Brian Banks is a former NFL linebacker whose career was derailed by a wrongful conviction for rape. After he spent five years in prison, the woman who accused him admitted she had lied. Now, Banks is coming to Virginia to help the Innocence Project — an organization that helps inmates prove they are not criminals.
No one knows how many people are wrongly convicted each year in Virginia, but Matthew Engel gets many requests for help from people who insist they are innocent.
“It’s not unusual for us to get 20 to 25 new requests for help a week," Engel says.
Engel is Legal Director of the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia. One big problem in this state, he says, is the 21-day rule.
“Which says that three weeks after a trial court sentences somebody for a crime, the court loses jurisdiction to do anything about it, and that means that if 22 days after your trial you find that piece of evidence — whether it’s DNA, whether it’s an alibi, whether it’s a recantation — the court is powerless to do anything about that," Engel says.
Many things can go wrong for a defendant: faulty laboratory work, a bad defense lawyer, a coerced confession or a mistaken witness according to the Innocence Project’s Deirdre Enright.
“We now know that memory is not what we thought memory is, and we now know that people who are frightened are not focused at all," Enright says. "We've learned so much scientifically about memory and the mind, but the law hasn't changed at all.”
Former NFL linebacker Brian Banks, himself a victim of wrongful conviction, will speak Wednesday at UVA’s law school to raise money for an expanded Innocence Project.