twenty two years after being wrongfully convicted for a rape and robbery in Texas, a Houston man may be released on bail this week on the heels of new DNA tests proving his innocence.

Gary Alvin Richard was arrested for the January 1987 attack of a 22-year-old nursing student and was convicted based largely on evidence processed by the Houston Police Department crime lab, the same lab that came under fire in 2002 after local reports raised questions about the quality of DNA testing. According to the Houston Chronicle, there are a number of problems with Richard’s case:

The victim identified him some seven months after the attack. HPD crime lab analysts came to conflicting conclusions about the evidence, but reported only the results favorable to the case. Physical evidence collected in what is known as a “rape kit” has been destroyed, a victim of poor evidence preservation practices, leaving nothing for DNA testing now.

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 4/24/09)
During his original trial, HPD crime lab supervisor James Bolding testified that Richard was a non-secretor, meaning that analysts would not be able to determine Richard’s blood type through his body fluids. However, while tests done last week confirmed that semen from the rape kit came from a non-secretor, it also showed that Richard is a secretor. Therefore, the semen found on the rape kit could not be his.

While Richard’s defense claims that the blood tests prove his innocence, prosecutors aren’t as sure. The Houston District Attorney’s office concedes that Richard should be released on bail, but has said that it is too early in the reexamination process to clear Richard of all charges. Three Harris County men have already been proven innocent through DNA testing after mistakes at the HPD crime lab led to their wrongful convictions: Josiah Sutton, George Rodriguez and Ronald Taylor.

Read more about the history of the Houston crime lab scandal in previous blog posts.


Tags: Texas, George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton, Ronald Taylor, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



Join the Discussion: The Struggle for DNA Access

Posted: May 18, 2009 11:20 am

A story in the New York Times today examines the cases of several prisoners who have met with resistance from prosecutors and judges in obtaining DNA testing that could prove their innocence. Innocence Project client Kenneth Reed has been in Louisiana’s Angola prison for 17 years for a rape he has always said he didn’t commit. DNA testing could prove his innocence, but prosecutors have resisted his appeals – saying he was identified by witnesses and convicted by a jury so doesn’t have the right to DNA testing.

In Mr. Reed’s case in East Baton Rouge Parish, the district attorney who first prosecuted the case and now his successor, Hillar C. Moore III, have appealed every DNA-related ruling in Mr. Reed’s favor and objected to even a hearing on the matter.

They have argued that Mr. Reed’s identity was not an issue in the trial because he was identified by (witnesses), even though DNA evidence has repeatedly contradicted eyewitness identifications. They have argued that there was no way of knowing whether the evidence would yield a usable DNA profile — a question that would be settled by testing it.

…(Innocence Project Staff Attorney) Nina Morrison … said: “The one thing I’ve learned in doing this for seven years is there’s no reason to guess or speculate. You can just do the test.”

Read the full story here and join the discussion on the New York Times website
. (New York Times, 05/18/09)
Learn more about the Innocence Project’s work to improve DNA testing access when it can prove innocence – and find your state's DNA access law on our interactive map.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Editorial: The Right to DNA Testing

Posted: May 19, 2009 4:50 pm

An editorial in today’s New York Times calls on courts and prosecutors to allow DNA testing in cases where it can prove innocence or guilt. Drawing from yesterday’s Times story on cases in which defendants – including some Innocence Project clients – struggle to obtain DNA testing, the editorial says testing this evidence is a right that shouldn’t be denied.

Prosecutors often say they oppose DNA testing because it is burdensome, but testing requests are not that common. In many cases, prosecutors seem to be motivated by a desire to avoid having their work second-guessed by objective science.

States should amend laws to make clear that inmates should have access to DNA testing, even to search databases for other suspects. And prosecutors should stop opposing any but the most frivolous DNA requests. Inmates have a right to conduct DNA tests that may help exonerate them. And the public has a strong interest in seeing that innocent people are not in prison — and that guilty people are not on the streets.

