Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Innocence Project of Florida?
The Innocence Project of Florida is a nonprofit organization that works to find and free innocent people who have been wrongfully imprisoned in Florida and help those innocent people adapt to their new lives outside of prison. We also work to improve the criminal justice system to prevent future wrongful convictions from happening.
Is the IPF the Florida chapter of The Innocence Project?
No. We are part of the Innocence Network, a coalition of organizations working to exonerate the wrongfully convicted in defined regions or states. There are more than 68 Innocence organizations around the globe that operate independently but are affiliated with the Network.
How many wrongfully convicted people are there in prison?
We can never know for sure, because we only know about a wrongful conviction once it is overturned. Scholars estimate that innocent people are convicted in between 0.5% and 2.5% of all felony cases. This includes both cases that went to trial and cases where innocent people pled guilty. There are more than 100,000 people in Florida’s prisons- that means there are likely at least 500 innocent people locked up in Florida.
Why are people wrongfully convicted?
There are a number of contributors to wrongful conviction. Witness misidentification is a contributing factor in about 75% of all cases that ended in a DNA exoneration. Other contributors include non-validated or improper forensic science, false confessions, prosecutorial and law enforcement misconduct, ineffective defense lawyering, and unreliable jailhouse informants. Learn more about the causes here. Most cases of wrongful conviction happened because of more than one of these factors. Learn more about the reforms to prevent wrongful convictions from happening in the future.
Why would anyone falsely confess to a crime they didn’t commit?
People may falsely confess to get out of a scary, dangerous, or otherwise negative interrogation experience. Juveniles and people with limited mental capacity are also at a high risk of false confession because they want to please authority.
During an interrogation police officers may tell a suspect details and specific facts about the crime (e.g. how the crime was committed, the location, etc.), either overtly or through leading questions. Then, after an extended interrogation often without sleep or food, a person might say anything police want to hear just to get out of a scary situation. After many hours of interrogation spent hearing details of a crime that they didn’t know details about before, innocent people can sometimes make statements that are false but sound convincing. IPF has urged law enforcement agencies help identify possible false confessions through the mandatory recording of the entire custodial interrogation process rather than just the individual’s detailed “confession,” in order to reduce the amount of wrongful convictions by false confession.
How many wrongfully convicted people have been exonerated in the United States? Using DNA testing?
As of October 2018, over 2,200 people in the US had been exonerated since 1989. Of those, 479 were freed with DNA evidence. Nine people exonerated using post-conviction DNA testing nationwide. There have been 65 exonerations in Florida, and 17 of those people were exonerated through the use of DNA testing since 1997. Eight Florida exonerees had been sentenced to death before being freed.
What happens to exonerees once they are released?
While the experience is unique to each individual, many exonerees struggle to rebuild their lives but ultimately create strong social networks and career paths. IPF was the first innocence organization to have a full-time social worker on staff to guide exonerees through their reintegration into a society that will have changed greatly since the start of their incarceration.
Once exonerated, are the wrongfully convicted bitter?
This is a difficult question to answer, but simply put, yes and no. As with anyone wrongfully convicted, a great deal of anger builds up when questions such as “Why is this happening to me?” cannot be answered. However, most will say that at some point they knew they had to let go of the anger and resentment. The exonerees are grateful for the work of IPF and other members of the Innocence Network, and for the second chance they have received to live a brand new life. For the most part, these individuals are the embodiment of what it means to forgive.
Even after exoneration, though, they continue to struggle. Many suffer from PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. IPF was the first innocence organization to have a full-time social worker on staff. Our social worker begins working with the client before release to help line up job training and education; obtain medical, dental and psychological care; and re-orient the exoneree to a very different society than the one they left behind. On average, these individuals have spent two decades in prison.
What can I do to help?
Spreading the word about IPF through word of mouth or social networking sites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter etc.) is one of the best ways to inform others about our organization.
Since we are not a state-funded organization, donations or fundraising of any kind are accepted and greatly appreciated. The donations we receive allow our organization to continue on the path of freeing the wrongfully convicted. To learn more about hosting a fundraiser for the Innocence Project of Florida, please click here.
