Note: we are no longer sitting together in the same room. However, we will attempt to continue answering your questions by emailing them to the exonerees. Thanks for the great ones so far!

We free the wrongfully convicted. Support our work!

Brian Banks spent 6 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He later played for the Falcons, then got hired by the NFL to work in the front office.

Michael Hanline spent 36 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He recently made the front page of reddit with his video eating a burger after his release.

Uriah Courtney spent 8 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. DNA testing pointed to another individual, not Uriah, and he was released.

We're here with Justin Brooks /u/CAInnocenceDirector and Mike Semanchik /u/CAInnocenceLawyer to help answer all your questions. Ask us ANYTHING!


Comments: 183 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

aardy14 karma

I volunteered at San Quentin for a bit, the "Teach in Prison" program. Formerly "Bears Behind Bars."

It was crazy how under-supported the education program was. The ESL teacher didn't even speak Spanish. At the same time it was very inspiring to see how dead seriously these folks took whatever opportunities were afforded them.

But then we were also told that folks actually try to get into San Quentin from other California prisons because at least there is something. I was and am a bit skeptical.

Is there actually some sort of hierarchy of California prisons? How much control, if any, do you have over where you do your time?

I also always felt relatively safe when walking through the yard unescorted. Never saw any violence. Is everyone on their "best behavior" when volunteers are walking through "or else," or is it typically as mellow as what I could see on the surface?

CAInnocenceDirector16 karma

Mike Hanline--You have no control over where you are housed. For me, Pleasant Valley was the best because it was only 1 hour from my wife's house. I was only there for 6 months, so for more than 35 years I was hours away from my support.

CAInnocenceDirector16 karma

Mike Hanline--Actually sometimes guys use the fact that volunteers are on the yard to start something because the guards will be distracted trying to protect the volunteers.

CAInnocenceDirector10 karma

I started my career teaching in the DC prison. Meeting innocent men and women made me want to use my law degree to get them out!

kent_eh12 karma

How often do you have to re-explain why capitol punishment is a really bad thing?

And do you get tired of pointing out the bloody obvious all the time.

CAInnocenceDirector37 karma

Uriah Courtney--more than 300 innocent men and women have been taken off death row. That's reason enough to be against the death penalty. Unfortunately, it's not obvious to everyone.

aardy11 karma

It recently came out that the FBI forensics division actively manipulates data and gives misleading testimony to help secure convictions and keep the pipeline of future incarcerated persons flowing.

It appears that the FBI itself is somehow now responsible for correcting the FBI's own malicious activity. This seems like a less-than-credible approach.

Are you guys (either the California Innocence Project, or your national/federal counterparts) going to get your hands on that evidence for your own independent review?

Just how big of a "watershed moment" do you feel this is?

(Link: )

CAInnocenceDirector11 karma

It is very big. The FBI has admitted that there are huge problems with their forensic work (lead bullet analysis, hair analyisis, etc). But, to their credit they are trying to help right the wrongs of the past.

davec799 karma

Besides financially, how else can a member of the public support either what you do, or help keep innocent people out of prison in the first place?

CAInnocenceLawyer18 karma

Any/all of the following would be great: (1) learn about the issues that commonly arise with wrongful convictions and teach everyone you know so juries are more informed; (2) reach out to your local representative and ask them if there is a compensation statute for exonerees - if not, press them to pass one; (3) contact Governor Brown and ask him to grant clemency for the California 12;(4) if you're an attorney, you can volunteer to screen cases from anywhere in the United States since we handle it remotely; and (5) if you're an expert, offer your services pro-bono!

Damn_it_Gigi5 karma

I can volunteer to screen cases? I was just going to send some gold bullion to the CIP office, but that sounds like more fun!

CAInnocenceLawyer11 karma

Submit your CV to our website by going here

CAInnocenceDirector24 karma

Go ahead and send the gold bullion as well.

RexGiantsFan258 karma

Michael, have you had a flavorgasm at In-N-Out yet or did Kate Upton's siren song at Carl's Jr. lure you in?

CAInnocenceDirector13 karma

Brian Banks--I'm not eating any fast food right now---trying to stay fit.

irondeepbicycle8 karma

What types of crimes do you investigate to find innocence? Would you ever help a client who claimed to be wrongfully convicted of something like fraud, or embezzlement?