Read the full editorial here. (New York Times, 05/19/09)
Sign the Innocence Project’s petition calling on all states to allow post-conviction DNA testing in cases where it can prove innocence, and read more about this issue here.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Friday Roundup: The Struggle for DNA Access

Posted: June 19, 2009 12:00 pm

The big news in the innocence movement this week came from Washington, D.C., yesterday, where the U.S. Supreme Court denied Innocence Project client William Osborne access to the DNA testing that could prove his innocence. (The Innocence Project’s comment on the case is here and the full Supreme Court opinion is here).

The impact of yesterday’s decision will be limited, however, because most prisoners obtain access to DNA testing at the state level. Osborne’s case is an example of one in which DNA access at the state level is difficult, and Kenneth Reed’s is another.

A prestigious group of DNA and legal experts filed a brief this week in a Louisiana appeals court backing a judge’s decision to grant DNA testing in Reed’s case. Reed, an Innocence Project client, was sentenced to life for a 1991 Louisiana rape he says he didn’t commit and he is seeking DNA testing that could prove his innocence.

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear the case of a former Ohio police officer seeking DNA testing to prove his innocence.

A Missouri man convicted of a 2005 murder he says he didn’t commit was denied a new trial this week.

The family of Texas exoneree Timothy Cole is hoping state legislators will return for a special session to review a bill allowing Gov. Rick Perry to issue Cole a posthumous pardon.

The Dallas Morning News crime blog ran a Q&A this week with public defender Michelle Moore, who has represented seven of 20 people cleared through DNA testing in Dallas.

A man who spent 17 years in prison in Japan for a murder evidence shows he didn’t commit visited his hometown this week and received an apology from the police chief.

‘‘I apologize from the bottom of my heart for imposing on you this hardship for such a long time,’’ the chief told 62-year-old Toshikazu Sugaya.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing, William Osborne



Two Cleared in Ohio as State Senate Passes Reform Bill

Posted: June 25, 2009 1:05 pm

Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen were freed in Ohio in February after serving more than 14 years for sexual assaults they’ve always said they didn’t commit. Yesterday, an Ohio county judge ordered all charges dropped against them.

During a multi-year investigation into this case, the Ohio Innocence Project turned up convincing evidence that Smith and Allen didn’t commit the child sexual assaults for which they were convicted in 1994. Read more about the case in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Upon her release, Smith said she was glad to move on with her life:

“I go find a job and just live my life finally, after all these years, with my children, my grandchildren and my family,” a tearful Smith said during an interview at the Lorain office of her attorney, Jack Bradley.

Read the full story. (Chronicle-Telegram, 06/25/09)
Also yesterday, the Ohio Senate voted 32-1 in favor of a bill addressing several of the most critical reforms to free the innocent and prevent wrongful convictions. The bill expands the state’s DNA access law, requires all lineups to be double-blind, requires recording of interrogations in serious crimes and requires preservation of evidence in serious crimes. It now heads to the state House of Representatives.
“This was a piece of much needed legislation that will bring Ohio up to speed with the best practices in the country,” said Mark Godsey, a UC professor of law and faculty director of the Ohio Innocence Project.

Read more on yesterday’s vote.

Tags: False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



Diverse Views on DNA Access in Tennessee

Posted: July 8, 2009 5:12 pm

A package of stories today in the Tennessean approaches the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on access to DNA testing from a wide variety of perspectives. In an editorial, the newspaper argued that the justices had erred in their decision.

Knowing what we know about the strength of DNA testing, it is an injustice to the country not to allow DNA to help bring fairness to any person suspected of a crime. The Supreme Court got this one wrong in a disappointing way.
Reader William Haupt disagrees with the editorial, siding with the majority of justices in arguing that the DNA testing access should be left to the states to decide. Haupt writes:
The Constitution allocates specific responsibilities to the states and others to the feds.

