February 8, 2021: The Innocence Project by Zaarin Mizan

Habeas corpus: legal action that requires someone who has been arrested to be brought to trial before a judge or into court; the person is granted the ability to challenge the legal sufficiency and reevaluate errors of their charge after all other direct appeals have been exhausted 

One of the most frequently asked questions we get here at the Institute of the Arts and Sciences is if we have connected Tim Young, our Solitary Gardener who is fighting to prove his innocence from his cell on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison, to the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a nonprofit legal organization that works on exonerating wrongly charged and incarcerated people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system. 

The Innocence Project uses post-conviction DNA as a means of providing irrefutable evidence in courts that function through systemic faults. Their Litigation Department works with courts, judges, attorneys, and policymakers to raise awareness about  potential inaccuracy of eyewitness accounts, misapplied forensics, and uninformed testimony as evidence. This is done with the post-conviction DNA in order to overturn the influence of misinformed “bite mark evidence” that fails in telling the entire and accurate story, but has largely been held up in court as valid evidence. Their policy work also attends to promoting laws that ensure post-conviction DNA retention and testing as well as laws that would compensate innocent people for the harms experienced by wrongful incarceration. 

While the Innocence Project does incredible work exonerating people, the reason they have not taken Tim’s case is because the California Innocence Project can handle cases only from Southern California.1 Convictions in Northern California, like Tim’s, are referred to the Habeas Corpus Resource Center (HCRC) in San Francisco. Attorney Andras Farkas of the HCRC explains, this organization takes on cases from writs of Habeas Corpus assigned to them by the state, and are then put through a “correction process” of extensive verification, which can take anywhere from 11 to more than 20 years, and eventually handed to the Supreme Court to certify the record. The record and briefing can then be filed and reviewed under the appropriate court, and whether errors have been made on the lower courts level. 

A persisting issue between both the Innocence Project and the Habeas Corpus Resource Center is that they are so backlogged with cases - going as far back as the late ‘80s and ‘90s - which explains why the HCRC has not taken up Tim’s case. 

Tim’s records were finally sent to the Supreme Court on December 1, after 14 years in review.

 

1. The limited counties the Innocence Project takes cases from in California are in Southern California: Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. https://californiainnocenceproject.org/submit-a-case/submit-a-case/

 

Further Readings: 

innocenceproject.org
About HCRC
California Courts Glossary
How to Write a Letter to the Govenor or California
Description of Bite Mark Exonerations and Statistical Analysis