Saved Lives or Lost Time? Prisoners Set Free Thanks to DNA Testing

By Marc LaFleche

Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do? Many of us have been grounded for something someone else did. We had to go to bed without supper, miss our friend’s birthday party, or lose television privileges for a week.

Can you imagine spending twenty years in prison for something you didn’t do? This is the fate of many convicted prisoners who received unfair trials.

DNA testing has reopened many court cases long after the accused were sent to prison. These men and women had to sit in jail until science became accurate enough to set them free.

On March 29, Antonio Beaver became a free man after spending ten years behind bars for a carjacking (car stealing) he did not commit. He was cleared of all wrongdoing when the DNA of the blood in the car did not match his own. In 1997 he was sent to prison after the car’s owner incorrectly identified Beaver as the man who stole her car. Now Beaver has to rebuild his life at his aunt and uncle’s home in Missouri.

“Antonio Beaver should never have been arrested for this crime, let alone convicted,” said Nina Morrison, Beaver’s attorney at the Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 to help wrongly convicted prisoners overturn their convictions and rebuild their lives. One hundred ninety-eight prisoners in 32 states, 14 of whom were on death row, have been freed because of DNA testing.

In 22 states, prisoners who were wrongly imprisoned may seek damage award money after being released. But most innocent people leave prison without an apology or anything in return for their years in prison.


  • 2,193,798 people in jails and prisons as of December 2005
  • The U.S. imprisons more people than any country in the world (as a percentage of its population).
  • People imprisoned by race: Whites: 393 per 100,000 people; Latinos: 957 per 100,000 people; Blacks: 2,531 per 100,000 people


DNA testing examines cells to see our genetic material and tell one person from another.

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