In a recent decision, the Supreme Court did not claim an inmate had no constitutional right to DNA tests, but that a state's DNA laws supersede those of the federal courts.Each state is entitled to make laws applicable to their own geographical and sociological needs as long as they are constitutional.
But most readers disagreed with the decision, calling it “appalling” and “baffling.” Reader Corinne H. Lane from Nashville writes:
DNA works and should be used. Our Constitution was created to give all equal rights, and this is just one more right that is being chiseled away. The Supreme Court should be anxious to preserve our rights according to the Constitution, and just because DNA was not known when the Constitution was written does not mean it cannot apply to the principle of equal protection now.
Read the newspaper’s editorial and the readers’ views.

Read more on the Osborne case.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing, William Osborne



Australian Prisoner Could Become First to Get DNA Tests

Posted: July 23, 2009 4:42 pm

Shane Sebastian Davis has spent nearly two decades in Australian prisons for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. Blood evidence collected in the case was long believed lost or destroyed – but that changed in March, when prosecutors informed Griffith University Innocence Project Director Lynne Weathered that 12 vials of blood had been located.

Davis and his attorneys are now seeking access to the evidence to conduct DNA testing that could prove Davis’ innocence.

Attorney Chris Nyst, who is working with Weathered on the case, said the government’s action in locating the evidence should be applauded and hopes for a decision soon on whether DNA testing can proceed. Nyst told the Courier Mail:

"We don't know whether Davis is innocent or not. He says he is. What we do know is that we now have the technology to ascertain that. It should happen and we want it to happen quickly."

Read the full story here. (Courier Mail, 07/23/09)
Learn more about the Griffith University Innocence Project, a member of the Innocence Network.

  [Update, 7/24/09 – This post has been corrected. Davis would not be the first Australian prisoner granted access to DNA testing, as was reported in the Courier Mail. Frank Alan Button was exonerated through DNA testing in Queensland in 2001 after serving 10 months in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.]

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Lab Backlogs and Untested Evidence

Posted: November 17, 2009 5:18 pm

Last week, a U.S. Senate committee examined the effectiveness of a 2004 law in supporting crime labs across the country. Experts testified that while some progress has been made, significant hurdles remain to helping the nation’s forensic system function more effectively.

One goal of the federal 2004 Innocence Protection Act was to provide funding to allow crime labs to conduct post-conviction DNA tests that can exonerate the innocent and to reduce backlogs of untested evidence. When evidence from cold and unsolved cases goes without testing, perpetrators of crime sometimes manage to avoid capture.

Pat Lykos, the district attorney for Harris County, Texas (which includes Houston), testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Houston Police Department Crime Lab has more than 5,000 untested rape kits in its backlog.

"Felons go undetected and undeterred because reliable forensic capabilities are either scarce or unavailable to the criminal justice system," Lykos said.
And this problem doesn’t only affect Houston. A report published by CBS News last week found thousands of rape kits untested in jurisdictions across the country.  Fourteen percent of open murder cases and 18 percent of open rape cases have forensic evidence that has not been sent to crime labs for testing, according to a report prepared for the U.S. Office of Justice Programs.

Proposed improvements to the 2004 law would increase the number of lab technicians across the country and require labs to report their backlogs to the federal government. A New York Times editorial last week urged Congress to strengthen the law, calling untested evidence “a huge insult to rape victims.”Backlogs and untested evidence can also lead to wrongful convictions – when a piece of evidence that could potentially determine the identity of a perpetrator isn’t tested, the chances of an innocent person being implicated are higher. Backlogs and cutbacks can also stand in the way of tests on evidence that can free the innocent from prison.

