Black Lives Matter
On May 25th, George Floyd, a 46-year old Black man, was killed by police after an officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s life and future is one of many taken unjustly by police brutality. Between 2013 and 2019, police violence in the United States led to the deaths of 7,666 people, most of them Black Americans. The number of police killings in the country disproportionately affects Black people, who are three times as likely as white Americans to be killed by the police. In 8 of the 100 largest cities in the United States, police departments kill Black men at higher rates than the U.S. murder rate itself. It makes no difference the crime rate of the city—levels of violent crime in U.S. cities do not determine rates of police violence. And rarely is there ever any accountability; in 99% of the cases where an officer killed a civilian between 2013 – 2019, the officer was not charged with a crime.
Police brutality is not new, and the protests against police brutality represent the pain and hurt not just for the death of George Floyd but for the deaths of all Black people killed by police before him. The root of the George Floyd unjust killing—the systemic and racist view that Black people must prove they are not dangerous, that they are not entitled to a presumption of innocence—has resulted in the death of Black people in the United States for centuries through police brutality and wrongful convictions.
The work of the Innocence Network— made up of 67 independent innocence organizations—often lays bare the reach and effects of systemic racism and white supremacy within the criminal justice system and our society at large. The Innocence Network joins the Black Lives Matter movement in condemning the senseless murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and all Black individuals killed by police brutality. The organizations of the Innocence Network offer our sincerest condolences to their families and to the many unnamed families who continue to face the heartbreaking loss of loved ones at the hands of white supremacy.
As a coalition of organizations dedicated to freeing people incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, we affirm our commitment to combat white supremacy and anti-blackness in all forms and in all places. This includes in our own organizations, institutions, practices, and offices. The Innocence Network values racial equity and understands that we must first grapple with our own complicity before we can even begin to tackle racial justice at large. Finally, we acknowledge the unbelievable pain and burden this causes our clients and colleagues of color in the Network. To our clients, coworkers, colleagues, and friends: we stand with you.
May we utilize the breaths we take for granted to fight for those who have lost theirs. As James Baldwin taught us, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
The Innocence Network
For ways to get involved and further reading, please see our resources guide.
Freeing the innocent and preventing wrongful convictions worldwide
The Innocence Network is an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted, working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions, and supporting the exonerated after they are freed.
The Innocence Network
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68 organizations from around the world working to exonerate unjustly convicted men and women, including independent nonprofits as well as organizations affiliated with law schools or other educational institutions, units of public defender offices, and pro bono sections of law firms.
Click the map below for information on Innocence Network member organizations around the world.
Recent news articles and media mentions from around the Innocence Network
Innocence Project Calls for Policy Reforms in Wake of Landmark Report on 25 Wrongful Convictions in Brooklyn
On July 9, 2020 the Kings County District Attorney’s Office released a landmark report examining how and why the KCDA’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) in Brooklyn, New York, agreed to exonerate 25 wrongly convicted people in a five-year period (between 2014-2019).
These 25 wrongly convicted persons served a staggering 426 years in prison before their exonerations. And virtually all of them — 24 out of 25 — were Black and/or Latinx. They served an average of over 17 years in prison; the one white exoneree, a victim of a politically motivated election fraud prosecution, served no prison time. The report also finds that the evidence police gathered against many of these exonerees was clearly flawed from the outset — raising obvious questions about why so many Brooklyn citizens of color were prosecuted at all, and why none of the system’s actors stepped in to halt these prosecutions or rectify them for decades.
The report forthrightly addresses the grievous errors – including outright misconduct in a number of cases — by both police and prosecutors that tainted the vast majority of these cases.
For more information, please visit the Innocence Project blog here.
After spending more than 40 years in a Shirley prison, Raymond Champagne had his life sentence vacated Tuesday by a judge who allowed the motion for a new trial.
Champagne was convicted in 1979 for participating in the 1978 stabbing death of Stephen L. Curvin while an inmate at the Massachusetts Correction Institution at Cedar Junction in Walpole. He steadfastly maintained his innocence, but was given a life sentence and sent to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, which straddles the Lancaster town line.
Lisa Kavanaugh, the director of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Innocence Program, took on Champagne’s case in October. She filed a motion for new trial, citing newly discovered evidence that cast doubt on the conviction.
For more details on the case, see here.
