Learn More: The Innocence Project

hands on prison bars and DNA molecule, double helix
Jerry Miller was charged with rape, kidnapping and robbing a woman in downtown Chicago in 1981. After 25 years, he's been exonerated, thanks to DNA evidence and help from the Innocence Project.

Miller has actually been out of jail for 11 months, but he was a registered sex offender who was required to wear an electronic monitoring device at all times.

Today marks the day he becomes the 200th person to be exonerated due to DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project.

What Is The Innocence Project?

Founded 14 years ago by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld at the Yeshiva University law school, the Innocence Project is now a web of non-profit legal clinics that assists the incarcerated by providing representation or legal assistance. It also hopes to set examples that will lead to reform in the U.S. justice system.

According to the group's Web site, "The Innocence Project's groundbreaking use of DNA technology to free innocent people has provided irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events but instead arise from systemic defects."

As of today, 200 people have been exonerated due to DNA testing — 14 of whom have served time on death row, according to the project.

How Common Are Wrongful Convictions?
A Columbia Law School study that preceded the creation of the Innocence Project estimated that the U.S. justice system fails 5 percent of the time — which suggests that as many as 100,000 prisoners have been wrongly convicted.

How Have These Exonerations Changed The Law
According to the Innocence Project, DNA-based exonerations over the past 15 years have "sparked a groundswell of policy reform." A number of reforms were enacted before DNA became available in criminal cases, but the DNA exonerations over the last 15 years have sparked a groundswell of policy reform.

Six states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) have created Criminal Justice Reform Commissions, which study the causes of wrongful convictions in order to avoid them in the future.

As many as 40 states have made it easier for convicts to get DNA testing to attempt to prove their innocence.

At least 22 states have adopted statutes that call for proper preservation of crime-scene evidence — including DNA evidence.

Are The Wrongfully Convicted Compensated?
Sometimes. "What is a year in prison worth," is a difficult question, and one that few states have been comfortable answering. A minority of states mandate compensating those wrongfully convicted or imprisoned, but legislation is in the works in a handful of other states that would provide services, money and even an apology to the exonerated.

Washington, D.C., and the federal government have statutes to compensate the wrongfully convicted.

Learn More
  • For more on DNA exoneration's effect on the law, click here.
  • Check out more statistics from the Bureau of Justice.
  • Explore the Columbia University study.
  • Find an Innocence Project group near you.