Critical Bill to Examine and Reshape Criminal Justice System Introduced in House


Innocence Project voices strong support for bills in Congress to create Commission to review all aspects of the system and recommend reform

(Washington, D.C; Monday, April 26, 2010) – Tomorrow, key members of Congress, including Representatives William Delahunt (D-MA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Tom Rooney (R-FL) and Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime Bobby Scott (D-VA), will introduce historic legislation in the House to improve the fairness and reliability of the nation’s criminal justice system. The legislation, originally championed in the Senate by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), would create a national commission to examine and reshape the criminal justice system.

The Innocence Project, a national organization affiliated with Cardozo School of Law that uses DNA testing to exonerate innocent prisoners and pursues reforms to prevent wrongful convictions, said the legislation is historic and badly needed.

“The Innocence Project greatly appreciates the leadership and vision of Senator Webb and the many other Senate co-sponsors, as well as Representatives Delahunt, Issa, Fudge and Rooney in proposing this important commission that would help to improve the underlying fairness and reliability of the criminal justice system,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. “We urge Congress to enact this legislation quickly so that comprehensive review and improvement of the system can begin in earnest.”

Legislation to create a National Criminal Justice Commission already has garnered wide bipartisan support in Congress and from a range of interest groups representing law enforcement, academicians, crime victims and criminal justice reform advocates. For the first time since the Johnson Administration, the commission would take a comprehensive look at the criminal justice system.

“We’ve seen commissions like this have a profound impact in several states over the last few years, and it’s time for a national commission to take a good, long, broad look at our system of justice. Among other things, this commission can help identify why wrongful convictions happen and how they can be prevented. This is critical for ensuring public safety and confidence in our criminal justice system,” said Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom.

Nationwide, 252 people have been exonerated through DNA testing since 1989, according to the Innocence Project. Those cases are a window into the causes of wrongful convictions. For example:

• More than 75% of wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing involved eyewitness misidentification;

• In about 50% of the cases, unvalidated or improper forensic science was a factor;

• More than 25% of the cases involved false confessions, admissions or guilty pleas;

• In 15% of the cases, informants provided unreliable information.

The National Criminal Justice Commission could look more closely at these and other causes of wrongful conviction and recommend improvements that would help to prevent such miscarriages of justice. Since the commission would be comprised of highly respected figures from throughout the justice system – including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, crime victims and other experts – the recommendations would carry significant weight with decision makers. Texas, California, Illinois, Wisconsin and other states have created similar commissions on the state level, and they have led to concrete improvements in those states’ systems of justice.

At 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, April 27, Representatives Bill Delahunt (D-MA) Darrell Issa (R-CA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), and Tom Rooney (R-FL) will hold a press conference regarding the new legislation in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

For additional press inquiries please contact: Alana Salzberg, Innocence Project, Office: 212.364.5983, Mobile: 617.823.7808

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