About the Innocence Project of Florida
The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) is an IRS-certified 501(c)(3), non-profit organization founded in January 2003 to help innocent prisoners in Florida obtain their freedom and rebuild their lives. Our mission is to:
- Screen and investigate cases in which meritorious innocence claims are identified;
- Secure DNA testing when biological evidence exists;
- Advocate for the release and/or exoneration of individuals whose cases present meritorious innocence claims based on evidence of actual innocence;
- Provide transitional and aftercare services to exonerees; and
- Advocate for necessary criminal justice reform to avoid wrongful incarcerations in the future.
IPF was founded in response to a filing deadline for post-conviction DNA motions. Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte served as the board of directors’ founding chair. Beginning with two advocates (Jennifer Greenberg and Sheila Meehan) IPF’s first office was in a hallway in the Florida State University College of Law.
For its first three years, IPF staff members worked with interns, volunteers and pro bono attorneys throughout Florida. The second half of 2006 began a time of growth and development when:
- Systems for review and acceptance of new cases were defined;
- Two full-time staff attorneys were hired to begin tackling thousands of backlogged cases, as well as improve the litigation process; and
- A social worker was employed to help IPF clients with their transition back into society.
IPF continued to expand its staff to include an intake coordinator to facilitate the screening of requests for assistance and procurement of vital case materials, and a development coordinator to spearhead IPF’s critical fundraising, educational, and outreach efforts. Today, the IPF staff consists of seven individuals and routinely hosts six to eight student interns each semester. IPF was the first innocence organization in the nation to have a full-time social worker on staff.
IPF is a member of the Innocence Network, an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted and working to redress the causes of wrongful conviction. Several members of the IPF staff have been invited speakers at the annual Innocence Network conferences, and IPF’s executive director also serves on the Innocence Network Advisory Board.
IPF provides representation to individuals in their effort to prove their innocence and does so at no cost to the innocent inmate. Annually IPF processes nearly 1,000 requests for assistance from inmates and their families, and the project is currently litigating more than three dozen cases with hundreds more in various stages of review and investigation.
IPF has secured the release and exoneration of a number of innocent individuals from Florida’s prisons, including achieving the exoneration of James Bain, whose 35 years of wrongful incarceration is longer than that of any DNA exoneree in the United States. In total, Florida has freed 13 men after DNA testing proved their innocence. Collectively, they spent 259 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. They also spent, on average, more than two decades locked away from their families and loved ones.
Each year IPF works with the Florida Legislature and other policy-making entities to reform the criminal justice system. Several key milestones include:
- In 2006 the Legislature voted to remove the deadline for filing petitions for DNA testing and the Governor signed the bill into law
- In 2007 the Legislature passed a global compensation bill that pays $50,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration. Unfortunately, the bill also includes a so-called “clean hands” provision that excludes from payment anyone with a prior felony conviction or a felony conviction received while wrongfully incarcerated. No other state with a compensation law has such a provision, and IPF will continue working to have it removed during upcoming legislative session.
- In 2010 Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte wrote a petition to the Florida Supreme Court requesting the formation of the Florida Innocence Commission. IPF supported the formation and the legislative funding of the Commission, whose mission was to identify the causes of wrongful conviction and make recommendations to alleviate future wrongful convictions. IPF has worked with the Commission at every opportunity.
- In 2011, on the recommendation of the Innocence Commission, IPF supported, albeit unsuccessfully, the passage of uniform statewide reforms to how law enforcement perform eyewitness identification procedures.
- In 2012, with support and advocacy from IPF, the Supreme Court of Florida adopted a new standard jury instruction applying the eyewitness evidence in criminal cases.