Northern California Innocence Project

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Northern California Innocence Project
Formation2001 ; 16 Years Ago
FounderKathleen "Cookie" Ridolfi; Linda Starr
Founded atSanta Clara School of Law at Santa Clara University
TypeNon-Profit Organization
PurposeExoneration Justice Reform
Headquarters500 El Camino Real Santa Clara, CA 95053
United States of America
AffiliationsThe Innocence Network

The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) is a legal based organization at the Santa Clara University School of Law in Santa Clara, California. The organization revisits previous convictions of individuals who are believed to be innocent of their crimes. Justice has already been attained for 19 individuals who have collectively spent 235 years in jail. They are a non-profit clinical program of Santa Clara University School of Law, which looks to promote a more fair, effective and compassionate criminal justice system. The NCIP attempts to protect the rights of all parties involved so that they too may have an adequate trial. NCIP is a member of the national Innocence Project network of similar organizations. The NCIP was created in 2001 by Kathleen "Cookie" Ridolfi and Linda Starr, during this time new legislation in California (CA Penal Code Section 1405) had permitted convicted inmates to seek DNA testing to prove their innocence.



The Northern California Innocence Project was established after a landmark amendment that was adopted by the California District Court. CA Penal Code Section 1405 provides currently incarcerated convicted person should seek DNA testing to reveal exculpatory evidence. Kathleen "Cookie" Ridolfi and Linda Starr worked as trial and appellate attorneys for the criminal justice system. After numerous years of practice, they realized they had an opportunity to improve the errors within the system and free wrongly convicted individuals. In 2001, they co-founded the NCIP. The project was founded through the assistance of volunteers and members of another legal clinic associated through the Santa Clara university School of Law. The current executive director of the Northern Innocence Project is Linda Starr.

The project receives most of their funding from a wide variety of sources. They get 65% of their funding from donated goods and services, 10% from individual contributions, 9% from government grants, 7% from the Santa Clara University School of Law, 8% from private foundations, and 1% from endowment interests.[1] This organization also receives more than $3,000,000 in pro-bono services from members in the field. [1]


The Northern California Innocence Project looks to primarily protect the rights of the innocent as well as make a more fair, effective and compassionate justice system. They primarily look to exonerate people whose case allows DNA evidence to be available and be retested in the light of an exoneration. The NCIP promotes for more research and advocacy in wrongful convictions. The NCIP foresees a criminal justice system that correctly divides the innocent from the guilty along with treating all with their inalienable rights and compassion.



The NCIP provides a 4 step process on the exoneration process for their services.

Stage 1 Screening the Request

The first step after the innate sends in a request is a filtering stage by the intake attorney. The intake attorney will do one of the following.

  • They would send the inmate a questionnaire that requests more information or documents.
  • The intake attorney would refer the inmate to other organizations.
  • They would reject the request

60% of requests that come to the NCIP end up getting rejected

Stage 2 Preliminary Investigation

Next the staff will complete a very in-depth investigation suing the information gathered from the first stage. The staff will locate information gathered by previous lawyers and law enforcement who started this case. Also, prior lawyers, investigators, law enforcement personnel, laboratories, and witnesses will be contacted in this preliminary investigation. In this stage, the staff will also try to figure out the legal reason on what the inmate lost their initial case. After an extensive period of information gathering the intake attorney takes the case to the NCIP's Director to do one of the following things: [2]

  • Place the case in the NCIP queue to await for attorney assignment for full investigation
  • Ask the staff to gather more information
  • Reject and close the case

Stage 3 Full Investigation

The attorney that gets assigned the case will begin organizing and structuring their argument. They will work with the law students in the legal clinic to develop and enact a strategy for their investigation. At any point in this stage, the director can close the case. [2] If the case is allowed to proceed, then the investigative team will start their investigation using forensic sciences.

Stage 4 Negotiation and Litigation

When investigations are complete and the team is able find enough evidence to argue for innocence. The legal team tries to assist the inmate through litigation, negotiation, and collaboration. If this negotiation and collaboration does not work, then the team will move on to litigation[2] . The legal team working on the case will begin with a petition for writ of habeas corpus. This asks the court to overturn the initial decision. These petitions are often based on the claims of new evidence; such as DNA test results, new witnesses, confessions from the true perpetrators, and etc.


