Are you political?
No. We are a non-partisan organization that strives to improve the quality of justice. We do not endorse candidates nor do we take a public stance on political issues. While many aspects of the criminal justice system are open to broad debate, we believe that justice for the innocent transcends politics.
What have you accomplished?
IPMN has done much to help the innocent. We have not just focused on DNA cases, but on all cases where clear evidence of innocence was present. We have also provided extensive forensic and legal education as a part of continuing legal education seminars, public presentations, and through clinics and law school classes. We share best practices with attorneys, and work to change unjust procedures and practices in the criminal justice system. We have secured the release of five wrongfully convicted men, who combined, served 84 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. We continue to investigate numerous cases of potential wrongful convictions in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Why do Wrongful Convictions matter?
Wrongful convictions make the streets less safe – period. Any time an innocent person is convicted, a guilty person walks free and is able to continue to commit crimes. By investigating the truth of specific cases and by correcting the causes of wrongful conviction, we are making a real impact on our criminal justice system. Cases of actual innocence bring the failures of the criminal justice to the forefront. These cases force us as a society to identify and remedy the problems in our justice system that lead to unfair trials, long case delays, wrongful convictions and other miscarriages of justice.
Is wrongful conviction statistically insignificant?
Estimates are that 2% - 7% of prisoners are actually innocent of the crimes for which they have been imprisoned. In any case, this is about people, not statistics. We are primarily concerned with the innocent individual. We are concerned with statistical prevalence of mistaken verdicts to the extent that it illuminates the plights of individuals and suggests where we can best direct action. The wrongful conviction of even one person matters.
Consider the following: More than 2,425 wrongfully convicted people have been exonerated since the innocence movement began. That’s over 21,000 years of combined prison time served by innocent people. Using DNA testing alone, more than 345 innocent people have been released from prison after serving an average of over 14 years for crimes they did not commit. Added together, they were behind bars for over 6,300 years.
Imagine spending the past thirteen years of your life in prison, let alone for a crime you did not commit. Then imagine the effect it would have those who care about you and and on your life.
We believe the system suffers from correctable flaws. Most pressingly, we are advocating for a number of eyewitness identification reforms: administration by an officer who does not know the suspect, improved instructions for eyewitnesses, documentation of the eyewitness’s level of confidence, and presenting lineup members one-by-one.
Other fixes include changes in Minnesota criminal procedure to preserve biological evidence used to identify perpetrators and to allow those convicted of crimes to more easily use newly discovered evidence. Needed reforms also include education on forensic science. Minnesota has already required the audio taping of interrogations.
We don’t presume bad intent on the part of prosecutors, police, judges, or crime labs. We are, after all, an innocence project, so presuming anyone’s guilt would be a dark irony. Of course, there will be individual cases of personal misconduct.
We don’t claim moral superiority over prosecutors, judges, or police. Some of us were prosecutors and police officers. We simply try to act on clear facts to help innocent people and to address correctable flaws in the system. While we believe anyone guilty of misconduct should face consequences, we focus our energies on liberating those convicted of crimes they didn’t commit and preventing the conviction of the innocent.
Is the system broken?
We don’t render verdicts unstable. We act only in a small percentage of cases where there is clear proof that an innocent person was convicted.
There is a long tradition of such exceptional intervention, most famously in the executive powers of commutation and pardon, but also in limited exceptions for retrial. There’s always been the possibility of a Governor’s pardon. This is the same principle that underlies our work–we’re a fail-safe in exceptional cases.