The Original Innocence Project, Freeing Innocents from Death Row Since 1948

An American court room.
An American court room. | Source

Freeing the Wrongly Accused For 70 Years

The court of last resort is the last highest court available to a plaintiff or defendant in the appellate process of legal remedy. In America, this is often the US Supreme Court. In some cases, however, the appellate process is limited by US States and ends at a lower court.

The Court Of Last Resort is a program and a book authored by attorney and mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner beginning in 1948. It was later promoted with a partnership with Argosy Magazine, for whom Mr. Gardner had written several pieces.

Copies of the Gardner book series are sometimes available at auctions and collectible book sellers. However, the program itself, as of 2015, has lasted around the nation in college and law school classrooms for nearly 70 years. It may be tagged with different course names, but it is the program initiated after WWII, with improvements made since the inception of DNA evidence and other new technologies.

Justice Denied Magazine states that the original program died in the 1960s, but this is incorrect. The name died, but the project was taken up by sociology, criminology, and legal classes around the USA. In fact, I learned about the project in criminology class under Simon Dinitz (1926 - 2007), discussed below. I heard about how a more advanced class was working on such a case in the 1970s.

One of the early cases addressed by The Court Of Last Resort was the murder case that became the basis for TV's The Fugitive - the Dr. Sam Sheppard case in Cleveland Ohio. Polygraph tests likely showed false positives in that case and today, these types of tests are inadmissible in court. Other sorts of details result in wrong convictions as well.

Alabama Man Freed After Nearly 30 Years On Death Row (AP, by Kim Chandler; 4-3-2014): Ray Hinton was released from Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, where he was incarcerated at age 28. Much of his career lifetime is already gone, after a conviction in the 1985 murders of two fast-food restaurant managers. Crime scene bullets were the only evidence. Prosecutors now say that modern forensic methods do not show the fatal bullets were from Hinton's home, or even from the same gun.

The George Zaccho Case From the Court Of Last Resort

Incomplete and Lost History of Innocence Advocacy

A 21st century Hilary Swank film called Conviction (2010) highlights a case of wrongful conviction and its solution by means of the operation of the Innocence Project.

Because of this film, the public is led to believe that the Innocence Project (America and UK, also a BBC television program) was the first program established specifically in order to free the wrongfully convicted. It was not. The first project began in 1948.

The Court Of Last Resort, also a television series as well as a book and a successful ongoing project, was the first. The information in late 20th Century "landmark study" highlighted by some writers as showing that 70% of wrongful convictions are the result of incorrect eyewitness identification was already well known to Erle Stanley Gardner and his colleagues, the first modern criminal scientists of early-to-mid-20th Century.

In the first some subsequent editions of nearly every one of Gardner's mystery books, the attorney highlighted a different criminal scientist - including doctors, coroners, the first CSIs and others - and at least one element of the legal system; including wrongful conviction, professional witnesses, and many others. As a successful attorney working with criminal scientists of the 1920s - 1950s, his efforts helped to lay a foundation for today's science of Criminology.

I was honored to study under two of the founders of Criminology in their last years - Walter Reckless and Simon Dinitz. In fact, Dr. Dinitz spoke of mistaken eyewitness accounts until his retirement in 1991, perhaps thereafter in guest lectures.

Source

Members of college and law school classes have worked on freeing Death Row inmates who were wrongly convicted since the 1950s.

Conviction (2010) - True Story

Conviction
Conviction

Stars Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo, Thomas D. Mahard, and Owen Campbell. A female law student's brother is wrongfully convicted. In fact, she took up the law to help free him. Based in a true story.

 
A cell in Alcatraz prison.
A cell in Alcatraz prison. | Source

Addition of DNA Evidence

Founded in 1992, the Innocence Project is the first such project to incorporate DNA evidence into its work.

Erle Stanley Gardner would be enormously pleased about this addition of DNA evidence and would promote the project more than any other single advocate would consider. However, his foundational work in freeing the wrongly accused must not be forgotten.

