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Before the Innocence Project there was Erle Stanley Gardner's Court of Last Resort

By Curt_Anderson
November 26, 2022 10:53 am
Category: History

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Erle Stanley Gardner (July 17, 1889 – March 11, 1970) was an American lawyer and author. He is best known for the Perry Mason series of mystery stories. Perhaps the greatest mystery is how Gardner had the time and energy to be a prolific author while working full time as an attorney.

Gardner started his legal career by working as a typist at a law firm in California for three years. Once he was admitted to the Bar, he started working as a trial lawyer by defending impoverished people, in particular Chinese and Mexican immigrants. This experience led to his founding the Court of Last Resort in the 1940s. The Court of Last Resort, dedicated to helping people who were imprisoned unfairly or couldn't get a fair trial, was the first of several organizations that advocate for the wrongly convicted, which among others include The Innocence Project, Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and Centurion.

Gardner devoted thousands of hours to the Court of Last Resort, in collaboration with his many friends in the forensic, legal, and investigative communities. The project sought to review and, when appropriate, reverse miscarriages of justice against criminal defendants who had been convicted because of poor legal representation, abuse, misinterpretation of forensic evidence, or careless or malicious actions of police or prosecutors. The resulting 1952 book earned Gardner his only Edgar Award, in the Best Fact Crime category, and was later made into a TV series, The Court of Last Resort.

Below is a dramatization of one of The Court of Last Resort's cases which led the exoneration of a homeless man on death row.

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Comments on "Before the Innocence Project there was Erle Stanley Gardner's Court of Last Resort":

  1. by Curt_Anderson on November 28, 2022 12:28 pm
    Eleanor Jackson Piel, Lawyer Who Fought Capital Convictions, Dies at 102
    Eleanor Jackson Piel, a civil rights lawyer renowned for handling wrongful convictions and death row appeals — once securing a reprieve for a man 16 hours before he was to be executed — died on Saturday at her home in Austin, Texas. She was 102.

    In a widely publicized case, Ms. Piel, working with Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project, secured the release in 1999 of Vincent Jenkins, a man imprisoned for 17 years for a 1982 rape in Buffalo he did not commit.

    Ms. Piel with Vincent Jenkins in 1999, after she helped secure his release. He had been imprisoned for 17 years for a rape he did not commit.

    Mr. Jenkins (also known as Warith Habib Abdal), was freed after Ms. Piel, who had learned in 1991 that physical evidence from the case was still extant, paid some $3,000 of her own money to have the material sent for DNA testing.

    Though results from an early test were inconclusive — the technique was still quite young — a second, more sophisticated test, performed in 1999, eliminated Mr. Jenkins as having been the rapist.

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