Innocence Project client Steven Barnes spent nearly two decades behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence. He was released two days before Thanksgiving and he spent the holiday with his family for the first time in two decades.
Now that he’s free, New York lawmakers are considering reforms to ensure that wrongful convictions like his will never happen again. In an op-ed in yesterday’s Utica Observer-Dispatch, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom wrote that there’s hope for passing critical reforms to prevent injustice in the state:
A comprehensive package of common-sense remedies proven to decrease the potential for wrongful convictions was seriously considered in the last legislative session in Albany – but like so many other bills was waylaid by the gubernatorial change.
The New York State Bar Association recognized the unmet need, however, and has convened a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Wrongful Convictions, which is expected to issue its recommendations soon. The Oneida County Bar Association, too, has demonstrated a strong commitment to learning from wrongful convictions in order to prevent them.
This year, the Legislature must pass reforms to increase the accuracy of the criminal justice system. The only thing worse than the injustice the Barnes family – as well as the victim’s family and the community – has endured would be a failure to learn the lessons of this miscarriage of justice and prevent it from happening again.
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. (Utica Observer-Dispatch, 12/13/08)