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Show notes:

“I thought that the innocence cases, the exoneration cases, those stories, although those are not the only injustices in the system, those stories best illustrated what the system really was. They were not really outliers...they're a product of the system.”

Wrongful conviction happen, and dedicated organizations specialize in getting innocent defendants released from incarceration. One such nonprofit organization is the Innocence Project of Texas.

In this episode of the Keep Talking, Dan speaks with Mike Ware, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Texas. Having practiced criminal defense for over 20 years, Mike was infuriated by the injustice he often saw in the criminal justice system. In this episode, we learn about Mike’s career in the law, his work within Dallas's Conviction Integrity unit and his decision to join the Innocence Project of Texas. Sharing different examples, facts, and stories, Mike explains how wrongful convictions happen. He also details how the Innocence Project has used DNA testing measures to exonerate the innocent.

What can we, as a society, do to limit injustice and promote the truth?

About Mike Ware

Mike Ware is the Executive Director at the Innocence Project of Texas. He is an adjunct professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law and supervises the Texas A&M Innocence Project legal clinic, which is an Innocence Texas partner.

In 1984, Mike began private practice, specializing in criminal defense. His practice included representing police officers in criminal, civil and administrative matters as well as investigating and litigating whistleblower claims.

From July 2007 until July 2011, Mike was the Special Fields Bureau Chief for the Dallas County District Attorney's office, which included the Conviction Integrity Unit. In 2014, he received the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers' Association "Percy Foreman" Criminal Defense Lawyer of the Year award.

Time Stamps:

How Mike was introduced to the Innocence Project and what drew him towards it.
[05:27] Injustice and smugness around criminal justice.
[07:02] Why is anyone who is arrested in America viewed as someone who has done wrong?
[13:17] What is it that inhibits people of power from undoing a wrong at any point during an investigation or trial?
[16:29] What is an example of a confirmation bias case?
[22:18] Mike addresses the Duke lacrosse case.
[30:00] About the first post-conviction DNA exoneration ever done.
[48:50] What happens when a statute of limitation expires?
[49:54] How are DNA databases managed?
[54:24] Patrick Waller, man who spent over a decade in prison for a crime he did not commit.
[56:51] What happens when a wrongly convicted person is later on exonerated by the state?
[01:13:40] How many people have been exonerated since 1984?
[01:22:10] What prompted Mike into switching from the Conviction Integrity Unit to the Innocence Project?
[01:38:36] What is the downside risk for being completely wrong about the story anybody presents to the jurors?
[01:41:12] What keeps Mike motivated to do what he does with the Innocence Project?
[01:50:28] What is it that citizens can do to combat injustice?
[01:52:19] How does the Innocence Project get enough legal resources to meet the demand from inmates who are clamoring for help?
[01:55:56] Which cases involve DNA testing?
[01:59:44] How can we as a society get better at rendering justice more frequently?


“I thought that the innocence cases, the exoneration cases, those stories, although those are not the only injustices in the system, those stories best illustrated what the system really was. They were not really outliers, they're there, they're a product of the system.”

“The assistant district attorneys are the most powerful people in the criminal justice system. The police are pretty close behind. The judges are a distant third. And of course, criminal defense lawyers don't have any power.”

“Of course, from the defense side...we're always punching up. And we have an ethical duty to represent our clients' best interests and we also have an ethical duty to the court and to the bar to pursue honest defenses and not to suborn perjury.”

“The first post conviction DNA exoneration was 1988, I think out of Chicago, out of Lake County.”

It's not enough to prove you're actually innocent, you've got to prove your actual innocence by a Herculean burden of proof.”

The fact is, if you really get into the nitty gritty of a wrongful conviction, some people are gonna be hurt, and some people are gonna be pissed off. And it might be people that you have to work with. And so as a result, a lot of times, it just doesn't get done.”

“Any evidence they get is generally manufactured some way or another by the police...And, maybe it's done with good intent. Maybe it's done because the police swear they've always done it."

“All exculpatory, or mitigating or impeaching information or evidence that is in the hands of the police or the district attorney should be disclosed to the defense. And if they are aware of such evidence, and they fail to disclose it to the defense, then that's official misconduct.”

Relevant Links:

Resources mentioned

The Thin Blue Line

The Innocence Project

Exonerations by the Innocence Project

Jailhouse Informant Law

People mentioned

Henry Menasco Wade - Texas lawyer, former district attorney of Dallas County

Craig Marcus Watkins - American lawyer, former district attorney for Dallas County, Texas

Astrid Heppenstall Heger - Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine and founder and Executive Director of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP)

Samuel Raymond Gross - American lawyer and the Thomas and Mabel Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School

Connect with Mike