STORY BY SAM FATHALLAH
On Tuesday, hundreds of students and community members filed into the Knapp Center for the 35th lecture of the Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture Series
Peter Neufeld, the founder of the Innocence Project, delivered the lecture. Neufeld and his colleagues founded the legal clinic as a means of exonerating wrongfully convicted people.
Neufeld began his speech with the story of the murder of a women in Washington, and the wrongful conviction of Donald Gates for the crime. Gates was sentenced to life in prison, but was exonerated thanks to DNA evidence and the work of the Innocence Project.
Gates is an example of the 333 people who have been exonerated through the success of this project. Neufeld said these exonerations only make up a small percentage of wrongful convictions in America.
“We believe that these 333 people are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg,” Neufeld said. “The reason we think this is because in most cases there is no biological evidence to be tested for DNA.”
Neufeld spent the rest of his lecture outlining the three major causes for wrongful convictions, and the ways he and his colleagues hope to fix these systemic injustices.
The most major of these causes, Neufeld said, involves the misapplication of forensic science during court proceedings.
“So many people who testify about forensic science, because it is beyond the knowledge base of most people, can say whatever they want or whatever they feel about the significance of the evidence,” Neufeld said. “The people who would normally check that are lawyers who are scientifically illiterate.”
Neil Hamilton, chair of the Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture Series and a professor of law himself, said that Neufeld offered students a level of academic value that can’t be achieved in the classroom.
While students were gratified by Neufeld and the work of the Innocence Project, Neufeld derives gratification from his own work.
“There is nothing more personally satisfying than taking someone who was wrongly convicted by the hand and walking them out of prison and into daylight,” Neufeld said over the phone, “I want to do a lot to make sure they can live a more healthy and normal life.”
Full coverage of the Bucksbaum Lecture will be in next week’s print edition.