History on Post-Conviction DNA Exonerations

Post-conviction relief is a general term related to appeals of criminal convictions, which may include release, new trial, modification of sentence, and such other relief as may be proper and just. The court may also make supplementary orders to the relief granted, concerning such matters as re-arraignment, retrial, custody and release on security. The term may refer to a law or court rule that allows a collateral challenge to a judgment of conviction which otherwise became final in the normal appellate review process. Post-conviction relief governed by federal and state laws varies by state, and used to preclude state or federal habeas corpus (USLegal, Inc). In other words, post-conviction relief is the ability that individuals now have to request the extraction of their DNA and have the extraction compared to the DNA from the crime scene for which they were accused (Neufeld, 2001). Further, a person convicted of a crime who has exhausted all normal appellate remedies and serving time in prison may still challenge his/her conviction, sentence, or conditions of confinement by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus (Scheb, 1999).

Habeas corpus is a Latin term meaning; ?you have the body? an ancient common-law device permitting judges to review the legality of someone?s confinement. In modern American criminal procedure, habeas corpus has become a way for prisoners who have exhausted all other avenues of appeal to obtain judicial review. A federal prisoner petitions the appropriate federal district court for habeas corpus relief. Under most state statutes, state prisoners may file habeas corpus petitions or other similar petitions for post-conviction relief with the appropriate state courts (USLegal.com). Unfortunately, not all states allow DNA extraction, and new court

proceedings (Scheb, 1999). The act of exoneration is not a new element to the U.S. criminal justice system. According to Rob Warden of Northwestern Law in 1812; Jesse and Stephen Boorne were sentenced to hang for the murder of their brother in-law Russell Colvin. Although Colvin's body was not found, Silas Merrill, Jesse's cell mate, claimed that Jesse had confessed to the murder. After the police confronted Jesse about the statement, he confessed to the police while laying the principal culpability on Stephen. After the trial both Jesse and Stephen were sentenced to death by hanging. The legislature in Vermont commuted Jesse's sentence to serving life in prison but did not do the same for Stephen. Not long before Stephen was to die, Russell Colvin was found alive in the state of New Jersey. He returned to Vermont, and both Stephen and Jesse were exonerated of the murder (Peter J. Neufeld, Barry C. Scheck, 1992).

Centurion Ministries was the first organization that worked nationally. The Centurion Ministries was established by James McCloskey in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1983. McCloskey worked as a chaplain in Trenton State Prison. He chose to leave the position as junior chaplain and the ministry in order to focus his attention solely toward the goal of freeing innocent inmates. Centurion Ministries still based in New Jersey and has five full-time employees and a network of forensic experts and lawyers throughout the United States and Canada (Neufeld, Scheck, 1992).

In 2004, innocence movement reforms were on the governments agenda (Zalman, 2005). The Innocence Protection Act passed after four years and was a most significant movement victory. The Justice for All Act provides inter alia, standards and funding for DNA testing of potential exonerees (Welch, 2005). And ?increased the amount of compensation for those


wrongfully convicted of federal crimes to up to $100,000 a year for death row exonerees, and $50,000 a year for non-death row exonerees? (Innocence Project n.d.). The nonprofit organization, the Innocence Project began with a law school-based clinical program in 1992 led by Barry Schek and Peter Neufeld inspired by the work of people who came before them. The Innocence staffs were the first to work toward the goal of exonerating inmates based on DNA evidence. They took a concept that is quite old, an inmate?s plea of innocence, and combined it with the breakthrough technology of DNA. According to the Innocence Project, there are approximately 53 locations in 40 states across the nation, including Texas, Washington, Virginia, California, District of Columbia, Ohio, Kentucky and Maine. There are also international locations in Canada, England, and Australia. These organizations work together to achieve two main objectives: (1) innocent people released from prison and (2),