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In September, the Innocence Project was thrilled to welcome Christina Swarns as its new executive director following a remarkable career in criminal and capital defense, including senior roles at the Office of the Appellate Defender, Inc., and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). While at LDF, she was lead counsel for Duane Buck, a Black man who was sentenced to death in Texas based on explicitly racist evidence and argued his case, Buck v. Davis, before the U.S. Supreme Court. Swarns was the only Black woman to argue in that Supreme Court term and is one of the few Black women ever to have argued before the nation’s highest court. The Court’s 6-2 ruling in Mr. Buck’s favor was monumental because it vacated his sentence and explicitly condemned racial bias in the administration of criminal justice.

"I have an unwavering commitment to speaking out even when it’s hard... and even when it shakes foundations. The only way that we are going to achieve meaningful criminal justice reform is by honestly calling out the injustices we see."

Christina Swarns, Innocence Project Executive Director

Innocence Project executive director Christina Swarns speaking to the press on the steps of the Supreme Court after the court ruled in favor of her client Duane Buck in 2016. (Image: Courtesy of Christina Swarns)

Image: Gabe Pierce/Unsplash

Police Accountability

This summer, the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Daniel Prude, and countless others sparked nationwide protests and demands for justice and racial equality. Across the country, people called for greater accountability among law enforcement and the legal system. Because official misconduct is a significant contributing factor to wrongful conviction, the Innocence Project is committed to advancing laws and policies that increase transparency and ensure accountability for police misconduct.

35%of people exonerated since 1989 were wrongly convicted in cases involving police misconduct.
21states keep police disciplinary records confidential.
7xBlack people are more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder than innocent white people.

Crowdfunding Bail

With COVID-19 rampant in jails and prisons across the country, the fight for the release of our wrongfully convicted clients became more urgent than ever. This year, Darrill Henry and Ron Jacobsen both had bail set in their cases after their convictions were overturned based on new DNA evidence of their innocence. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, both Mr. Henry’s and Mr. Jacobsen’s families were able to pay their bail to bring them home. We’re grateful for each of the thousands of donations that ensured their release.

“I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of help to a total stranger from so many people. This reassures my faith in human beings.”

Ron Jacobsen

Ron Jacobsen (second from right) returns to his hometown of New York City for the first time in 30 years. His lawyer Vanessa Potkin (second from left) met him at Pennsylvania Station. (Image: Daniele Selby/The Innocence Project)

Netflix trailer for “The Innocence Files,” the Innocence Project-inspired series.

Innocence Files

In March, Netflix released “The Innocence Files,” a nine-part documentary series that pulls back the curtain on the work of the Innocence Project and organizations in the Innocence Network. The series featured the stories of eight wrongly incarcerated people and spotlighted issues like prosecutorial misconduct and invalid forensic methods that contribute to wrongful conviction. Inspired by the series, thousands of people became part of the Innocence Project’s community and joined our fight for justice.

"This is truly important television. Each episode reveals – step-by-step – how the American criminal justice system gets it wrong."

Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, Innocence Project Co-founders

Archie Williams sings on "America's Got Talent"

This year, our client Archie Williams lived his dreams as a contestant on “America’s Got Talent,” a show he watched while wrongfully incarcerated. Mr. Williams’ soulful singing voice and powerful story carried him to the finals, with the Innocence Project community cheering for him the whole way.

"Archie’s performance is probably the single most important one in the history of 'America’s Got Talent.'"

Simon Cowell, Innocence Project Ambassador

America's Got Talent. Pictured: Simon Cowell hugging Archie Williams (Image: Trae Patton/NBC)

What kind of work do you want to see the Innocence Project do in 2021?

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Darrill Jr. Guitroz, Daranika Guitroz, and Darrill Henry. (Image: Claire Bangser/The Innocence Project)