Innocence Investigations

“Wrongful conviction, the ultimate sign of a criminal justice system’s breakdown and failure, has been documented in too many cases.”

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman,  Hurrell-Harring v. State, 15 N.Y.3d  8 (2010).

The Innocence Investigations Project seeks to address the concern of wrongful convictions by exonerating clients represented by Appellate Advocates on direct appeal through post-conviction litigation. We aim to identify those clients who might benefit from investigation of facts underlying the conviction, including those that do not appear in the existing record. If our review and investigation support a reasonable basis to bring an actual innocence claim, we take all steps necessary to vacate the judgment of conviction and dismiss the charges.

While there is no statute explicitly recognizing and authorizing a collateral attack based on a freestanding claim of actual innocence, decisions by trial courts have recognized that an actual innocence claim can be pursued in a post-conviction proceeding. And, recently, in People v. Hamiltonan appellate court held for the first time that a freestanding claim of actual innocence could be made in a motion to vacate a conviction pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law, §440.10.   

Over the past two decades, forensic DNA testing has become an important tool to analyze evidence collected at the crime scene. Post-conviction relief, however, can be obtained in cases without DNA evidence. And, despite the significant role DNA has played in exonerating those wrongfully convicted, most crimes and claims of innocence are not based on DNA evidence.

There is no single explanation for why an actually innocent person may be convicted of a crime he did not commit. The causes of wrongful conviction of an innocent person include the use of false confessions, misidentification of the accused by the complainant or eyewitnesses, the prosecution’s reliance on jailhouse informants who frequently receive a benefit in exchange for testimony against the accused, defense attorney errors, including the  failure to investigate prior to trial, and errors made by law enforcement officials. The Innocence Investigation Project aims to identify and address these problems on a case by case basis.