The Atlantic profiles the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, the first full-time state agency dedicated to investigating post-conviction claims of actual innocence. Other states have nonprofit organizations like the Innocence Project or think tanks with similar names, “but we're the only state that has a government agency that is neutral to investigate these cases,” said the executive director, Kendra Montgomery. The commission has exonerated eight people from the 1,642 claims submitted since its creation in 2006.
Because it is a state agency, the commission has powers that other institutions lack. Investigators can compel testimony with subpoenas, for example, and gather other kinds of evidence for their cases. In at least 18 cases, commission investigators were able to locate evidence that had been officially declared lost or missing by other state agencies. Three of those cases resulted in exonerations. More states are mulling innocence commissions of their own but lack funding. Out-of-state officials regularly contact Montgomery to ask for help in setting up their own versions.