The 300th prisoner,, was just released from prison after being found innocent based on DNA evidence. This man spent sixteen years in prison. Damon Thibodeaux confessed to rape and murder after nine hours of interrogation, which was untapped. Finally in 2007, his legal team persuaded the Jefferson Parrish County District Attorney to reopen the case after the team agreed to share the expenses. The resulting evidence proved the girl had not been raped, and the DNA evidence did not belong to Mr. Thibodeaux.
The Innocence Project, founded in 1992, by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld, was established to assist prisoners to be released from prison when they could be proven innocent through DNA testing. Out of the 300 prisoners released, seventeen were on death row, including Mr. Thibodeaux. The people who have been released spent an average of 13 years in prison. Many other attorneys are also working on freeing innocent prisoners, including law students working on the University of Chicago Law School’s Exoneration Project.
This organization is a public organization with the goal of reforming the criminal justice system through DNA testing. They are evaluating anywhere frm 6,000 to 8,000 potential cases constantly, and they receive approximately 3,000 requests for help annually. Their website publishes the number of exonerees and their race.
At this time the released exonerees consist of the following races:
- 187 African Americans
- 85 Caucasians
- 21 Latinos
- 2 Asian Americans
- 5 whose race is unknown
In 146 of these cases the true perpetrators have been identified. Another interesting fact is that 60 percent of the people exonerated have been financially compensated since states have passed laws to compensate people who are wrongly incarcerated.
Texas leads the nation in exonerating wrongly convicted prisoners. They also have a new law for compensation. Each exoneree receives $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars. In addition, they also receive an annuity between $40,000 and $50,000 annually, which makes this the most generous reimbursement package in the nation.
The number of innocent people being released has proven that wrongful convictions happen much more frequently than previously thought, and some states will be voting on abolishing the death penalty for this reason.
There are several reasons people are wrongly convicted, but the primary reason is misleading eyewitness testimony. This proved to be a factor in 72 percent of the overturned cases, with 40 percent of the cases involving cross racial identification.
In approximately 50 percent of the cases, improper forensic science was part of the problem, with such problems as errors in hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, shoe print comparisons and firearm tool marking analysis.
In approximately 27 percent of the cases, there were false confessions and incriminating statements made by the defendant following interrogations. The Innocence Project is pushing police departments to record all interrogations to prevent coercion and to have an accurate record.
The last contributing factor is false informants found in 18 percent of the cases. Informants often receive special treatment for their testimony, which is an incentive to lie.
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