No one will ever know how many innocent people are imprisoned at any one time. Some wrongfully convicted inmates, without funds for legal counsel or investigators and without knowledge of the work of Innocence Projects®, will never have their claims explored. Others will be unable to prove their claim of innocence because evidence has been destroyed or witnesses cannot be located or have died. Others will be released due to issues raised on appeal that have nothing to do with the inmate’s claim of innocence. Some will die in prison.
Although we will never know the true number of wrongful convictions that exist, the growing number of exonerations are providing law enforcement and legal communities across the country with clear information about the causes of wrongful convictions, as well as their remedies. In November 2002, Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, of the North Carolina Supreme Court, took the groundbreaking step of establishing the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission to study causation issues in wrongful convictions and recommend potential strategies to substantially lessen their incidence. Chief Justice Lake understood the importance of bringing representatives from the different criminal justice perspectives together for cooperative and productive discussion of the issues. The North Carolina Commission was the first of its kind in the United States and has become a model across the country.