The American criminal justice system contains many features designed to guard against convicting an innocent person. But we are humans and, due to honest mistake and otherwise, there are innocent people in prison. We'll never have a perfect system, but the Colorado Innocence Project (CIP) is dedicated to doing what it can to fix as many mistakes as possible.
The CIP receives requests for help from people who believe they have been convicted despite being innocent of any offense, and evaluates these claims to see if there are factual and legal grounds to get back into court with the claims. When the CIP learns of a case that appears deserving of further investigation, the case is referred for further evaluation to volunteer lawyers, who may be assisted by Colorado Law students.
The lawyers and law students may review transcripts, read investigative reports, speak with previous counsel, research the state of the law at the time of the conviction, search for previously undiscovered errors, determine whether new forensic techniques might help, and make a recommendation as to whether the case should be pursued. When a case appears deserving of being re-litigated, the CIP recruits private lawyers and law firms, as well as investigators and experts, to represent the individual. Read about some CIP cases or apply for assistance.
The CIP is not a substitute for the traditional methods of appealing a conviction. Therefore, the CIP will not take cases in which the defendant already has a lawyer, or is entitled to a lawyer at state expense. The CIP will not take a case unless there is a genuine and provable claim of innocence. The CIP gets involved only when the traditional methods of appealing a conviction have failed. Please refer to the CIP evaluation criteria.
Colorado is one of many states that are trying to address the problem of wrongful convictions. If you have a case from another state, you may find help by going to the national Innocence Project, which has a list of projects in a variety of states.
The CIP was founded in 2001 by a number of Colorado lawyers led by Jim Scarboro '70, a partner in the Denver office of the law firm of Arnold & Porter. The CIP was formed under the umbrella of the Colorado Lawyers Committee, a non-profit, non-partisan consortium of law firms that engages in pro bono work. In 2010, the CIP moved to its current home at Colorado Law.
These cases are difficult. There are huge structural, legal, and practical problems standing in the way. But, an effort to free a wrongfully convicted person is as noble an effort lawyers ever undertake, and the lawyers, law students, and others involved with the CIP are working hard in that effort.