Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, lectures on role of DNA evidence in criminal justice

Scheck's presentation was the final lecture of the fall 2014 University Lectures series.

On Tuesday evening, attorney and DNA expert Barry Scheck hosted the final installment in the fall 2014 University Lectures series. He spoke about the Innocence Project, an organization he co-founded that aims to reform the criminal justice system and prevent wrongful convictions by using DNA testing as evidence in cases.

"We view this as a civil rights movement — our job is to enhance the capability of law enforcement to find and convict those who were actually guilty with science,” Scheck told onlookers who packed Hendricks Chapel’s pews before giving the crowd a presentation full of eye-opening facts about the importance of DNA evidence.

“Just finding the bad guy is not the solution. You need to fix the system.”
- Barry Scheck

When the Innocence Project was founded in 1992, Scheck said, no state in the U.S. allowed post-conviction cases to be exonerated by DNA testing. Since then, there have been 312 post-conviction DNA exoneration cases and 146 of the true assailants in these cases have been identified. Scheck said most of the accused indivduals represented by the Innocence Project are innocent, so the idea that the Innocence Project can keep them for serving time for crimes they didn’t commit makes DNA evidence an invaluable resources.

However, less than 10 percent of felony cases have biological evidence that can be tested, he said. Scheck has a solution to help the other 90 percent. “Just finding the bad guy is not the solution,” he says. “You need to fix the system.” He suggested court reform to prevent things like prosecutorial misconduct, which he said accounts for 20 percent of wrongful convictions. He also said that police procedural reform would prevent false confessions and eyewitness misidentification, which respectively make up 25 percent and 75 percent of wrongful convictions.  

He said that with this reform, the system could get to what everyone wants in these cases: justice.

“It doesn’t matter what race of religion you are,” Scheck said. “Everyone can agree that there’s something about just getting it right.”

Darlene Ashamole, a senior biology major, said this sense of justice is what drew her to the lecture. She read up on the Innocence Project before attending the event and was pleased after hearing about the work that they did, she said.

“I’ve seen movies about these types of cases, and am glad to hear about a real program that’s actually helping people out of these situations,” Ashamole said.

Industrial design junior Devon Huck said she was also pleased. Devon Huck, a junior industrial design major, was pleased with the lecture. Huck said she frequents Syracuse University’s University Lecturesand especially enjoyed the book and movie suggestions Scheck shared within what she described as “technical talk.”

Through it all, both students agreed that the Innocence Project and Scheck’s message of fighting for what’s right and standing up for those who cannot was clear. 


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