Innocence Project Founders Neufeld and Scheck to Receive Jefferson Medal in Law

March 19, 2009

Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld, founders of the Innocence Project, will be awarded the 2009 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law during the University's Founder's Day festivities in April.

Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld

"Nothing the legal system does is more important than adjudicating criminal guilt and innocence," said Dean Paul G. Mahoney. "Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld have worked tirelessly to identify and remedy mistaken convictions and by so doing have served the interests not merely of their clients, but of justice."

Created in 1992 as a nonprofit legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the Innocence Project advocates for post-conviction DNA testing to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and pushes for other reforms that might prevent future wrongful convictions.

Post-conviction DNA testing has helped free more than 200 innocent people, 17 of whom had been sentenced to death. The Innocence Project today includes a network of clinics across the country, including one launched by the Law School in 2008.

In addition to co-directing the Innocence Project, Neufeld and Scheck also have a civil rights litigation practice, Cochran Neufeld & Scheck, which has represented such high-profile clients as Abner Louima and Earl Washington.

The Thomas Jefferson Medal in Law and its counterparts in architecture and civic leadership are the highest external honors bestowed by the University, which grants no honorary degrees. The awards recognize the achievements of those who embrace endeavors that Jefferson — author of the Declaration of Independence, third U.S. president and founder of the University of Virginia — excelled in and held in high regard.

Sponsored jointly by the University and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello, the annual awards are conferred during the University's Founder's Day celebrations, held around Jefferson's April 13 birthday. In addition to receiving a medal struck for the occasion, recipients will attend ceremonies in the Rotunda and a dinner at Monticello.

Previous recipients of the medal include several U.S. Supreme Court justices, Sen. Sam Nunn, and former Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

Scheck, a professor of law at Cardozo, serves as commissioner on the New York State Commission on Forensic Science, which regulates the state's crime and forensic DNA laboratories. He is also the first vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and a board member of the National Institute of Justice's Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence.

Scheck previously served as a member of the National Institute of Justice Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence (1997-2000), as an advisor for the Attorney General's Initiative on DNA Laboratory Backlogs (AGID-LAB), on the advisory board for the Celera Genetic Project to Identify Dead at World Trade Center, and on the American Bar Association Special President's Commission on High Profile Trials (1995-97).

Scheck has represented Hedda Nussbaum, Louie Simpson and O. J. Simpson. He received a J.D. and M.C.P. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1974 and a B.S. from Yale in 1971.

Neufeld also serves on the New York State Commission on Forensic Science. He is a member of the Board of Trustees for Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital and Academic Medical Center for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

This month Neufeld appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in District Attorney's v. Osborne, a case involving whether a criminal defendant has a post-conviction right to access DNA evidence, and whether the defendant can sue to vindicate that right. A former trial advocacy instructor at Fordham University Law School, Neufeld has taught and published extensively on the intersection of science and law, including the proper use of expert witnesses.

Neufeld received his J.D. from New York University in 1975 and a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1972.

Neufeld and Scheck met while working at the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx. They are co-authors with Jim Dwyer of "Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted." Both attorneys have received numerous awards for their efforts on behalf of defending civil liberties and for their impact on criminal justice.

Full list of Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law Recipients

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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