AFTER INNOCENCE — *** 1/2 — Documentary feature on the Innocence Project; not rated, probable PG-13 (vulgarity, profanity, brief drugs).

The Michael Moores of the cinematic world could learn a lot from "After Innocence."

Here's a documentary feature about a controversial, divisive, heavily debated subject — and the focus is on the issues rather than on the person making the movie.

Admittedly, this is no-frills filmmaking and may be a little talky, but it's also very well-made, powerful stuff, and it should be seen by anyone who has questions about the American justice system.

Director Jessica Sanders' film examines the Innocence Project, a program started by attorney Barry Scheck and some of his colleagues after an appearance on Phil Donahue's old daytime talk show. Scheck and the other lawyers used DNA evidence to prove the innocence of men wrongly convicted of serious felonies, including rape and murder.

Once that legal strategy was used successfully, the attorneys began the organization, which in turn spawned other nationwide legal "reform" movements, including several to abolish the death penalty and to compensate freed ex-prisoners for time lost while they were serving their sentences.

The film also profiles some of those who were freed due to the organization's efforts.

Scott Hornoff, a Rhode Island police officer who was convicted of raping and killing his former lover, is shown as he tries to be reinstated on his town's police force and as he attempts to get back pay.

Then there's Massachusetts resident Dennis Maher, who wants nothing more than an apology from the state prosecutor.

And the attorney for Wilton Dedge just hopes to get a new hearing and trial, so her client might eventually be freed.

Sanders let her subjects do the talking, and they are more than capable of stating their respective cases. The film, like the appeals process, does each of them justice.

"After Innocence" is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for some frank discussion of adult themes and a few sexual references, scattered use of strong profanity, and some brief drug material (marijuana references and imagery). Running time: 96 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com