The Innocence Project, an American legal aid organization founded in the late 1980s, has so far managed to overturn criminal convictions and lengthy jail sentences for more than 450 defendants, about 300 of them through the use of DNA evidence. In some cases, the group has even managed to free death row inmates who had been mistakenly convicted.
In Israel, by contrast, only 21 requests by convicts for a retrial have been granted since the establishment of the state in 1948, and half of those resulted in a confirmation of the defendant's guilt.
The Public Defender's Office is the primary agency involved in seeking retrials in Israel, having made nine such requests since 2003. So far, only two of these requests have been granted, and in both instances, the accused were again found guilty. Two other requests are pending before the Supreme Court; the others were rejected.
The lawyer in charge of retrial requests for the Public Defender's Office, Efrat Fink, said there are many obstacles that prevent an Israeli version of Project Innocence from being established here, including restrictions that the prosecution places on access to trial evidence after a trial has concluded.
Moreover, though Israeli law requires all evidence, including crime scene findings, to be retained after a trial, Fink said it is generally destroyed. The loss of crime scene evidence makes it impossible to run DNA tests using advanced technology that was not previously available, and thereby to shed new light on cases in which defendants have been convicted, she said.
In addition, she noted, the Supreme Court has generally been reluctant to grant requests for retrials.
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