After Innocence
Just a fraction of the joy one would feel if they had been wrongly imprisoned.

Theatrical Release Date: 10/21/2005
Director: Jessica Sanders

As with any institutional system, there will always be mistakes – whether it’s human error or a fundamental flaw in the process.

The U.S. justice system is no exception and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in prison who were wrongfully convicted.

“After Innocence” takes a look at a number of exonerees and their lives since their release.

The focus of the film is on people who were freed by the Innocence Project, a group dedicated to using DNA technology to clear wrongfully imprisoned people.

As many of us have come to know, especially with the advent of more advanced forensic technology, eye witness testimony is one of the most unreliable tools in use by the justice system.

Just try to get six people in a 7-11 to identify the man who robbed the place at gunpoint. He was tall, he was short, he was Latino, he was Asian, he wore blue, he wore black. The list goes on and on, our memories don’t always match up with what was actually there.

As such, many people were sent to prison based on such testimony – not having access to prove scientifically they were never at the scene.

What “After Innocence” does well is show the struggle the exonerated have in re-acclimating to society. In many states, there are no compensation benefits and often their criminal records remain.

Imagine being in prison for twenty years for a rape you never committed, then being found innocent and released, only to have to check “yes” on an employment form when asked if you were ever convicted of a felony.

Since your conviction is still on the books, you have to bring along your exoneration papers and hope that the person judging your fitness for the job/apartment/loan will look past the conviction and see the truth of your innocence.

Almost even more heinous is that once you are exonerated, it’s not necessarily true that the DNA evidence will then be put into the national database to find the real criminal.

It should be common logic that if one person is cleared of the crime, that means the other person is still out there. The victim, their family and society still deserve justice. Why not add the perpetrator’s DNA into the database to see if they get a match and/or for future use in other criminal proceedings?

That’s one of the most asinine bureaucratic injustices I’ve ever heard of.

While seeing these people’s stories, and their efforts to help others now that they’ve been freed, is amazing and eye opening, I do have one major complaint.

At no point in time do we ever see the other side of the Innocence Project. I think their work is honorable and necessary but you would have to think that at least a few times, they undertake a case where the convicted individual actually did do the crime.

Either the DNA reinforces the fact or throws a red herring large enough to cast reasonable doubt although the person might have done it or been an accomplice to the crime.

While I want to see innocent people freed from prison and given the chance to try and lead a normal life after what they’ve gone through, I would also want to make sure some scumbag doesn’t get out on a technicality.

Still, this film will pull at your heartstrings and make your blood pressure rise when you hear the stories and about how some prosecutors are more interested in covering their ass than doing the right thing.

I’m giving “After Innocence” a 4 out of 5 and recommend this to every American citizen – not only as a good documentary but to provide a viewpoint that should be factored into your mindset if and when you’re ever put on a jury to decide someone’s fate.