The Innocence Files

Netflix's limited series documents how bad forensics, faulty witness testimony, and misconduct by police and prosecutors let us down.


In its nearly 30 years of work, The Innocence Project has successfully overturned hundreds of wrongful convictions, often of people who had served decades in prison, some on death row. Across nine episodes, Netflix's The Innocence Files documents several of these cases, showing how bad forensics, faulty witness testimony, and misconduct by police and prosecutors let us down.

The limited series doesn't dedicate each episode to one unjustly imprisoned person's story; instead, it represents larger trends in the criminal justice system's problematic practices. The first three episodes focus on various innocent people convicted by controversial bite-mark forensics evidence that purports to prove that teeth, like fingerprints, can be used as unique identifiers.

The science of bite-mark forensics has since come under fire, and journalist Radley Balko reported on many of its flaws more than a decade ago in the pages of Reason. The series highlights the Innocence Project's work to free men in Mississippi convicted using the bogus practices and testimony of dentist Michael West.

West himself agreed to be interviewed for the series, either oblivious or unconcerned that his surly defensiveness undermines the credibility of bite-mark evidence. Of course, that credibility was already in tatters after numerous exonerations of people he helped convict.

The series also heads over to Lynwood, California, to show a more old-fashioned form of criminal justice corruption: A group of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department officers, faced with gang violence in the early 1990s, pressured teen witnesses to identify one Franky Carrillo as the man responsible for a drive-by shooting. Someone else was responsible, and the witnesses eventually recanted.

These cases and more are masterfully explained for anybody who might have been led astray by the pat "science" of courtroom dramas or the naive belief that cops and prosecutors can be relied on to follow the rules when trying to get a conviction.