Wisconsin Innocence Project Co-Director Keith Findley, who is the President of the Innocence Network, testified before the Senate panel that funds earmarked in 2004 for DNA testing in post-conviction appeals didn’t start flowing to states until last year. Better procedures are needed to fund and expedite post-conviction DNA testing, Findley said, and law enforcement agencies should be encouraged to preserve biological evidence collected in criminal cases. Fewer than half of police departments nationwide (43 percent) have computerized systems to track inventory of forensic evidence.

Watch video of the Senate hearing, and learn more about the Innocence Project’s work to expand access to post-conviction DNA testing.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing, Crime Lab Backlogs



Ten Great Moments of the Decade

Posted: December 30, 2009 11:00 am

It goes without saying that DNA testing and the issues surrounding wrongful convictions have left their mark on the criminal justice system in the last ten years. When the decade began, DNA testing had been used in American courtrooms for more than 11 years, but exonerations were still fairly rare.

In the last ten years, 182 people have been exonerated through DNA testing and states have passed dozens of laws addressing the causes of wrongful convictions. Yet there is plenty of work to do — countless innocent people remain behind bars as we pass into 2010 and the threat of wrongful convictions in today’s courtrooms is still very real.

As we look forward to freeing more innocent people than ever in the decade ahead and enacting major reforms to prevent wrongful convictions, here is a list (in chronological order) of 10 seminal moments from the 2000s.

"Actual Innocence” is published (2000)— Written by Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, with Jim Dwyer,  this groundbreaking book examines the emergence of DNA testing and the causes of wrongful conviction it unveiled. During the decade, it became a blueprint for overturning wrongful convictions and reforming the criminal justice system.

Larry Mayes becomes the 100th Exoneree (2001) — Mayes spent 21 years in Indiana prisons before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project and the Innocence Project at the Indiana University School of Law proved his innocence and led to his release.

Illinois clears death row (2003) — Pointing clearly to the frightening rate of exonerations in his state (since 1977, 13 death row prisoners had been cleared while 12 had been executed), Gov. George Ryan granted blanket clemency to all 167 people on death row on January 10, 2003.

Congress passes the Justice for All Act (2004) — The JFAA is the most significant legislation to ever address wrongful convictions in the United States. It provides an avenue for federal prisoners to seek DNA testing and funds incentives for states to offer similar testing and to improve DNA testing capacity. It also provides compensation for federal exonerees.

 “After Innocence” premieres (2005) — An award-winning documentary chronicling the lives of seven men released from prison after serving years for crimes they didn’t commit, After Innocence brought  the issue of wrongful convictions to America’s movie theaters and living rooms. Watch a trailer here.

“The Innocent Man” published (2006) — John Grisham’s first non-fiction book tells the heartbreaking story of a murder in Oklahoma and an unimaginable injustice suffered by two innocent men. The book reached best-seller status around the world and a film version is in development. Following the book’s publication, John Grisham joined the Innocence Project’s board of directors. Several other excellent books also chronicled wrongful conviction cases during the decade, check back tomorrow for the decade's must read list.

Jerry Miller becomes the 200th Exoneree (2007) — It took 12 years to exonerate the first 100 people through DNA testing. It was just seven years later that Innocence Project client Jerry Miller became the 200th person exonerated through DNA. He served 25 years in Illinois prisons before he was cleared.

Dennis Fritz and Peggy Carter Sanders Dance on Stage (2008) — the history of criminal justice in the United States is filled with poignant moments of injustice overturned, from tear-filled homecomings to stirring speeches and courtroom victories. One of the most memorable is the moment Dennis Fritz, who was exonerated after 11 years in prison for an Oklahoma murder he didn’t commit, unexpectedly danced onstage with the mother of the murder victim at a New York event. Watch this touching moment on video here.

50th Member Joins the Innocence Network (2008) — the Innocence Network is an international affiliation of groups working to overturn wrongful convictions. As the field has broadened over the last 10 years, more organizations have been created to meet the growing need for pro bono legal services and advocacy. In 2008, the Innocence Network reached a membership of 50 organizations, today there are 54.