History is rewritten every time important events and entities are overlooked when decades or centuries pass and these events and entities are pushed further and further aside. This is how the Holocaust has been denied by those that would have us believe it did not exist; but, we still have living survivors of that event, along with film footage and written documentation to prove its atrocities.

While there exist lesser amounts of documentation of The Court Of Last Resort than for the Holocaust, and while criminology and law classes may continue their related case work under the name of the Innocence Project or no name at all, the documentation proving that Gardner began the original work is still available.

Every criminology and law class that undertakes a wrongful conviction case should be instructed in the foundation work of The Court Of Last Resort and the foundation and work of the Innocence Project. This should be done just as a judge gives instruction to a jury before sending them to deliberate a verdict in a case.

Criminology and law classes often adopt a Death Row case in the hopes of finding enough evidence to overturn an incorrectly delivered conviction. Occasionally, one of these cases is featured in a local newspaper as the conviction is overturned and the prisoner is freed.

Suite Noir: The Passion of Perry Mason (Movement 2: The Court of Last Resort) by Joseph Waters

Quote From Joseph Waters

"New U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has said that watching Perry Mason shows influenced her decision to become a prosecutor. Erle Stanley Gardner was a criminal lawyer for 18 years before he started to write. ...He was not only the author of the iconic Perry Mason character, the lonely justice-seeking attorney; but Gardner was also, in real-life, the founder of the 'Court of Last Resort', a predecessor to the current day 'Innocence Project'."

The wrongly convicted on Death Row have hope.
The wrongly convicted on Death Row have hope. | Source

Modern Projects to Free the Wrongly Convicted

Various college criminology and law classes in the United States adopt a Death Row case each year in the hopes of finding enough evidence to overturn an incorrectly delivered conviction.

Occasionally, one of these cases is featured in a local newspaper as the conviction is overturned and the prisoner is freed. There is even a magazine for and about the wrongfully convicted, called Justice Denied.

Hollywood Misdirection in Prisoner Release

Another case of misdirection and omission was seen in early screenings of Argo, a Ben Affleck film from autumn 2012. This one was solved quickly.

The heroic and successful leadership of Canadian Ambassador to Iran, Kenneth Taylor, in freeing six American hostages was rather downplayed and the original ending caption indicated that the CIA led the effort in freeing wrongly accused prisoners in Iran.

The CIA was not the major player in the release of prisoners. Loud protests among a few that were present during the Iran Hostage Crisis years of 1979 - 1981 under President Jimmy Carter caused Ben Affleck to research the problem. He called the former ambassador and added correct information to his film.

Mr. Affleck was not born until 1972 and if his schooling did not emphasize the events of the Iran Hostage Crisis, then how would he know about it? His parents must not have discussed it with him. If his own Argo film researchers did not look at the facts, then how would Affleck ever find out? Internet information is not always reliable. The same is true of the Internet reports of The Innocence Project being the first of its kind. It is not.

© 2012 Patty Inglish

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Comments 5 comments

purnimamoh1982 profile image

purnimamoh1982 3 years ago

It is indeed a great hub with a lot of useful information. I am not very much acquainted with the issues of US judicial system, but it is really necessary that we speak out on such things so that the larger society debates on it.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

I agree! We need to uncover cases and precedents like these and discuss them. Thanks!


u-turn profile image

u-turn 3 years ago from AZ. STATE

We grill-um fry -um and accept their guilty. Thank god 4 DNA and thank not as it could be used for a setup. It has freed people and proven that a dead fry was innocent. Believe i seen it on TV


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

The original Innocence Project was developed by Erle Stanley Gardner from 1948 - 1958 and televised. In the 1960s, it became a project for each class in many sociology and law classes in America. My criminology classes were involved long before 1992.


u-turn profile image

u-turn 2 years ago from AZ. STATE

See.. .

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