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Future Agenda of the Innocence Movement

Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld share their vision for the challenges before those of us who seek to make our criminal system more just. This video begins about a quarter of the way into their concluding talk at the 2017 Innocence Conference.


The sound quality of the beginning of Neufeld and Scheck’s closing remarks was not very good. What is outlined below is not verbatim and claims only to be an approximate, but close approximate, to what they intended to convey.


Peter Neufeld:
This is the greatest coming together of those involved in the innocence movement ever. We have nearly 200 exonerees, almost 800 participants including walk-ins, and another 60 or 70 loved ones. There is a lot we should congratulate ourselves for; but much is needed to do.

  1. We need to identify and free the innocent in the following ways:
    a. Fixing the DNA laws, which prevent people from having access to evidence, which would lead to exoneration. Many of the criteria which bars convicted felons from DNA access are the very causes of wrongful convictions, such as “because you pled”, or because you are serving a concurrent sentence (often minor in importance).
    b. Enacting statues that reflect the changes in science. Science is not static, and the garbage used to convict 2, 5, 20 years ago, leading to conviction, is no longer valid or reliable. From these cases, we can open hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of cases. (see d. below)
    c. Greater access to records. Louisiana is a model state in this regard. After a case, we have the right to go in and get all the records from the DA and attorneys. We need this across the country.
    d. Audits. When laboratory test are shown to be unreliable, when line-ups are shown to be prejudicial, if they can be wrong is one case, you know it happened to others. Audits need to be made of cases with similar tainted traits.
    e. Conviction Integrity Units. Not all are good, some are excellent, and a few are responsible disproportionally in producing exonerations. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 237 of the 2000 exonerations can be traced to Conviction Integrity Unites. We need more. We need them stronger and better.

Barry Scheck:

  1. We need to focus on official misconduct, not just of the police, but also of prosecutors. There are a number of strategies:
    1. Ethical rules. The American Bar Association (ABA) has established clear rules for the purpose of fighting wrongful convictions.
      i. Rule 3.8.D states that all prosecutors must disclose in a timely fashion all information that tends to negate guilt. This is much lower than the threshold of material evidence of innocence. This includes things such as deals between prosecutors and snitches, threats against the defendant or witnesses for not testifying against the defense, etc. All states have adopted this.
      ii. Rule 3.8.G says that if a prosecutor becomes aware of material evidence after trial, they must disclose it.
      iii. Rule 3.8.H says that if there is very convincing evidence of innocence, they have to do something about it!
      iv. This puts pressure on prosecutors to act in a conviction integrity-type way, and if they don’t, they need to be disciplined. There have been cases where prosecutors have cheated on a post-conviction end and have been disciplined. In the Mortenson case, a prosecutor of the case, and now a judge, was sent to jail for 8 days. While the punishment was not proportional to the crime (my addition), this has changed the culture of prosecutors in Texas. California recently passed a law that it is a felony for a prosecutor to not disclose exculpatory evidence.

Peter Neufeld:

When we first started out, we thought of this as a civil rights issue, and now part of a larger human rights movement. We have developed an approach where, it isn’t the U.S. telling other countries how to do it, but rather we offer services and support to help other projects around the world to get off the ground. Those in the forefront have been Mark Godsey and Justin Brooks. At this conference we have representatives from projects from 14 different countries, keeping in mind the only those who speak English sufficiently well attend, otherwise there are many more. There are 18 projects in Europe, 10 in Latin America already in existence and another 10 developing.

There is talk about getting the United Nations to acknowledge it as a fundamental human right to be able to prove one’s innocence, no matter how much time has passed since the original sentence.

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[From here the video above picks up the content.]