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What kinds of cases does the Pennsylvania Innocence Project take?

The Pennsylvania Innocence only takes on cases for those who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, and who have already exhausted their appeals (direct appeal and first PCRA). By wrongfully convicted, we are limited to cases where the inmate is factually innocent of the crime.

This is different from the many cases where an inmate may be legally innocent of the crime (such as a case involving a claim of consent instead of rape, or self-defense rather than murder), or where the inmate has serious constitutional or procedural grounds for reversal of his conviction. As important as all of those issues are, we are simply limited in our resources and in the scope of assistance we can offer.

What do you mean by “factually innocent”?

We can only take on cases for people who had no involvement in the crime for which they were convicted. This will generally mean people who had an alibi for the time of the crime, whether it was presented at trial or not.

Does the Pennsylvania Innocence Project take only cases with DNA evidence?

No. The Pennsylvania Innocence Project will take on cases whether there is DNA or not.

Can I submit an application for a friend or family member?

No. The Pennsylvania Innocence Project can only accept cases directly from the inmate involved.

Will the questionnaire be available online?

No. Because we have an established screening process, with a number of steps, we do not want to receive questionnaires from inmates with whom we have had no contact. The questionnaire is not designed to do an initial determination of eligibility; it is designed to gather information about a particular case. Please do not copy the questionnaire for others. If you are interested in having your case reviewed by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project you need only write us a letter with a brief factual summary of the case, a statement as to why you are seeking our help and a list of the evidence used against you at trial. No other documents should be submitted for initial review. Mail letters to:

Pennsylvania Innocence Project
At Temple University Beasley School of Law
1515 Market Street, Suite 300
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Phone: 215-204-4255

How long does it take for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project to determine whether it will look into a case?

Once we receive your letter, we will review it to determine whether your case meets our criteria. If so, we will send you a detailed questionnaire to be completed. The time from writing to the Project until an initial determination is made is generally less than 2 weeks.

Review of a questionnaire takes more time due to the large volume of requests; it may take several months before the Project screeners are able to decide whether or not to accept your case. Please be patient.

Please do not telephone or write additional letters asking about your case. However, you must update your address if you are moved.

What is the process for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project to review and take on a case?

The Pennsylvania Innocence Project is set up to operate through 4 Stages. Stage 1 is a review of the first letter sent by an inmate to the Project explaining the facts of his/her case, the reason s/he feels that s/he has been wrongfully convicted, and explaining what new evidence (if any) may be available to prove innocence.

If a case meets the initial criteria (that the inmate is claiming factual innocence, was convicted in Pennsylvania and is beyond the direct appeal stage), then the case moves to Stage 2 review, and the inmate is sent a detailed questionnaire to fill out. We ask that the inmate also send a copy of the appellate brief and court opinions from the direct appeal. A volunteer lawyer or law student will carefully review the materials to determine whether the Pennsylvania Innocence Project should accept the case. At Stage 2, the volunteer will often write back to the inmate to obtain additional information.

When the reviewer determines that the case is, indeed, one of factual innocence, the case moves to Stage 3. During Stage 3, volunteer lawyers, students and investigators gather all of the relevant materials and documents in the case to determine what led to the wrongful conviction and where the new evidence may be. Once those documents are gathered and thoroughly reviewed, the case is submitted to the Board of Directors for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.

If the Board decides to accept the case, then it moves on to Stage 4, where a team of lawyers and law students and investigators thoroughly investigate the case and try to develop a litigation strategy for the eventual exoneration of the inmate. At any point in the process, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project may determine that the case will not be pursued, and the inmate will be promptly notified.

Only when the Pennsylvania Innocence Project has agreed to pursue litigation on behalf of the inmate does legal representation begin. Up to that point, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project will be investigating the claim only, and will not represent the inmate. The inmate must continue to pursue any existing post-conviction petitions on his/her own.

Will the Pennsylvania Innocence Project represent me in  my ongoing PCRA petition?

No. The Pennsylvania Innocence Project does not represent inmates until a decision is made to pursue litigation on the inmate’s behalf. Until that time, the inmate must continue to pursue any existing post-conviction petitions on his/her own.

FRAUD ALERT – There are people who fraudulently represent themselves as working for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, promising legal representation in exchange for money. These people do not work for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.

The Pennsylvania Innocence Project provides all legal representation for free. While we rely on charitable donations to support our work, we never solicit money for our services from our clients.