KeepTalkingPodcast.com

Episode 14, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube

“And so DNA all at once could wash away the doctrine of finality as an impediment to reopening a case. And DNA had the power to right a wrongful conviction, which was much more persuasive than a recanting witness.”

Peter Neufeld is a civil rights lawyer and the co-founder of the Innocence Project. During over conversation, Peter talks about how and why he and Barry Scheck created The Innocence Project, the importance of DNA testing in exonerating wrongly convicted citizens, common scientific and procedural errors that have been used to convict defendants, and how our culture might create a more fair and impartial criminal justice system.

About Peter Neufeld (quotes from Wikipedia):

"Peter J. Neufeld is an American civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Innocence Project. He is also a founding partner in the civil rights law firm Neufeld Scheck & Brustin. Starting from his earliest years as an attorney representing clients at New York's Legal Aid Society, and teaching trial advocacy at Fordham School of Law from 1988–1991, he has focused on civil rights and the intersection of science and criminal justice."

Time Stamps:

(00:00) Intro
(02:52) Peter shares what got him to found the Innocence Project
(06:07) What were the issues in society back when Peter started the Innocence Project?
(09:31) Peter shares what got him interested in law
(12:15) The story behind starting the Innocence Project
(18:41) Peter talks about his relationship with the Innocence Project co-founder, Barry Scheck
(20:57) Why and how scientists use DNA typing
(26:41) Peter’s thoughts on the systems that needed to be changed prior to founding the Innocence Project
(30:55) How DNA testing was used to exonerate innocent people or to potentially introduce incontrovertible evidence that proved a person’s innocence
(39:21) Peter talks about the emotional satisfaction he receives through his work. He also lists the first few cases that the Innocence Project took up.
(46:43) How the Innocence Project accepted cases at its beginning, and how that evolved over the years
(51:46) How the Innocence Project has helped society at large
(55:01) What are the hurdles to achieving a more just criminal justice system?
(01:04:54) How Peter feels about the existing judicial system, and hope for improvement
(01:08:24) What are the ways normal people could try to help the Innocence Project?
(01:14:35) What percentage of the population of convicted criminals, according to Peter, have likely been wrongly convicted?
(01:27:48) What's the right attitude to have as a citizen and juror?
(01:33:17) Some changes Peter wishes to see in America's criminal justice system

Quotes:

“I think it's from that kind of basic understanding and education, that when you investigate the great religions, you really talk about what they have in common, not what the differences are.”

“I had to figure out a way that I could do some good and maybe stay out of trouble. And I think I thought the law was one way that you could not necessarily accomplish big wins, but many smaller victories. And so I think that's what led me to law school.”

“What was really special about the law for me personally, is that there were many academic subjects that I didn't pursue previously in college, or in or in law school. But although I was not terribly interested in them in the abstract, when you have a client whose life or liberty is at stake, you better know what the hell you're doing. And so even though I had no background in science, or mental illness, for that matter, those were two subjects that were very important to our clients.”

“And so DNA all at once could wash away the doctrine of finality as an impediment to reopening a case. And DNA had the power to right a wrongful conviction, which was much more persuasive than a recanting witness.”

“And every time I'm there for an exoneration to bring that [convicted] person back to his loved ones, to experience that first meal...with somebody, you can't buy that kind of satisfaction. So I don't believe I've sacrificed at all. I think I've scored big time, in terms of any kind of satisfaction quotient.”

“The reason we limited ourselves to DNA initially, is we knew that it was very important if we not only wanted to exonerate people, but we wanted to use these cases as leverage to reform criminal legal systems, with new laws and new procedures, that we had to have cases and exonerations that were bulletproof."

“So, conviction integrity units can do some good, just like exonerating people who wrongly convicted can do some good...(s)o they function in a very different way to enhance the quality of life in our society, rather than destroying so many lives for nothing - which is what the reality has been. So that's what has to change."

“It's one thing to say, 'I'm very worried about climate change, and they should shut down the coal mines.' But I personally am going to take 30 intercontinental flights in the next year. So your change really begins at home. So, people, it's not enough to just sort of intellectually understand some of these problems. It's to accept the fact that you have to do something on a personal level, to be part of that change.”

“You create a great nation by being generous of spirit; you create a great nation by having national empathy. Restorative justice is a way to bring closure to the victims of a terrible crime, and help the perpetrator to be a better member of society in the future.”

Relevant Links:

Resources mentioned:

Books Mentioned:

People mentioned (quotes from Wikipedia and relevant websites):

  • Mike Ware - “Ware is an adjunct professor at the Texas A&M School of Law and is the Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Texas.”

Listen to Mike Ware's Keep Talking episode

  • Anthony Graves - “(T)he 138th exonerated death row inmate in America.”

Listen to Anthony Graves's Keep Talking episode

  • Barry Scheck - “A(n) American lawyer and co-founder of the Innocence Project”
  • Abner Louima - "A young Haitian man tortured by police officers at a precinct in Brooklyn."

Connect with Peter:

Website