As we enter the brand new 12 months, and our group marks its thirtieth anniversary, I wish to replicate on the second wherein we discover ourselves at present and the challenges and alternatives that lie forward of us.
When our group was created three many years in the past by two visionary attorneys, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, there was no significant understanding of the scope of the issue of wrongful conviction on this nation. Although public defenders and lots of in poor, Black and brown communities who bore the brunt of “tough-on-crime” legal guidelines knew that individuals had been being improperly convicted of crimes, there was deep public skepticism round the concept our prison authorized system ensnared the harmless.
So, when DNA expertise emerged within the late Eighties and Barry and Peter started utilizing it to scientifically show innocence, they uncovered the devastating and surprisingly widespread injustices of the prison authorized system and illustrated the necessity for wholesale transformation. In consequence, the panorama of the prison authorized system started to shift.
Quick ahead 30 years. The cry for racial justice and fairness — amplified by the worldwide protests seen in 2020 — reveals that the American public is acutely conscious that the prison authorized system is in dire want of overhaul. Highly effective proof of innocence now adjustments the trajectory of a case — like these of Pervis Payne, Julius Jones, and Rodney Reed — and fuels influential actions for change. Certainly, within the final two years alone, we — in partnership with our allies within the Innocence Community — had been capable of go greater than 30 separate legal guidelines after greater than 10,000 innocence advocates contacted 22,000 lawmakers, and made 2,700 telephone calls urgent public officers.
Thus, as a lot as DNA testing uncovered how unreliable our prison authorized programs may be, our work over the previous 30 years has put a magnifying lens on many extra shortcomings within the system and helped us to develop a transformational plan for reform.
Increasing, Strengthening, and Innovating
So what does that imply for the Innocence Challenge going ahead? We spent a lot of the final 12 months asking ourselves this very query, and we’ve got developed a brand new set of priorities to satisfy the very actual challenges of this second. Organizing our work round three foundational pillars — Restoring Freedom, Reworking Methods, and Advancing the Motion — we are going to broaden our exoneration efforts, strengthen our scientific initiatives, problem the methods wherein racial bias drives so a lot of our wrongful conviction instances, and extra.
We’ll broaden our consumption standards to incorporate a restricted variety of non-DNA instances. Though, traditionally, DNA instances have made up the vast majority of our caseload, we all know that numerous harmless persons are wrongfully convicted of crimes the place DNA proof just isn’t obtainable. We’ll method these instances with the identical tenacity, innovation, and client-centered method that we delivered to our DNA instances.
We’ll problem the usage of rising applied sciences — like ShotSpotter and facial recognition software program — in over-policed communities of coloration. As a result of the pervasive use of those typically unreliable applied sciences erodes the presumption of innocence — and, certainly, embraces an illegal, racialized presumption of dangerousness — we are going to work with native, grassroots, and nationwide organizations, to deal with wrongful misdemeanor convictions, seize knowledge round these applied sciences and develop and implement advocacy and different litigation reforms. We will even interact with the White Home Workplace of Science and Know-how Coverage to provoke federal forensic science analysis agendas and set up justice and fairness evaluations of rising applied sciences so as to perceive their potential social impression earlier than they’re put to make use of.
We’ll launch an formidable scientific literacy program to teach system actors — from public defenders, to prosecutors, to judges — about science and the boundaries of forensic proof. As a result of too many attorneys have too little grasp of the foundations of scientific proof, we imagine that, with this program, we are able to and can cut back the speed of wrongful convictions based mostly on the misapplication of forensic science. This program — which we’re enterprise with leaders within the area just like the Middle for Statistics and Functions in Forensic Proof (CSAFE) — will assist authorized professionals perceive the fundamentals of the proof within the instances they deal with.
We’ll work to get rid of the trial penalty — the huge discrepancy between pre-trial, plea-bargain sentence affords and sentences imposed after a conviction at trial. As a result of this extremely widespread follow has a coercive impression on harmless individuals who might wish to train their proper to a trial, we are going to pursue state-based legislative campaigns and litigation that create a fairer and extra simply prison authorized course of.
We’ll launch a complete consumer wants evaluation. Each exonerated or freed particular person faces a novel set of challenges, and this initiative will assist us establish extra avenues of essential assist.
And we are going to onboard a particular advisor on race and prison justice who will make sure that we stay on the reducing fringe of scholarly analysis and authorized selections and that our instances, insurance policies, and applications advance racial justice.
Bending the Arc
Given this formidable agenda, it’s only becoming that we marked the beginning of our thirtieth 12 months with Jazz for Justice, a rare occasion that introduced exonerees and supporters collectively to rejoice a shared love of jazz music and justice. Jazz artists — from Charles Mingus and Max Roach to Allen Toussaint and Wynton Marsalis — are famend for rejecting the restrictions of the established order and pushing the bounds of what’s doable, of their artwork and of their world. They’ve urged each era to see the world accurately, not simply as it’s, and to confront society’s gravest failings.
And so it’s with the constructing of a real prison justice system.
As we head into our fourth decade, we embrace our obligation to play a job in remodeling the prison authorized system, rooting it in fairness and accountability, and centering it on information and science. We all know that so as to achieve success, we’ve got to be lively contributors, not passive observers.
Because the late John Lewis stated, “Once you see one thing just isn’t proper, you have to say one thing. You have to do one thing. Democracy just isn’t a state. It’s an act, and every era should do its half to assist construct what we referred to as the Beloved Group, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”
We step into 2022 fueled by your vitality and enthusiasm and the victories you could have helped us win. With you by our facet, impressed by our extraordinary shoppers, and in gratitude to our Innocence Community companions and different allies, we all know we will help to bend the ethical arc of the universe in direction of justice.
With deep gratitude,