- Post-conviction DNA testing in Massachusetts: "Failing the Test"
- Exonerated by DNA: Massachusetts wrongful convictions overturned
- Background: A primer on the Massachusetts DNA access bill
- Digging deeper: What do exonerations teach us about the criminal justice system?
- Non-DNA cases: What happens if there is no DNA to test?
Ethical Inquiry: Is Capital Punishment Ethical? International Center for Ethics, Justice, & Public Life, October 2010
Life After Death Row
Feb. 5, 2013
"At the Death House Door"
The screening of the
documentary "At the
Death House Door"
and the discussion session
with guest speakers the
Rev. Carroll Pickett and
Maurice Possley spotlighted
the heartwrenching subject
of capital punishment in
relation to those who are
wrongfully accused. More>
Sister Helen Prejean
Brandeis Day of Innocence
with Sister Helen Prejean,
was touted as a "resounding success!" More>
The Justice Brandeis Law Project has benefited from the expertise of Dick Lehr, Visiting Journalist-in-Residence in 2007 and Pamela Cytrynbaum, who acted as assistant director for the Institute from 2005-2007.
About the Justice Brandeis Law Project
|Investigation: George Perrot's case and junk hair science||Investigation: Exoneree Angel Echavarría's case|
Dennis Maher, incarcerated in Massachusetts for 19 years, was exonerated in 2003 through DNA testing only after his trial judge who refused testing retired. Photo by Erik Jacobs
Examining systemic flaws in the criminal justice system
The Justice Brandeis Law Project (JBLP) uses investigative journalism techniques to examine possible miscarriages of criminal justice. Here we’ll tell you more about how people end up in prison for crimes they didn’t commit—and how we select and investigate cases. Below you can learn more about our work and our concerns:
• The JBLP team. Who are we and what’s our approach to investigations?
• Angel’s case. Here’s how Angel Echavarria was exonerated, after 21 years in jail for a murder he always said he did not commit.
• George’s case. George Perrot has spent 30 years in jail for a rape that even his victim says he did not commit. Today his fate rests on a strand of hair.
• More about wrongful convictions. Find out the statistics, risk factors, and common problems that put the wrong person in jail.
• Reporting. Here’s what we’ve published or broadcast, along with others’ reporting on our investigations.
The Justice Brandeis Law Project is different from most innocence projects. Usually, these projects use the law to take death row cases to court, seeking to have DNA evidence tested. The JBLP uses time-consuming reporting methods to dig into especially difficult cases in which DNA may not be available, or the prisoner is not on death row.
In addition to investigating probable wrongful convictions, we also report on related issues. For instance, our article published in The Boston Globe Magazine examined why Massachusetts had no law enabling prisoners to seek post-conviction DNA testing. Within the year, the legislature passed the Post-Conviction Access to Forensic and Scientific Analysis law.
Who we are and how we do it.
Led by Schuster Institute Founding Director Florence Graves, our staff and affiliated researchers and reporters oversee teams of paid students research assistants. We get our cases of probable innocence in a variety of ways, including from innocence projects that have piles of cases that they will never get to unless we help.
Together, the JBLP team digs into the facts of these cases, including finding and examining reams of court documents and police records; reconstructing the crime scene and timeline; locating, interviewing, or re-interviewing witnesses; and consulting experts in particular aspects of a given case.
Once we have established the facts and are persuaded that this person both received an unfair trial and is factually innocent, we submit an exhaustive memo of our findings to the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services or to a pro bono defense attorney. Those attorneys take the cases back to court.
What you need to know about wrongful convictions.
The statistics. (Source: Innocence Project)
In the United States:
• How many exonerees? As of December 2015, DNA testing has exonerated 334 people.
This figure doesn’t include reporting-driven exonerations like ours.
• What are the demographics of wrongful conviction? Of those 334 people, roughly 70 percent were people of color or from another minority group.
Poverty, race, and ethnicity are the biggest risk factors for being wrongfully imprisoned.
• How many are put to death for crimes they didn’t commit? Roughly 4.1 percent of death row inmates were falsely convicted, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. No one knows how many are wrongly executed.
• What happens to the crime’s actual perpetrator? They keep raping or murdering. In almost half of the first 251 DNA exoneration cases—43 percent—authorities found the real perpetrator of the crime after the wrong person served prison time for it. Those actual perpetrators committed at least 72 more violent crimes before being caught.
• As of 2015, 41 individuals have been exonerated in Massachusetts.
Nine of those were exonerated by DNA evidence. The remaining 31 were freed by other means.
Here are the six common glitches that result in wrongful convictions.
• Eyewitness misidentification
• Faulty forensics, or bad science
• False confessions
• Informants and "snitches"
• Bad lawyering or representation in court
• Misconduct by prosecutors or law enforcement
Our criminal justice reporting.
|"Failing the DNA Test," Michael Blanding and Lindsay Markel, Nov. 20, 2011, The Boston Globe Magazine.|
|WBUR's Radio Boston hosts talk with Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Michael Blanding about DNA testing for prisoners in Massachusetts.|
|Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Phillip Martin discusses the proposed Mass. DNA access law on WGBH: Part 1 | Part 2|
|Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Hella Winston’s ongoing investigation into child sexual abuse among the ultra-Orthodox—and the associated prosecutorial cover-up.|