Exoneration Focus Shifts To Non-DNA Cases


The proliferation of exonerations based on DNA has made it harder for prisoners seeking to prove their innocence in the much larger number of cases that do not involve DNA evidence, the New York Times reports. Many lawyers are more reluctant to take on these kinds of cases because they are much harder and more expensive to pursue. Efforts are emerging to change that. Glenn Garber, a New York City defense lawyer, has begun the Exoneration Initiative, a clinic devoted to investigating wrongful-conviction cases without DNA evidence. A similar clinic has begun operating at the University of Michigan and a new clinic at the University of Virginia is planning to handle mostly non-DNA cases. So-called innocence projects at Northwestern, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Cincinnati have reported that their non-DNA caseloads have risen. The Dallas district attorney has been focusing on wrongful-conviction claims that lack DNA evidence.

“All these hundreds of DNA exonerations across the country have demonstrated to anyone who's paying attention that there are far more innocent people in prison than anybody could imagine,” said James McCloskey, the founder of Centurion Ministries, an innocence project based in New Jersey. Cases that lack what many call the “magic bullet” of DNA often require cumbersome investigations, including finding and re-interviewing witnesses or poring over thick files to find anything vital that a trial lawyer might have missed. When crucial evidence is uncovered – witness recantations or exculpatory statements that were ignored by prosecutors – judges, juries and prosecutors often treat it with skepticism. A study by law Prof. Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan said that 195 prisoners were exonerated without the help of DNA from 1989 to 2003, with the number spiking from 2000 to 2003.

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