CAInnocenceDirector11 karma

Yes. We look at every type of case. But, some types of crimes are easier to find evidence of innocence than others. For example in rape and murder cases DNA can prove innocence with the right facts.

Damn_it_Gigi5 karma

During trial, did any of the wrongfully convicted notice a particular moment during trial, or total fuckup by your attorney, that made you realize things were about to go really bad?

CAInnocenceDirector12 karma

Mike Hanline--When I realized a corrupt attorney was manipulating the entire case and orchestrating my conviction.

CAInnocenceDirector11 karma

Uriah Courtney---right from the beginning my attorney did not get along with the judge.

CAInnocenceDirector10 karma

Brian Banks--when my lawyer didn't present the DNA evidence that showed I was innocent.

Damn_it_Gigi5 karma

What types of laws would you enact to ensure fewer wrongful convictions?

CAInnocenceDirector15 karma

Uriah Courtney--Better identification procedures. That's what got me convicted. Fortunately DNA trumped the bad id

Damn_it_Gigi0 karma

Throwin you a softball here lol!

CAInnocenceDirector7 karma

You can make them tough GiGI!

MathTheUsername4 karma

For someone wrongly put in prison for a ridiculous amount of time, like Michael, what happens when a judge or whoever is finally made aware it was a wrongful conviction? Do they just say, "oops my bad," and send him on his way? Is there any compensation or anything like that?

CAInnocenceDirector9 karma

In CA you are entitled to $100 a day for every day you are wrongfully incarcerated. But it is hard to get and most cases the Attorney General will fight against compensation.

RexGiantsFan254 karma

Justin, would you consider sleeping with a juror an effective method of getting acquitted or should I try and sleep with the judge?

CAInnocenceDirector11 karma

Neither is a good idea

LesaSmith3 karma

Beep, what does the future hold for you? What's on your bucket list?

CAInnocenceDirector10 karma

Mike Hanline--To get together with my kids, build a fast motorcycle, take are of my wife, and live free.

LearnedHandy3 karma

Out of the 2,000 requests a year, how many get a further review, on average?

CAInnocenceDirector9 karma

We investigate all 2000 cases but probably only 50 or so have the possibility of sufficient evidence to get the client out of prison. Many more are innocent, but the evidence is gone or never existed.

Damn_it_Gigi3 karma

Are the laws/labs/protocols improving with regards to maintaining, collecting and preserving DNA evidence. I know here in Houston, they only recently caught up testing a backlog of 6,600 rape kits that dated back 10 years. After 4.4 Million dollars to get all this done, they matched 800 cases with suspects in the FBI database. Are these types of backlogs happening anywhere else?

CAInnocenceDirector7 karma

Things are improving, but there are still huge problems. We are often told that evidence is not lost, but is missing. The DNA collection laws are also vert broad which means collecting lots of samples, but there are not the resources to do it.

Sweaty_Ball_Zack3 karma

Hey innocence project! It's awesome to see the type of work you guys do, it's great that there's an organization like this that fights for the rights of the most downtrodden people. My question is how to decide to take the cases you do?

CAInnocenceDirector8 karma

We receive up to 2000 requests a year for help. The cases of these 3 guys (Brian, MiKe, and Uriah) were picked because they had compelling evidence of innocence.

SwaggyP9343 karma

Do you have any plans to expand into other locations, i.e. other countries?

CAInnocenceDirector3 karma

We have projects around the world...Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Latin America.

Frajer2 karma

Is there a general or specific reason why people usually wind up serving time for crimes they did not commit?

CAInnocenceLawyer10 karma

"Justice system is broke." - Mike Hanline

CAInnocenceDirector14 karma

Bad identifications, false confessions, lying jail house snitches, bad defense lawyers, corrupt police, bad prosecutors...lots of reasons. Every case is different.

Damn_it_Gigi1 karma

Have y'all come across any cases where it was the lab that did something wrong, or there was cross contamination? I don't ever think I've seen any of those.

CAInnocenceLawyer7 karma

There are a number of labs that have been in the news recently. The Massachusetts State Crime Lab had an analyst that was doing all sorts of improper things. There was also a scandal arising out of a West Virginia government lab. Most recently, we've been reading about a scandal arising out of a lab in San Francisco. At the end of the day, as long as humans are involved, there is always room for error.

CAInnocenceDirector8 karma

Here's a good example of cross-contamination that lead to a wrongful conviction.