The Innocence Project
By: Tucker Carrington, Director, Innocence Project Mississippi


The Innocence Project
The Innocence Project is a non-profit legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University and created by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld in 1992. The project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. As a clinic, law students handle case work while supervised by a team of attorneys and clinic staff.

Most clients are poor, forgotten, and have used up all legal avenues for relief. The hope they all have is that biological evidence from their cases still exists and can be subjected to DNA testing. All Innocence Project clients go through an extensive screening process to determine whether or not DNA testing of evidence could prove their claims of innocence. Thousands currently await our evaluation of their cases.

DNA testing has been a major factor in changing the criminal justice system. It has provided scientific proof that our system convicts and sentences innocent people - and that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events. Most importantly, DNA testing has opened a window into wrongful convictions so that we may study the causes and propose remedies that may minimize the chances that more innocent people are convicted.

As forerunners in the field of wrongful convictions, the Innocence Project has grown to become much more than the "court oflast resort" for inmates who have exhausted their appeals and their means. The Innocence Project is a founding member of The Innocence Network, a group of law schools, journalism schools and public defender offices across the country that assists inmates trying to prove their innocence whether or not the cases involve biological evidence which can be subjected to DNA testing. It consults with legislators and law enforcement officials on the state, local, and federal level, conduct research and training, produce scholarship and propose a wide range of remedies to prevent wrongful convictions while continuing our work to free innocent inmates through the use of post-conviction DNA testing.

Policy Areas
Wrongful convictions have shown that serious flaws have caused our criminal justice system to convict scores of innocent people. The Innocence Project has identified seven policy areas where targeted reforms can help prevent future wrongful convictions.

The policy areas that have been targeted are:
• Eyewitness Identification
• False Confessions
• DNA Testing Access
• Evidence Preservation
• Forensic Oversight
• Innocence Commissions
• Exoneree Compensation 
 
Model Legislation
Wrongful convictions have shown that our criminal justice system needs immediate reform in many areas - both to protect the innocent and to strengthen the work oflaw enforcement and prosecutors with full transparency. Important progress like DNA testing access and the recording of interrogations will not happen without the consensus and agreement of lawmakers. State legislatures across the country are considering important reforms to prevent wrongful convictions and make our communities safer.

The Innocence Project has developed model legislation for jurisdictions considering criminal justice reform legislation. This legislation addresses the seven aforementioned policy areas.

Mississippi
The Project in Mississippi was started in August of 2007. As we write this, 216 people have been exonerated nationwide through post-conviction DNA testing; the number increases weekly. Since our inception, and with the direct help of numerous individuals and organizations around Mississippi and nationally, we have already achieved some success of our own. In February and March of2008, the Project was involved in the exoneration of two men - Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks - who had together served over thirty years in prison for crimes that they did not commit. The Project also aided in the release of Arthur Johnson in Sunflower County who was sentenced in 1993 to a fifty-five year term of incarceration.

The Project drafted, proposed and worked to gain passage oflegislation to create a task force to study the implementation of meaningful DNA legislation - both for collection and storage, as well as for testing by clients. Mississippi remains one of only eight states with no legislation to address these important issues.

The Project also welcomed its first class of students into the Legal Clinic in January of 2008. The eight students assumed significant responsibility for our cases and the clients. Two of our students drafted the petition filed in the Mississippi Supreme Court that ultimately led to the exoneration of Levon Brooks, whose story is recounted later in this publication. And the students participated in the Clinic's curriculum that centers around the study and discussion of the causes and solutions to wrongful convictions, as well as the honing of advocacy skills.

We trust that the information that follows will allow you to learn more about the work that we do. It is serious work. This office and the people and students who work here or who work with us are equally serious and committed. All of us also feel privileged to have the opportunity as lawyers to provide valuable service to our clients and the state. We firmly believe that the opportunity to bring meaningful and lasting criminal justice reform to Mississippi is squarely in front of us. If you would like to join us, or if you would like to learn more about he Project, please do not hesitate to contact our offices, or look to our website, www.mississippiinnocence.org, for additional information and current news about the Project.