What it takes an innocent inmate to get accepted by the Illinois Innocence Project

Illinois Innocence Project Cover Photo

The following acceptance guidelines are illuminating as to the factors that enter into an inmate being accepted as a client. It is a daunting list. Preeminent are 1) the inmate must have a history of claiming innocence throughout his/her criminal history, 2) the extraordinary time required to accomplish successful litigation (up to 8 years ) and 3) case-types that are excluded from the program.

Before reading, here is a short video about what the IIP can accomplish.

Primary Guidelines

• Inmate maintains a history of actual innocence

The inmate must be seeking to establish his or her actual innocence of the crime(s) for which he or she is incarcerated. More specifically, we take those cases in which there appears to be a significant chance that substantial evidence can be found to prove one innocent. Further, once we have agreed to work on a case, we reserve the right to withdraw for any reason, including an inability to prove a claim of actual innocence

• Crime committed in Illinois

The inmate was convicted of a felony crime committed in Illinois.

• At least 8 years remaining on sentence

In most instances, the inmate must be incarcerated and have at least 8 years remaining on his or her sentence. The substantial amount of time involved in investigation and follow-up activity makes it impractical to provide assistance on cases where the remaining prison time is less than that.

• Case is not pending appeal and the inmate is not represented by another innocence organization or attorney

The IIP only takes cases where the inmate has completed the appeal process and is not currently represented by legal counsel.

Other considerations

Finally, the Project does not provide assistance to individuals who are awaiting trial or whose only claim is that their rights were violated. The program usually cannot help in the following situations:

(1) where a defendant admits to killing or assaulting someone, but claims that it was done in self-defense;
(2) where a defendant admits to sexual contact with a person, but claims that the person consented to the contact;
(3) where a defendant was convicted as an accessory (or as a party-to-the-crime) and seeks to show that he or she did not play a major role in the crime.

Factors used in case evaluation

In deciding whether a case meets the requirement that there be a strong likelihood that the inmate is actually innocent of the crime for which he or she has been convicted, project staff will exam such factors as the following:

  • The absence of physical evidence linking the inmate to the crime.
  • Problems with the reliability of eye witnesses.
  • Lack of credibility of an inmate’s confession.
  • The inconsistency of the nature of the crime as compared to the background of the inmate.
  • The identification of alternative suspects.
  • The availability of DNA evidence that might exonerate the inmate.
  • The availability of new evidence exonerating the inmate.
  • Police or prosecutorial misconduct.
  • The length of time and consistency of the inmate’s claim of innocence.

An inmate may submit a request for assistance to the project via mail. Letters should clearly indicate the crime for which the inmate is incarcerated, the county of the offense, time remaining on the sentence and appropriate contact information for the inmate.

An attorney who believes his or her inmate’s case meets all of these guidelines and would like to seek the assistance of the Illinois Innocence Project can request assistance by completing the Attorney Case Referral Form (pdf) and returning it to us.

Requests for assistance and referral forms can be emailed or sent to this address:

Illinois Innocence Project
Institute for Legal and Policy Studies
University of Illinois Springfield
One University Plaza, MS PAC 451
Springfield, IL  62703-5407

After we have received an attorney request, we will get back in touch as quickly as we can. Be aware however that because the project is working at capacity, it may be awhile before new cases can be accepted.

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
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