Network Criteria

Only organizations that meet the Network’s membership criteria will be considered for membership by the Network’s Membership Committee. Generally, the Membership Committee will only review an application from an organization that has been up and running for at least six months in order to assess the group’s sustainability and work. Organizations that apply before they have begun their work, or during the first few months of their existence, may be asked to re-apply at a later date.

In reviewing the membership criteria, please pay particular attention to the section regarding “substantial resources.” The Network has learned that the “substantial resources” criterion is critical to the assessment of an applicant organization’s ability to perform and sustain the work of the organization at an adequate level.

1. Eligibility criteria

  1. In general. Organizations eligible for formal membership in the Innocence Network shall be limited to organizations that are dedicated to providing pro bono legal and/or investigative services to individuals seeking to prove their innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted and organizations solely dedicated to post-release support and empowerment of exonerees.

    For organizations that provide investigative services only, one aspect of membership eligibility consideration will be the extent of attorney oversight and consultation during case investigations. This consideration is necessitated by the recognition that, in almost every case, investigations impact the potential for later legal avenues for relief. These organizations will also be required to provide the language that will be used in their materials and communications with prospective clients that clarifies (1) that the organization does not litigate innocence claims and (2) whether the organization has lawyers on staff that provide legal advice.

    Organizations solely dedicated to post-release support and empowerment of exonerees are eligible for membership when their materials and communications with prospective clients clearly explain (1) the work performed by the organization and (2) that the organization does not litigate innocence claims.

    While the Network encourages and supports efforts by prosecutorial agencies to meaningfully review prior convictions and re-investigate claims of innocence, because such agencies may have conflicts of interest with other Network members and their clients, membership of such agencies in the Network is precluded.

  2. Organizations eligible. Organizations eligible for membership in the Network shall include the following:

    1. Tax-exempt nonprofit organizations;

    2. Projects or programs housed within, or sponsored by, other nonprofit organizations, including, but not limited to, programs based at educational institutions;

    3. Units of attorneys and/or investigators within a governmental agency devoted to the representation of indigent persons (“defender organizations”);

    4. Coalitions of individuals/organizations within a given geographic area, whether or not they have formal tax-exempt status, provided that at least one of the participating organizations is from category (1) and/or (2), above (e.g., a program in which volunteer private attorneys supervise law students on pro bono litigation, in exchange for academic credit from the students’ host university); or

    5. Law firms that commit substantial pro-bono resources (e.g., an “innocence project unit”) to individuals seeking to prove their innocence.

  3. Dedication of resources. Regardless of type, only organizations that devote substantial resources toward the representation of convicted persons with claims of innocence shall be eligible for membership in the Network. “Substantial resources” means the following:

    1. Organizations, entities, or coalitions with at least one half-time paid staff person devoted to such representation or securing representation from qualified attorneys (which may include other administrative/coordination work of the program, in addition to casework);

    2. Projects based at law schools or other educational institutions, provided that the host institution has committed at least twenty hours per week of at least one paid faculty member’s time to supervise students on clinical work and oversee the program;

    3. Within a defender organization, the commitment of all or a substantial portion of at least one paid staff member’s time (or its equivalent, among several staff persons) to such representation; and

    4. Any other group or coalition the Membership Committee concludes devotes consistent and substantial resources to such representation, even if in a form that differs from the other entities described in this section.

  4.  Ethics and Best Practices Compliance. Only organizations that are in complete compliance with the Innocence Network Ethics and Best Practices Guide shall be eligible for membership in the Network. For the most current Guide, please email Norah Scanlan.
  5. Creating an MOU. Organizations applying for Network membership in a state where there is a previous Network member must make a concerted effort to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the previous Network member that defines how case intake and legislative and administrative policy matters will be managed.

2. Membership Committee

  1. Composition. The Membership Committee is a standing committee comprised solely of members of the Network Executive Board. Representatives of at least three different Network member organizations shall serve on the Membership Committee at any given time.

  2. Authority. The Membership Committee shall be given authority to determine whether the mission, resources, and other criteria for eligibility of the organizations that seek to join or remain a member of the Innocence Network conform to the criteria listed in Section 1. Based on those determinations, the Membership Committee shall make recommendations to the full Executive Board as to whether membership should be granted, denied, or revoked. The Executive Board may also recommend denial or revocation of membership for other good cause not related to non-compliance with the criteria listed in Section 1. The full Executive Board shall then vote on the Membership Committee’s recommendations for membership or revocation, and the recommendation will be adopted if a majority of the Executive Board votes to do so.

  3. Administrative Burden. The Membership Committee shall make best efforts to minimize the administrative burden on organizations seeking Network membership, taking their assertions about their organizations’ status in good faith where appropriate, and requiring only such documentation as is necessary to confirm those assertions.

3. Obligations of Membership

The Executive Board and the Membership Committee are authorized to establish requirements for membership.

  1. Annual Report: Each member organization must complete the annual report survey, which provides information about the structure, health, and activities of the organization. The Network uses this data to measure the impact of the organization and to develop tools and resources based on areas of need in the Network.

  2. Membership Dues: Each member organization shall pay an annual dues fee at the beginning of each calendar year to help fund the activities of the Network, the amount of which is set by the Network Executive Board and approved by the Council of Network Directors.

  3. Compliance with the Memorandum of Understanding with the Innocence Project: All Network members must abide by the Memorandum of Understanding, which details the relationship between the Innocence Network and the Innocence Project, and establishes the Innocence Project as the headquarters of the Network.

  4. Documentation: At such other times it deems appropriate, the Executive Board and/or the Membership Committee may require individual member organizations to respond to queries and/or resubmit documentation to confirm their continued eligibility in the Network.