Five years ago, Netflix debuted its groundbreaking docuseries Making a Murderer, which posited that Wisconsin law enforcement officials and an incompetent defense attorney mishandled the trial of convicted murderer Steven Avery.
Since then, the streaming giant has delivered more hit true-crime shows about wrongful convictions, including documentaries Time: The Kalief Browder Story and The Confession Tapes, as well as When They See Us, a scripted miniseries about the 1990 wrongful conviction of five teenage boys in the violent rape and assault of a 28-year-old New York woman.
Netflix’s new docuseries The Innocence Files reveals once again how unreliable the criminal justice system in the United States can be. Through the work of The Innocence Project and The Innocence Network, the show explores eight individual convictions (Kennedy Brewer, Levon Brooks, Alfred Dewayne Brown, Franky Carrillo, Keith Harward, Thomas Haynesworth, Chester Hollman III, and Kenneth Wyniemko) that have been overturned.
The Innocence Project has been working for more than 25 years to free innocent people using DNA evidence and prevent wrongful convictions from happening to others. According to its website, the nonprofit “represents clients seeking post-conviction DNA testing to prove their innocence,” consults on appeals, and does researches how wrongful convictions occur and how to avoid them. The program also provides information and background on DNA testing litigation; according to its website, more than 360 people in the U.S. have been exonerated by this testing, including 21 who served time on death row.
The organization is closely affiliated with Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, and its mission is to “free the staggering numbers of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to bring substantive reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.” One of the group’s main goals is to “improve the accuracy and reliability of forensic science.”
According to People magazine, The Innocence Project’s teams work with approximately 250 clients at any given time. Lawyer Peter Neufeld, who founded the program along with Barry Scheck in 1992, told the outlet he hopes The Innocence Files will get people “thinking about ways we can reform” and meditating on redemption.
“You have the redemption of the individual, if you will, who comes through this tunnel and is eventually exonerated, and everybody agrees the person is innocent, but you also have the additional redemption—a kind of societal redemption—in that we show what is systemically wrong with these different problems, whether its junk science or eyewitness identification, or even prosecutorial misconduct,” Neufeld told People. “The Innocence Project offers sort of no-nonsense, largely-agreed-upon remedies to reduce the adverse impact of misidentifications, to get rid of junk science, and to make prosecutors more responsible in the way they handle these cases.”
The Innocence Project is best known for its work with Adnan Syed, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of Hae Min Lee. His case was documented in the podcast Serial and the HBO documentary The Case Against Adnan Syed.