The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, a criminal defense attorney best known for helping win the acquittal of O.J. Simpson despite DNA evidence suggesting that he had murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson. The Innocence Project uses DNA to argue for releasing convicted criminals from jail on the theory that the DNA proves they were innocent. As of June 2009, the Innocence Project claims that "240 people nationwide have been exonerated through DNA testing and dozens of states have implemented critical reforms to prevent wrongful convictions."
The Innocence Project urges the full recording of all interrogations. It argues that "[i]n approximately 25% of the wrongful convictions overturned with DNA evidence, defendants made false confessions, admissions or statements to law enforcement officials. The electronic recording of interrogations, from the reading of Miranda rights onward, is the single best reform available to stem the tide of false confessions."
There many local groups that also go by the name of the "Innocence Project." One of these is a criminal justice clinic operated by the University of Wisconsin Law School, operating under the instruction of full-time attorneys and law students. The project aims to reverse the convictions of individuals who have been incarcerated for major crimes through the discovery and admission of exculpatory evidence.
Some prisoners released on the basis on DNA evidence proceed to commit new crimes. For example, the work of the Wisconsin Innocence Project resulted in the release of Steven Avery, who had been convicted for sexually assaulting and almost killing a young woman based upon eyewitness testimony. Not only did the Wisconsin Innocence Project obtain his release, but it also obtained an order that Wisconsin pay him nearly $428,000 as compensation for his supposedly being wrongfully convicted. Shortly after his release based on DNA evidence, Mr. Avery brutally murdered a 25-year-old woman photographer who was working for an auto magazine. Avery claimed he had not been inside her bloodied car, but DNA evidence proved he had.
Who Pays for DNA Testing?
The vast majority of criminals have defenses provided at taxpayer expense. Who pays for the expensive DNA testing that their attorneys demand?
In Ohio, it used $571,000 that had been set aside as part of a victims fund in order to comply with requests by convicted felons for DNA testing. The convicted felons had nothing to lose by making the requests, and it cost them nothing.