As a Philly judge agreed to overturn a murder conviction after 31 years, the DA’s Office took aim at the justice system
Philadelphia prosecutors on Friday offered a scathing assessment of how the city’s criminal justice system functioned in the late 1980s and early 1990s, saying that as annual murder totals rose to unprecedented heights, the police detectives tasked with investigating those killings were often willing — or eager — to press forward with flawed arrests in order to move on to their next case.
The appraisal, offered by Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock, came as the District Attorney’s Office successfully pushed to overturn the murder conviction of Andrew Swainson, 55, who spent 31 years in prison for a drug-related killing he has always denied committing.
For more information see here.
After fighting for their innocence for 17 years, our client Wang Chih-Cheng and Hung Shih-Wei were both acquitted by the Taiwan High Court Taichung Branch Court on December 31, 2019.
The two were accused of dropping Wang’s girlfriend from the Houfeng Bridge in central Taiwan in 2002. Wang said that it was she who crossed the fence by herself and fell, while Hung was not even there on the bridge when the incident took place. However, they were both found guilty of murder, and the convictions became finalized in 2009. Wang and Hung’s sentences were 15 years of imprisonment and 12 years and 6 months of imprisonment, respectively. They began to serve their time while their families outside kept seeking for help.
In 2012, TIP accepted the case and put forward new opinions, including one from a pathologist and one from a professor of mechanics from National Taiwan University, proving that the victim was not thrown by the two defendants and the critical inculpatory testimony used for conviction were not reliable. We took the opinions as new evidence and filed a motion for a retrial. In Feb 2018, the court adjudicated to start the retrial and to release the two after spending 7 years behind bars for Wang and 8 years for Hung.
After 22 months of trial, Wang and Hung were acquitted on December 31, 2019. The prosecution has not yet decided if they will appeal.
On May 12, 2020 the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office dropped its case against Keyon Sprinkle, of Boston, MA, who was wrongfully convicted of a 1999 murder and spent 20 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. The case against Mr. Sprinkle’s co-defendant, Clarence Williams, was also dropped.
On January 29, 2020, the Suffolk Superior Court allowed Mr. Sprinkle’s motion for new trial, officially overturning his murder conviction. After a lengthy hearing, the Court found credible evidence that two other people – discovered through extensive investigation – were responsible for committing the murder for which Mr. Sprinkle was wrongfully convicted.
The Court specifically noted that Mr. Sprinkle “has been steadfast in his claim that he is innocent,” and his testimony was so compelling that it made the Court more certain that “justice was not done” in his case.
After his conviction was overturned, Mr. Sprinkle was released from prison on February 6, 2020, with the consent of the District Attorney’s office. Yesterday, the District Attorney filed a nolle prosequi, declining to pursue the case further.
“We are thrilled that this nightmare is finally over for Mr. Sprinkle,” said Radha Natarajan, Executive Director of the New England Innocence Project, an organization supporting Mr. Sprinkle’s innocence case. “Over the last 20 years, Mr. Sprinkle has never stopped fighting to prove his innocence. Now he can enjoy his freedom with his family.”
Along with Mr. Williams, Mr. Sprinkle was convicted of the murder of Charles Taylor on November 16, 1999. Mr. Sprinkle refused a plea offer by the government in the middle of trial, consistently maintaining that he had no role in Mr. Taylor’s killing. Mr. Sprinkle was represented by a pro bono team of attorneys, including Peter Parker; Joseph Savage and Ashley Drake of Goodwin Law; and Chad Higgins of Bernstein Shur.
Boston College Innocence Program client Ronnie Qualls was released yesterday on bail after almost 27 years’ incarceration for a 1992 double murder that he did not commit. Ronnie’s murder convictions were vacated based on DNA evidence indicating that multiple small droplets of one of the victim’s blood was on the original suspect’s sweatshirt shortly after the shooting. The victim unequivocally named that same suspect as the shooter to three different police officers moments before he died. However, that suspect told police that Ronnie was the shooter and three eyewitnesses later identified Ronnie as the shooter. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office joined the BCIP in asking for Ronnie’s convictions to be vacated and they are currently awaiting the charges to be dismissed.
Check out the Innocence Network’s Wrongful Conviction Day website. Wrongful Conviction Day is an international day to raise awareness of the causes and remedies of wrongful conviction and to recognize the tremendous personal, social, and emotional costs of wrongful conviction for innocent people and their families. Check out tweets and posts from last year’s Wrongful Conviction Day.