National Academy of Sciences releases forensic report (2009) — Faulty forensic evidence played a role in more than half of the wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA testing. Many forensic techniques used in courtrooms today have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released a landmark report calling for the U.S. federal government to create a federal entity to oversee and support the forensic disciplines. Learn more here.

Photo: Innocence Project client Luis Diaz was exonerated in Florida in 2005 after 25 years in prison for a series of crimes he didn't commit. Courtesy South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Forensic Oversight, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, False Confessions, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Informants/Snitches, Bad Lawyering, Government Misconduct, Eyewitness Misidentification



Ohio Legislators Poised to Pass Key Criminal Justice Reforms

Posted: March 12, 2010 4:35 pm

House Speaker Armond Budish, D-Beachwood, told the Columbus Dispatch that he will call the bill for a vote.

"We've been working actively on this," said House Speaker Armond Budish, D-Beachwood, responding to questions about the delay in a vote. "It's a bill I believe is an important bill. We are now in a position to move it."

Budish said the GOP leaders did not tell him how many votes they would provide for the DNA bill until after this week's House calendar was set.

"The feeling we had been given was that they would be supportive, but you've got to have a head count," he said. "You can't put something on the floor and have it fail by a vote. That would be tragic."

Read the full story here.

The bill would require law-enforcement agencies to retain evidence in certain cases, make DNA testing available to parolees trying to prove their innocence and require blind administration of lineups, which can reduce misidentifications that lead to wrongful convictions. It also provides incentives for police departments to videotape interrogations, which can help prevent false confessions.

Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing



Ohio Enacts Historic Reforms

Posted: April 5, 2010 3:11 pm

Innocence Project Policy Advocate Rebecca Brown said the new law would set an example for other states:

“In the months and years ahead, policymakers around the country will look at what Ohio has done and understand how they, too, can create a more fair, accurate and reliable criminal justice system,” Brown said.

View today’s press release on the bill.

Read the full text of the bill

Tags: Ohio, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



Alaska Enacts DNA Access Law

Posted: May 17, 2010 6:10 pm

Lawmakers and legal groups are actively seeking post-conviction DNA access legislation in Massachusetts, one of the last two states without such a law. Late last year, the Boston Bar Association released a report calling on the state to pass a law providing DNA access in cases where it can prove innocence.

Visit our DNA access page for more information.

Photo Credit: Bev and Richard Martin

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



DNA Access Comes to Alaska

Posted: May 25, 2010 1:40 pm

The Innocence Project in New York immediately jumped into action and remained committed to helping in every way throughout the process.  Without the long hours and intense work put in by Innocence Project Policy Advocate Rebecca Brown, and those she asked to help, Alaska would be in a sad state of affairs, indeed. 

Equal credit goes to two groups of Alaskans who are dedicated to justice and to seeing that innocent Alaskans have the right to have their claim heard.  I’m talking about a few brave legislators who stood against the very restrictive portions of the bill by introducing amendments to the governor’s bill.  Behind them, but equally important and dedicated, were a handful of legislative staffers who spent a good deal of their valuable time during the legislative session drafting, arguing, cajoling, and horse-trading to see that the right wording ended up in the final version of the bill.  Politics may be an ugly business, but there are some very caring people in the Alaska legislative process to whom Alaskans with innocence claims, and the AIP, owe a big debt. It took all session — right up to the last days of the session — to make this reform a reality.

In the end, truth and justice prevailed.  Alaska now joins the other forty-seven states with laws that give individuals with claims of innocence the right to test evidence containing DNA which might prove that innocence.  And my faith in the legislative process, which has often been tested recently, was affirmed.  The Last Frontier is not the last in justice.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Deadline Passes on Alabama’s Limited DNA Law

Posted: August 3, 2010 5:45 pm

Only Alabama and Kentucky have DNA access laws that allow only prisoners on death row to apply for testing. Now that Alabama’s deadline has passed, only prisoners convicted in the last year will be allowed to appeal. Forty-eight states have some form of DNA testing – only Massachusetts and Oklahoma lack such laws.