How do you find someone who has been wrongfully convicted?
We receive around 1,000 inquiries each year from inmates and their families. We handle only cases in which the inmate was convicted in Florida and they have exhausted the direct appeal process.
The intake staff handle all potential client inquiries. The process of evaluating the case begins when the inmate writes asking for our help. We respond to this using our screening questionnaire. If the review of the initial questionnaire qualifies for continued review, a second questionnaire is sent and later reviewed. If a case makes it to this stage we begin document collection —trial transcripts, legal filings, police reports, laboratory files—anything that will help us better understand the case. Our intake coordinator then assigns cases to legal interns that work through the documents and questionnaires to form a memo with a recommendation. These memos are then brought to legal team to determine whether to take up the case or not. Our attorneys decide what happens next, and often that includes an investigation by our staff investigator before the litigation process can begin.
Less than 1% of the individuals seeking assistance are accepted as clients. At any given time we have hundreds of cases in the document collection and review process and we are litigating dozens more.
How does your staff decide which cases to take on?
Each inquiry that our office receives is carefully reviewed and extensively researched. Each case that is accepted by IPF must have evidence that was not present at trial that could have affected the outcome of the conviction. The burden of proof in post-conviction work is on the defense, and new evidence must demonstrate actual innocence.
Once a case is accepted, how long does it take for exoneration?
On average the time from initial inquiry to exoneration is five to seven years.
What kinds of things can be DNA tested?
Biological materials that can be tested for DNA include hair, saliva, blood, skin cells, or semen.
Is DNA testing expensive?
The cost of DNA testing varies greatly depending on the type of biological material that exists in the case. Analysis of hair samples is more expensive than blood or semen. Although the cost may vary between materials, it is still an incredibly expensive process.
Have you had cases in which DNA testing you procure for the inmate proves their guilt?
Yes, we have. In every case accepted by IPF the inmate must sign off stating their innocence; however, occasionally DNA testing does confirm guilt. If this occurs, IPF withdraws from the case and will not pursue relief for the inmate. Although this is not our organization’s desired end, it does provide confirmation that our criminal justice system can and does work correctly to achieve accurate criminal justice outcomes.
Can people sue after they are exonerated?
Only some of the exonerees have viable civil rights claims, where they must show intentional harm. Even where there are such claims, lawsuits are often lengthy and expensive, making compensation under state laws a more compassionate, sensible option. More than half of states have compensation laws on the books. Approximately 735 of the first 1,900 exonerees, or 39%, are known to have received compensation through either state statute or lawsuit according to a study done by Professor Jeffrey Gutman of the George Washington University Law School.
Have the Florida exonerees been compensated?
Florida’s compensation statute, which was passed in 2008, provides for $50,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration, provided the exoneree does not have a felony conviction, either prior to or during the wrongful incarceration. The statute was updated in 2016 to allow an exoneree to have one prior non-violent felony conviction (such as drug possession) and remain eligible for compensation. Prior to the 2008 statute being passed, the exoneree had to seek compensation through an individual claims bill which required someone in the Florida Legislature to sponsor a bill to provide compensation, that the bill pass both houses of the legislature, and that it be signed by the Governor. Alan Crotzer, Wilton Dedge and William Dillon have been compensated through the claims bill process. Alan and Wilton were compensated prior to the compensation statute being passed. James Bain, Luis Diaz, and Leroy McGee have been compensated through the statutory compensation process.
Does your organization receive money from the State of Florida?
No, IPF is funded solely through grants and donations. Our largest funder is The Florida Bar Foundation (FPF) which provides us with grants that make up a majority of our funding. The rest of our funding is made up of individual donors like yourself and funds raised through our annual events.
How can I stay in touch and learn more about the work done by the IPF?
How can I donate to the Innocence Project?
Click here or mail your donation to:
Innocence Project of Florida, Inc.
1100 East Park Avenue
Tallahassee, FL 32301
Last Updated: October 2018