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What Is the Innocence Project?

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The Innocence Project is a non-profit national litigation and public policy organization that is dedicated to exonerating people who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime. It does this via thorough DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to help prevent future injustice to innocent people. As a clinic, the Innocence Project allows law students to handle case work while a team of attorneys and clinic staff supervises them.


Attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld founded the Innocence Project in 1992 after reading a study the United States Department of Justice conducted that suggested the system’s failure rate could be higher than previously thought. Scheck and Neufeld believed this failure rate most likely impacted more African American and low-income prisoners than others and decided to change this inequality. Their ultimate goal was to bring more equality to the United States penal system and to save the lives of wrongfully convicted prisoners. Since its founding, the Innocence Project has spread worldwide and now has many small offices dedicated to bringing justice to the wrongly convicted.

How It Works

As the forerunners of wrongful convictions, the Innocent Project has become more than simply the “court of last resort” for inmates who have exhausted other means of appeals. The way the Innocence Project works is through the Innocence Network, a team of students, pro bono attorneys, and clinic staff across the globe who analyze DNA evidence for qualifying crimes and determine if it is possible to exonerate the criminal.

How to Qualify

To qualify for help through the Innocence Project, a candidate must demonstrate that he or she could be freed from prison through DNA evidence. As a result, those who wish to apply for assistance must meet specific qualifications, such as:

  • Must have been sentenced to death or to serve a life sentence with little chance of parole for a minimum of 15 years.
  • Must be completely innocent of the conviction and have had no involvement whatsoever with the crime. Self-defense or accidental death cases do not qualify.
  • Must have exhausted all other appeals.

The Innocence Project works nonstop to free innocent people who are enduring the punishment for someone else’s crime. Their ultimate goal is to right the wrongs done to so many inmates in the United States penal system by helping the innocent achieve their ultimate goal: freedom.

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