Check on the details of the law in your state

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Massachusetts Senate Passes DNA Access Bill

Posted: July 28, 2011 5:35 pm

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Judge Denies Kentucky Prisoner's Request for DNA Testing

Posted: August 16, 2011 6:35 pm

Smith had  requested DNA testing of the rape kit, the victim’s semen-stained nightgown, an ashtray, cigarette butt and matchbook found by the victim's shower, among other items.

Read the full article.

National View: What’s the DNA Access Law in your state

Read more about access to DNA testing.

Tags: Access to DNA Testing



Oklahoma Poised to Adopt DNA Access Bill

Posted: February 21, 2013 1:05 pm

Tags: Oklahoma, Access to DNA Testing



Former FBI Director Sessions Calls for Improvements to KY's DNA Testing Law

Posted: February 25, 2013 4:50 pm

Tags: Kentucky, Access to DNA Testing



Oklahoma Justice Commission Recommends Reforms to Prevent Wrongful Convictions

Posted: March 4, 2013 4:40 pm

Tags: Oklahoma, Access to DNA Testing



Kentucky Governor Signs Improved Post-Conviction DNA Access Law

Posted: March 27, 2013 3:10 pm

Tags: Kentucky, Access to DNA Testing



Tulsa World Says Oklahoma DNA Bill Should Pass Unanimously

Posted: April 10, 2013 6:00 pm

Tags: Oklahoma, Access to DNA Testing



Ohio Court Must Consider DNA Testing for Death Row Inmate

Posted: May 3, 2013 4:50 pm

Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing, Death Penalty



Breaking News: Execution Stayed in Mississippi

Posted: May 7, 2013 4:30 pm

Tags: Mississippi, Access to DNA Testing, Death Penalty



With Passage of Oklahoma Bill, DNA Testing Guaranteed in All 50 States

Posted: May 28, 2013 3:30 pm

Tags: Oklahoma, Access to DNA Testing



Kansas Supreme Court Expands DNA Testing Statute

Posted: October 8, 2013 4:10 pm

Tags: Kansas, Access to DNA Testing



Judge Orders DNA Testing in Case of Ohio Death Row Inmate

Posted: December 20, 2013 5:30 pm

Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing



Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Calls for DNA Testing in 1996 Murder Case

Posted: January 15, 2014 2:55 pm

Tags: Arkansas, Access to DNA Testing



California Bill to Expand Access to DNA Testing

Posted: April 3, 2014 3:25 pm

Tags: California, Access to DNA Testing



Illinois' DNA Access Law Expanded

Posted: August 19, 2014 4:30 pm

Tags: Illinois, Access to DNA Testing



Senator Rodney Ellis, Exoneree Michael Morton, Innocence Project and Other Lawyers Urge Legislature to Fix Texas' DNA Testing Law

Posted: October 1, 2014 12:40 pm

Tags: Texas, Access to DNA Testing, Michael Morton



Exoneree Gerard Richardson Pushes for Reforms to New Jersey's DNA Testing Law

Posted: December 15, 2014 3:58 pm

Gerard Richardson will soon be celebrating the one-year anniversary of his exoneration.  Since being released from prison, Richardson has devoted much time and effort to advocating for reforms designed to address wrongful convictions, including a bill aimed at improving New Jersey’s post-conviction DNA testing law, which is moving through the state legislature, the Newark Star-Ledger wrote in a recent profile of Richardson. 

December 17 marks the one-year anniversary of Richardson’s exoneration. Richardson was wrongfully convicted and spent 19 years in prison for a murder he did not commit before the Innocence Project took on his case and DNA proved his innocence, leading to his exoneration. Richardson talks to the Star-Ledger about his wrongful conviction, the importance of his family life, and his advocacy work in support of innocence issues. 

