The Last Resort Exoneration Project at Seton Hall University School of Law offers free (pro bono) investigative and legal services to the convicted innocent of New Jersey. Based upon actual exonerations and other data, the most conservative estimate of the factual innocence rate for convictions of serious crimes, put forth by critics of the innocence movement, is approximately 1%. A variety of other studies have suggested a significantly higher innocence rate, ranging from approximately 2% to 5%. One per cent equates to 10 innocents for every 1,000 such persons convicted.
We concentrate on the innocent of New Jersey. At the beginning of 2010 New Jersey’s state prisons held 5,853 inmates who entered the prison system with more than a 15-year sentence up to and including life in prison without parole. At an innocence rate of 1%, that amounts to approximately 58 factually innocent men and women presently languishing behind bars in New Jersey for crimes they simply did not commit. The actual number might reasonably be as high as 300. Whether the actual number is 50 or 100 or 300, we believe that these extreme injustices are more than reason enough to marshal our resources to identify and obtain relief for those who suffer from them. We hope you’ll join us.
IN NEW JERSEY ALONE
Without the benefit of a program dedicated exclusively to the convicted innocent in New Jersey, in the last 15 years, eight innocent people have been exonerated in this state, five of them with DNA evidence:
- Earl Berryman (1995)
- David Shephard (1995)
- McKinley Cromedy (1999)
- James Landano (1998)
- John Dixon (2001)
- Clarence Moore (2006)
- Larry Peterson (2006)
- Byron Halsey NJ (2007)
Numerous other New Jersey convictions have been shown to be profoundly unsatisfactory and unsafe. It is highly likely that many other convicted innocents remain in prison.
The convictions of the innocent in New Jersey have occurred for the same reasons as they have elsewhere —investigative procedures that give rise to a high risk of mistaken identification; police practices that induce false confessions from vulnerable suspects; false “jailhouse snitch” testimony, and so forth. These problems should be prevented with upstream reforms of the criminal justice system. But until that happens, the innocents who have already been convicted should have the best chance possible at exoneration and freedom.