Has a friend or family member, or even you, been convicted of a crime they did not commit?
The criminal justice system—made up of prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, defendants, victims, and police officers—is designed to seek justice, give the accused their day in court, and achieve a fair result. But sometimes, this system falls short, and the wrong person is convicted of a crime.
For individuals who are wrongfully convicted, they have two options: serve their sentence or appeal their conviction. However, appeals are expensive. No appeal is the same—as no case is the same—and thus the cost could range from $10,000 to $30,000 from start to finish, or perhaps more for a more complex case. Therefore, the low-income wrongfully convicted only had one option.
We say “had” because in 1992, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, public defenders from New York, started a legal aid clinic in a New York Law School (Cardozo School of Law) called The Innocence Project. This clinic allowed those who were considered low-income and wrongfully convicted to get a second chance at justice. The idea behind the Innocence Project came from the introduction of DNA evidence into jury trials. To Mr. Scheck and Mr. Neufeld, if DNA evidence could be used to convict, it could also be used to exonerate and produce un-biased and fairer results.
In the more than 25 years it has been in existence, the Innocence Project has grown from 3 attorneys and 10 exonerations at the end of 1992, to an international movement with 69 Innocence Network Organizations around the world, with one being in Minnesota. With each exoneration of an innocent defendant across the nation, state and local governments have created statutes that allow for post-conviction relief. Specifically, these statutes created motions to produce DNA evidence that would establish the person’s actual innocence. In Minnesota, statute § 590.01, subd. 1(2) and subd. 1a does just that.
The Innocence Project has revolutionized justice, because as Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, stated “the execution of a legally and factually innocent person would be a constitutionally intolerable event.” At Brandt Kettwick Defense, we work hard to ensure that our clients are treated fairly throughout the whole process and receive a just and fair result.