Globally, thousands of people are wrongly convicted of committing a crime. Estimates suggest that up to one in 10 people in prison may be serving time for a crime they did not commit, depending on the type of conviction. A major cause of these miscarriages of justice is “official indifference to innocence and error”; even when police or prosecutors falsify or withhold evidence, confessions and witness statements are coerced, expert and eyewitness testimony is false or erroneous, legal representation is inadequate, or forensic techniques are proven scientifically invalid, rarely will a case be re-opened and criminal justice personnel admit fault. In countries such as the United States (US), laws protect criminal justice personnel even when they have engaged in misconduct.
We speak to two of The Innocence Project’s most renowned campaigners for criminal justice in the US—Dr Greg Hampikian and Justin Brooks—to gain insight into overcoming the systemic bias of the criminal justice system and proving innocence.
|Dr. Greg Hampikian is professor of Biology and Criminal Justice at Boise State University (BSU), Director of the Forensic Justice Project and Co-Director of the Idaho Innocence Project (IIP) at BSU. Hampikian’s New York Times Opeds, include "The Dangers of DNA Testing", "When May I Shoot a Student?", and “Men Who Needs Them?" His casework has been featured in Science, on the BBC, and Dateline. His book Exit to Freedom with exoneree Calvin Johnson Jr., chronicles Mr. Jonson’s 17-year fight to prove his innocence using DNA. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Genetics from the Univ. of Connecticut, and has held positions at the Yale Univ. Medical School, the Worcester Foundation, Emory Univ., Clayton State Univ., La Trobe Univ. (Melbourne, Australia), and the CDC (Atlanta, GA). Hampikian has helped establish innocence organizations in Armenia, France, and Ireland, and served as a DNA expert in more than 3 dozen exonerations including Amanda Knox (Italy), Freddie Lawrence and Paul Jenkins (2018, with Montana Innocence Project), Kerry Robinson (with the Georgia Innocence Project), and Christopher Tapp and Charles Fain in Idaho (declared innocent in 2021). In both of the Idaho cases, his lab worked with police to identify new DNA matches that led to arrests, decades after the crimes.
|Justin Brooks is the Director and Co-Founder of the California Innocence Project and a Tenured Professor of Law at California Western School of Law in San Diego. Over the course of his career, he has served as counsel on many high profile criminal cases and has exonerated more than 30 innocent people (including former NFL player Brian Banks). Professor Brooks has been recognized several times by the Los Angeles Daily Journal as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in California, and in 2010 and 2012, California Lawyer Magazine honored him with the “Lawyer of the Year” award. Professor Brooks has founded innocence organizations throughout Latin America, speaks around the world about innocence work, and is the author of the only legal casebook devoted to the topic of wrongful convictions. He is portrayed by Academy Award nominated actor Greg Kinnear in the feature film, “Brian Banks.”