What is the Innocence Project? How did it get started?
The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, is a non-profit legal organization exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.
What have the Griffith College Innocence Project accomplished?
We have assisted a large groups of persons in investigating their claims of factual innocence, we have supported judicial review proceedings to clarify the law in access to evidence for post-conviction DNA testing, we have publicised the plight of those who are the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and we have assisted in achieving a posthumous pardon for Mr Harry Gleeson – the first such pardon in the history of the Irish state.
Are you affiliated with the American Innocence Project/International Innocence Network?
Yes, the Griffith College Innocence Project is affiliated with the International Innocence Network and our work is in large part benchmarked against and guided by the standards and procedures of the Network.
How many cases/caseworkers do you have?
At the moment, we have more than 40 active cases with approximately 30 caseworkers, and a groups of volunteer lawyers who supervise caseworkers.
What is the Griffith College Innocence Project’s relationship with the Griffith College Dublin?
Since the Project’s inception in 2009, Griffith College Dublin have supported the Project in many ways including financial donations, the provision of office space and facilities, by ensuring our ability to deliver QQI accredited educational opportunities to our case workers, and overall by facilitating us and providing us with the necessary means to run a successful organisation.
How many innocent people are there in prison?
It is estimated that 1 in 4 people currently in prison may well be innocent. However, this statistic is hard to prove.
Why would anyone falsely confess to a crime they didn’t commit?
There are many reasons a person will falsely confess to a crime they did not commit. In most instances, a person will falsely confess as a result of duress, intimidation or fear.
Do you have any international cases?
Unfortunately, our mandate only extends to persons convicted in the Republic of Ireland.
Can I get legal help from the project?
The Griffith College Innocence Project only deals with cases where a person has been convicted of a non-minor offence and where there is a claim of factual innocence. In these instances, we provide an investigative service to assist persons construct a case to bring before the Court of Appeal. If we believe that there is a viable case we will prepare a report and will work with a person’s original legal team, or a new legal team, to assist them in making the best possible case to the Court of Appeal.
Otherwise we do not offer direct legal assistance to persons.
How do I submit my case?
If you want to see if the Project can assist you, you can email us or write to us. Then we will ask you to complete and sign the Screening Questionnaire and Waiver. These must be completed do the Project can assess your case and see whether it is suitable for us to help you. DO NOT under any circumstance submit any original documents unless requested by the Griffith College Innocence Project.
Can I submit a case on behalf of a friend or a family member?
Generally, we can only deal with the convicted person, however, if they have difficulties in making contact with us then a friend or family member can make initial contact and tell us about your case, and the reason why the person cannot contact us themselves. We can then assist the convicted person to complete the relevant documentation, including visiting them to assist them in actually filling in the forms. Thereafter, the person can authorise another person to deal with us in relation to the case.
What does factually innocent mean?
It is difficult to provide one definition which covers all circumstances, but in general we mean that a person convicted of a crime will be claiming that they did not do the acts alleged, e.g. if a person was convicted of burglary, they may say they were not present at the time and new evidence now shows this.
Can people sue after they are exonerated?
It is possible that one can seek compensation for wrongful conviction, however, this is a matter on which specific legal advice should be sought.
How do you decide who to represent?
The Project screens each questionnaire to establish if a person is claiming they are factually innocent, and to see if there are any additional avenues of inquiry can be pursued. In Ireland the legislation allowing miscarriage of justice applications is quite narrow, and thus we are always looking for new or newly discovered facts, as these are the only ground on which a challenge can be mounted.
A new fact is to a fact known to the convicted person at the time of the trial or appeal proceedings the significance of which was appreciated by him, where he alleges that there is a reasonable explanation for his failure to adduce evidence of that fact. A newly-discovered fact is to a fact discovered by or coming to the notice of the convicted person after the relevant appeal proceedings have been finally determined or a fact the significance of which was not appreciated by the convicted person or his advisers during the trial or appeal proceedings.
The above definitions are contained within the Criminal Procedure Act 1993, and when assessing a case initially from the questionnaire we will look at whether it is though that such new or newly discovered facts may be available. If we think there may, then we will ask you for further documents, assess the case further, and assist you as far as possible to gather sufficient new or newly discovered facts to support a miscarriage of justice application.
Who will be working on my case?
Caseworkers who are law students, and volunteer solicitors and barristers will review your case.
Can the Griffith College Innocence Project be trusted?
All case workers must agree to sign a document maintaining confidentiality of all matters pertaining to the case files. In addition, we request of the clients that they maintain confidentiality regarding their communications with the Innocence Project. Finally, all our supervising lawyers are bound by the confidentiality provisions of their professional codes of conduct. We take confidentiality very seriously and will never discuss your case outside the Project without your permission, all documents received from you will be stored in a locked room, and will also be stored on an encrypted database which is password protected.
How long does it take to determine whether or not you will accept an application?
All applications are reviewed in order to determine whether or not it meets our criteria. The decision to assist a particular individual is usually made within four weeks.
Does your project only take cases relating to DNA evidence?
No, the Griffith College Innocence Project accepts all cases where there is a claim of factual innocence and where the individual in question has exhausted the full extent of the appeals process.
What kind of things can be DNA tested?
There is no definitive answer to this question, but items containing blood, bodily fluids, body tissue or hair roots are commonly tested. It may also be possible to test for the presence of other cells on materials, and hair without a root can be tested in some ways as well.
How is the Innocence Project funded? Do you receive money from the state?
We are totally independent of the State and receive no funding from them. We rely on institutional support primarily from Griffith College, also from Trinity College Dublin, and the kind donations of individual sponsors. We do on occasion apply for grant funding, however, only in circumstances where this would not compromise our independence.
We are always anxious to receive private donations as these assist us to fund visits to prisoners, to facilitate investigation of our cases such as through paying for testing of materials, and to ensure we effectively operate the Project.
Can I volunteer?
If you are a solicitor or barrister and interested in volunteering your time we would love to hear from you. We are always looking for experts in forensics, medicine, pathology or related fields to assist in analysing cases. Outside of those areas our case workers from drawn from the law faculties of Griffith College and Trinity College. If you are studying in another faculty please contact your head of school to ask if they are interested in having students from your law school work with the Project, however, until your faculty becomes involved we cannot entertain your application.
How can I donate?
Private donors can you use the PayPal link on our website or contact us by email or post for further details.
What else can I do to help?
Consider spreading the word in relation to our work through social networks. Since we are not a state-funded organization, donations or fundraising of any kind are accepted and greatly appreciated. The donations we receive allow us to continue on the path of helping the wrongfully convicted.
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