Doctor of Laws
One of America’s leading civil rights attorneys, Barry Scheck is co-founder and co-director of The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that, since its launch in1992, has successfully pursued reforms to remedy and prevent wrongful convictions nationwide and has inspired an international “innocence movement” to correct miscarriages of justice.
Born in Queens, N.Y., and raised in Manhattan by progressive parents, Scheck came of age in the 1960s. As a Yale undergraduate, he actively participated in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Later drawn to California’s Bay Area, Scheck graduated from Berkeley Law in 1974.
After working briefly for the National Lawyers Guild, Scheck returned to New York, becoming a public defender in the South Bronx and eventually joining the faculty of Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
By the late 1980s, Scheck had risen to prominence for his skilled criminal defense work, particularly as the personal lawyer for Hedda Nussbaum. Simultaneously, he and Peter Neufeld, a former colleague from the Legal Aid Society who would later join Scheck on O.J. Simpson’s defense team, became interested in a new technology known as DNA typing and its potential role in forensics. A murder case in which blood evidence was to be used to try to clear a defendant convinced Scheck and Neufeld, along with lawyers and scientists for both sides, of the transformative potential of the assay of DNA for the criminal justice system.
In 1992, Scheck and Neufeld created The Innocence Project at the Cardozo School of Law. Now a worldwide movement, The Innocence Project has helped win hundreds of post-conviction exonerations through DNA testing, and, with targeted legislative and advocacy efforts, has helped clear tens of thousands of others after arrest but before conviction. Equally important, it has shed light upon, and initiated reforms to, a flawed and underfunded legal system.
Scheck is co-author, with Neufeld and Jim Dwyer, of the book Actual Innocence, detailing true stories of those wrongly convicted and later exonerated.
For his many contributions, Scheck has received significant recognition. Mostly recently, he and Neufeld received the New York State Bar Association’s highest honor, a Gold Medal.
Hear Conversations with Honored Guests, talks given by the honorary degree recipients.
Read the transcription of Barry Scheck's talk here.