The Center reviews and investigates credible claims of innocence. To qualify for review by the Center, an inmate must have been convicted of a felony that was committed in North Carolina. In addition:
The inmate must claim actual innocence – that is, that he or she did not commit or have any involvement in the felony. We do not accept claims based on legal or procedural error, nor do we accept cases in which an inmate is guilty of a lesser crime related to the case.
There must be at least 36 months remaining on the sentence.
The direct appeal must have been decided. This usually takes 1-2 years after conviction. (People who sign plea agreements are exempt from this because they do not file a direct appeal.)
In most, but not all, cases, the inmate must be without current legal representation.
II. Submitting Cases to the Center
We receive over 500 inquiries a year from inmates across the country. We try to answer all of them. If you know of an inmate who is claiming innocence, but you are not certain as to whether the case meets the criteria stated above, the inmate may write us a letter or you may print out the Intermediate questionnaire (in PDF; see below about downloading needed software) and send it to the inmate. He or she should fill it out completely and mail it to:
North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence
PO Box 52446 Shannon Plaza Station
Durham, North Carolina 27717-2446
If you think an innocence claim meets the criteria listed above, please click on the following links for the appropriate questionnaires. Ask the inmate to fill the questionnaires out completely and mail them to the address above. (Questionnaires must be completed by the inmate. If there is a compelling reason why that is not possible, please let us know what it is.)
All inmates making an innocence claim must fill out the Case, Police, and Physical/ Biological Evidence questionnaires. In addition, all inmates must fill out the Consent for Release of Information form.
Note: The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence (including all its affiliated innocence projects and individuals) reviews cases for the sole purpose of investigating claims of actual innocence. The Center does not act as legal counsel to any person whose case is being investigated, until and unless the Center, through its legal counsel or her designees, specifically agrees in writing to take on such representation.
III. Review & Investigation of Cases
Once the information presented in a set of questionnaires meets the screening criteria, the case is assigned to student volunteers at one of the four Innocence Projects. The volunteers analyze the information provided and the supplemental documents we have requested from the inmate. They write a memo summarizing the case and making a recommendation as to whether to pursue it. The case is then one of many discussed with faculty advisors at a case review meeting. Many points are considered at these meetings, but two questions underlie all discussions: Does it appear that the inmate is innocent? – and – Are there avenues we can pursue to prove his or her innocence? At least ninety percent of the cases we look at fail to answer “Yes” to both of these questions.
If both answers are affirmative for a particular case, a team of student
volunteers joins with a faculty advisor to begin an exhaustive investigation
of the innocence claim. We counsel patience to inmates and their families
during the investigative phase; the process of gathering additional documentation,
identifying, locating and interviewing witnesses, and completing many
other tasks can easily take several years.