The vast majority of criminal cases—some estimate up to 90 percent—do not have DNA evidence to help settle claims of wrongful conviction. Yet, there is no reason to believe that wrongful conviction is less frequent in non-DNA cases. Criminal defense attorney Glenn Garber was introduced to a wrongful conviction and helped win an exoneration. He became concerned about innocence claims in cases without DNA evidence and decided to dedicate himself to assisting in these challenging cases. In 2009 he founded the Exoneration Initiative, a free legal assistance program dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted, the actually innocent. It’s good news that this group’s work has not gone unnoticed. According to an article in the New York Law Journal here, the Initiative will receive a $199,170 grant from the the U.S. Department of Justice’s Wrongful Conviction Review Program.
The grant will allow the Initiative to add a full-time paid lawyer and boost its investigative budget by $80,000. Since its founding, the Initiative has reviewed 2,091 requests for assistance and has brought four cases to litigation.
Garber, a Brooklyn Law adjunct professor, works pro bono with two paid employees. The Initiative helped exonerate William McCaffrey (who’d spent three years in prison for rape before his accuser admitted she lied) and has won a new trial for Derrick Deacon (imprisoned for 20 years for murder/robbery).
Several law firms, retired New York State Supreme Court Judge Anne Feldman, other volunteers, and law students assist in the Initiative’s time-consuming work. Even gathering the records to determine if a case is viable “can take months if not years,” says Garber. Accepted cases require “thousands” of hours, but the rewards are also great. “The work we do not only saves lives,” says Garber, “but makes the system a better system.”