By now we’ve all heard of the Innocence Project, the organization that works to free those who were wrongly convicted using DNA evidence. But DNA evidence isn’t available in all criminal cases. As a matter of fact, it’s not available in most criminal cases. One program, out of Seton Hall University Law School is working on all of the other cases, those in which the convicted maintains their innocence but where there is no DNA evidence available.
Called the Last Resort Exoneration Project, the group has been working together since February of this year. According to MyCentralJersey.com, Last Resort has received over 100 letters from New Jersey inmates and is in the process of reviewing about 90 completed applications and cases where the convicted claims they are wrongfully incarcerated.
The Innocence Project, on the other hand, handles about 200 new requests every single month on a national basis. They simply aren’t equipped to take on those cases without DNA evidence and reject those cases immediately.
The majority of cases are for serious offenses like rape and murder. They say many come from Camden, Trenton, Newark, and East Orange.
The staff and volunteers who are involved in Last Resort comb through the applications and files, grading them on the likliehood of success. Right now, there are three cases in particular that seem promising, though the program hasn’t officially taken on any of them.
Once they’ve determined there is enough evidence to fight for a new trial or exoneration, the process can take years, building a case for innocence. Once the case is put together you can file briefs with the court asking for hearings.
Things like false identifications, poor interrogation tactics, withheld evidence, and poor police work can all play a role in convicting the innocent. And cases of wrongful convictions may be happening more than we realize.
Since 1992, the Innocence Project has worked to secure more than 200 exonerations with the use of DNA evidence. If DNA is only available in a fraction of cases, one might surmise that these 200 cases of wrongful convictions only represent a fraction of the innocent behind bars.
The statistics are staggering when one looks at the number of people who actually plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit. This is usually because the projected outcome at trial looks bleak and the prosecutor offers a plea agreement that seems to be less daunting than the maximum sentence.
When you are accused of a criminal charge in New Jersey you didn’t commit, your confidence could be very high that justice will be served and you will walk away unscathed. But history proves that this isn’t always the case. Consulting with a criminal defense lawyer about your options can provide a reality check on what you can expect when you go before the judge.