NCIP Law Clinic

This is part of the Santa Clara Law Clinic program that provides law students a platform to work towards investigating and helping litigants with possible wrongful convictions.This program also allows law students to work on promoting reforms on resolving issues within the US criminal justice system[3]. Students are afforded hands on experience through interviewing prisoners, witnesses, crime lab personnel, law enforcement, defense attorneys, and prosecutors. Students will also be able to draft legal documents, attend and participate at court proceedings.

Training and Symposia

The NCIP seeks to improve the current criminal justice system through training and symposia. The goal is to reduce the amount of wrongful convictions. The NCIP trains members of the criminal justice field on evidence based practices that reduce wrongful convictions [4].

Speaking Engagements

NCIP tries to educate anyone and everyone along with the criminal justice community. The NCIP establishes a network of exonerees and staff members to go to community centers to speak about the criminal justice system and the NCIP[5] .


The NCIP works on legislative reform that works towards ending the causes of wrongful convictions.

Past Legislative Success

Senate Bill (SB) 336 made it so that more wrongfully convicted individuals are able to receive transitional aid after their release from prison. Assembly Bill (AB) 454 placed an exemption on wrongfully convicted people from paying the state income tax based on their compensation from the state. SB 1134 creates a more concrete standard of using new evidence to prove actual innocence [6]. SB 1389 was signed in September 30, 2016 and it requires that all interrogations of murder suspects to be recorded electronically[6]. SB 635 increases the compensation for the exonerated to $140 per a day for those who were wrongly incarcerated. AB 672 requires the California Department of Corrections to help freed individuals obtain identification cards and other transitional services after their emancipation from prison[6]. SB 980 makes it so physical and biological evidence is more accessible to an inmate. SB 1058 makes it so a false testimony innocence claim includes outdated expert testimony.

Freed Clients[edit]

Jimmie Dick was wrongly imprisoned for 30 years, Frankie Carillo Jr. was wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years, John Stoll was wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years, Peter Rose was wrongfully imprisoned for approximately 10 years, Johnny Williams was wrongfully imprisoned for 14 years, Albert Johnson was wrongfully imprisoned for 14 years[7]

Glenn Payne was charged with kidnapping and sexual assault in the December of 1990. On the clothes of the child, authorities found that there was a strand a hair. The expert laboratory analyst said under oath that there were very slim chances that the hair came from anyone beside Payne based on testing from microscopic hair comparison. There was no other physical evidence that could connect Payne and the victim. Payne was convicted and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Payne was released on parole in 2005, which ended in 2008. In 2013, The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a report stating that microscopic hair comparison could not determine if two strands of hair were a match. With the new information, Payne did not have any means to have his conviction turned over legally. This was because remediation was only restricted to those incarcerated or on parole. However, in January 2017 a new law permitted to seek relief even after they were released from prison or parole. The original conviction was overturned in January 25, 2018[8] Payne served for 15 years.

Francisco "Franky" Carrillo, Jr was sentenced to life in prison in 1992. Carrillo was charged with murder in a drive by shooting a teenager in Lynwood, California. The conviction rested with the eyewitness testimony of 6 people. The conviction was overturned in 2011. The witnesses confessed that they did not have a clear view of the crime, but were coerced by Los Angeles Police Officers to say so. The true perpetrators eventually confessed to their crime. Carrillo sued the Sheriff's Department for violation of civil rights. The Los Angeles County paid $10 million to settle the lawsuit[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "FAQ - Northern California Innocence Project". Northern California Innocence Project. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  2. ^ a b c "Exonerate - Northern California Innocence Project". Northern California Innocence Project. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  3. ^ "Educate - Northern California Innocence Project". Northern California Innocence Project. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  4. ^ "Training & Symposia - Northern California Innocence Project". Northern California Innocence Project. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  5. ^ "Get Involved - Northern California Innocence Project". Northern California Innocence Project. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  6. ^ a b c "Current Legislative Agenda". Northern California Innocence Project. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  7. ^ "Northern California Innocence Project". Mighty Cause. 2015. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  8. ^ Possley, Maurice (February 21, 2018). "Glenn Payne". The National Registry of Exonerations. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  9. ^ Sewell, Abby (July 19, 2016). "L.A. County to pay $10 million to man whose murder conviction was overturned". LA Times. Retrieved December 4, 2018.

External links[edit]