In addition to participating in numerous speaking engagements, Richardson has testified before New Jersey Senate and Assembly Committees in support of AB 1678/SB 1365, which would improve New Jersey’s post-conviction DNA testing law by removing the incarceration requirement for DNA testing and make it easier for DNA profiles generated by private labs to be entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System. 

Today, the Assembly Appropriations Committee advanced AB 1678. The Senate Appropriations Committee already advanced the companion bill SB1365. The next step is a full vote in both the Senate and Assembly.   

In Richardson’s case DNA collected from the victim, Monica Reyes, proved Richardson’s innocence, but because the test was done at a private lab that was not pre-approved by the state of New Jersey, the profile could not be entered into CODIS, which might have resulted in finding Reyes’ murderer. Additionally, it is important to remove the incarceration requirement for DNA testing because an innocent person may still face the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction after their incarceration, including parole, probation, and barriers to employment and housing, and shouldn’t be denied access  to DNA testing to clear their names. 

Tags: New Jersey, Access to DNA Testing



Innocence Project Attorney Fights for Testing of Evidence from 1988 Rape

Posted: January 9, 2015 4:02 am

UPDATE: The court hearing scheduled Monday before Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Reisner has been postponed.

On Monday, Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin will ask a New Jersey Superior Court Judge to order testing of evidence in the 25-year-old case of her client, Dion Harrell. 

Harrell was convicted of rape in 1992, before DNA testing was available in the state.  He reached out to the Innocence Project in 2002, years after being released on parole. As a registered sex offender, Harrell struggled to find suitable employment and housing. He knew that testing of the evidence in his case would exclude him and possibly lead to the actual perpetrator of the crime.

Last October, the rape kit was located, along with slides containing sperm which could be tested to reveal the identity of the assailant. Unfortunately, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office will not allow the slides to be tested. According to a court filing, prosecutors say Harrell’s case does not meet the criteria for testing because he is no longer incarcerated.

“It’s incomprehensible that in 2014 in New Jersey, you have a prosecutor who refuses to have slides with sperm tested to determine if there is a wrongful conviction,’’ Potkin told the Asbury Park Press yesterday. “I’m dumbfounded.’’

Potkin hopes that at a forthcoming hearing on the case, Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Resiner will force the state to grant DNA testing to Harrell.

“Put simply, Mr. Harrell’s conviction rests entirely on a single eyewitness identification and rudimentary, outdated forensic testing which has been completely replaced by DNA analysis,” Potkin wrote in her court papers. “DNA testing is capable of excluding Mr. Harrell from the semen evidence and thereby providing unprecedented scientific proof of his innocence.”

Read the Asbury Park Press story here.

Tags: New Jersey, Access to DNA Testing, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Eyewitness Misidentification



Montana DNA Testing Law Must Be Fixed

Posted: January 22, 2015 12:52 pm

The Montana Billings Gazette ran an op-ed Thursday by Keegan Flaherty, executive director of the Montana Innocence Project and former state senator Larry Jent, urging lawmakers to revise the state’s DNA testing law.

The law was created in 2003 and was intended to create an avenue for the innocent to request testing of DNA evidence in their cases. Under the current law, however, a person seeking DNA testing must first prove their innocence before a court will grant it. In most cases, this is nearly impossible to do without the DNA test results. State courts have not approved a single request for testing since the law was created.

Representative Margie MacDonald of Billings is sponsoring legislation to make revisions to the law to create a more reasonable standard for defendants in the state to get evidence tested.

The revisions would also allow judges to order a DNA profile to be entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), increasing the likelihood of identifying the real criminal in a wrongful conviction case. 

The law would also be revised so that the defendant does not have to be incarcerated in order to receive testing. Currently 37 other states have similar laws.

Read the full op-ed here.

Tags: Montana, Jimmy Ray Bromgard, Access to DNA Testing, DNA Databases