Righting the Wrongs of the Criminal Justice System: The New England Innocence Project

On April 13, 2003, having served over 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Dennis Maher walked out of Bridgewater Treatment Center a free man. A victim of eyewitness misidentification, Maher was convicted of several accounts of sexual assault for a series of attacks on young women in Massachusetts during the Fall of 1983. However, having maintained his innocence for nearly two decades, Maher eventually caught the attention of the New England Innocence Project, who utilized newly discovered DNA evidence found in 2001 to bring about his exoneration several years later.

 

Dennis & Family
Dennis with wife Melissa, and children Josh & Aliza Photograph by Erik Jacobs

In the decade since his exoneration, Maher has proven to be one of the most inspirational individuals out there. Maher has not only accomplished his goals of finding a job, a wife, having kids, and buying a house within a decade of his release, but has regularly donated his own time and resources to aiding other exonerees in their transition back into society.

Meeting Maher one of my first days at the New England Innocence Project (NEIP) inspired a passion in me that has only grown since. In the short five months I have worked there, NEIP has become as much a part of me as anything else important in my life. NEIP is a non-profit organization that provides pro-bono legal assistance to individuals who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime in one of the six New England States. Since its founding in 2000, NEIP has exonerated a total of 51 wrongfully convicted individuals and counting. At NEIP we work with applicants every day to find the next individual who might’ve slipped through the cracks of the criminal justice system.

This summer at NEIP, I serve as the intake intern. I receive all non-administrative correspondence that enters the organization. On a daily basis, I receive and respond to letters from inmates, emails from their families, and phone calls from attorneys in order to advance applicants through the case review process into the eventual stages of litigation. In addition, I organize meetings for the staff to determine viable applicants, and work with the legal interns to gather all essential case documents. In effect, I serve as the voice of NEIP to guide inmates throughout the screening process, providing a liaison between the staff and the applicants.

Me at my desk! Photo by Emma Clouse.
Me at my desk smiling before 9am!
Photograph by Emma Clouse.

Throughout my summer at NEIP, I have several goals which I would like to achieve. Firstly, I hope to gain hands on experience in the legal profession. With NEIP, I have the opportunity to not only learn from law students, staff, and paralegals, but through communication with attorneys, clients, and law enforcement. This is a unique opportunity to be immersed in the legal world at an young age. Secondly, through NEIP I hope to learn more about the criminal justice system through my interaction with the case review process. By reading trial transcripts, post-conviction opinions, and appellate briefs, I hope to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the criminal courts throughout New England. Lastly, through NEIP, I hope to improve the lives of those who have witnessed their lives torn apart by the pain of wrongful convictions. In my correspondence with inmates and their families, I want to leave the impression that whatever they have gone through, they are not alone in this process. All in all, I am honored to work with NEIP, and I look forward to getting more involved.

– Daniel Jacobson ’16

One thought on “Righting the Wrongs of the Criminal Justice System: The New England Innocence Project”

  1. What a useful project! I’d be interested in talking to you in person and learning a few things about the nonprofit. Specifically, does it just use DNA evidence or does it use other things as well? Does it fight against the unscientific use of evidence in individual cases or is that too difficult to do (ie http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/06/forensic_science_is_biased_and_inaccurate_but_juries_believe_it_and_convict.html)? Is it allied in any capacity with Black Lives Matter?

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