News 09.20.11

Pennsylvania Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions Report Establishes Need for Reform


Recommendations represent a thoughtful approach for preventing wrongful convictions



(New York, NEW YORK; September 20, 2011)– A report released today by Pennsylvania’s Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions to the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee establishes the need for reform in Pennsylvania to strengthen investigations and reduce wrongful convictions.

The 328-page report details Pennsylvania’s wrongful convictions, analyzes the causes and outlines reforms ranging from eyewitness identification to confessions to access to post-conviction DNA testing that can improve the state’s criminal justice system.

Download the full report

The recommendations in the Report of the Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions released today include:

• Legislation requiring improvements to eyewitness identification procedures;

• Legislation requiring the electronic recording of interrogations for a limited number of crimes;

• Legislation to enhance the reliability of informant testimony;

• Amending the existing post-conviction DNA testing statute to enable access to deserving defendants, and to better utilize DNA database comparisons in order to enable identification of real perpetrators where wrongful conviction is claimed;

• Legislation requiring the preservation of biological evidence in sexual and other violent assaults;

• Creating a statewide system for adequately funding indigent defense services;

• Monetary compensation for people who are wrongfully convicted based on the number of years incarcerated;

• Improving internal oversight for prosecutorial offices and sanctions for purposeful or otherwise egregious prosecutorial misconduct; and

• Creating a forensic advisory board to advise the Commonwealth on the best delivery of forensic services to state and local government.

“Wrongful convictions are to criminal justice what train wrecks are to transportation. While tragic, they present an incredible opportunity to identify causes and remedies. The remedies will not only reduce wrongful convictions but also increase the accuracy of criminal investigations and strengthen prosecutions. At their core, these are public safety reforms that enhance justice,” said Peter J. Neufeld, Co-Director at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.

Created in 2006 by the legislature to explore the causes of wrongful conviction and initiated by Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery/Bucks), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Advisory Committee was charged with reviewing Pennsylvania’s wrongful conviction cases and identifying the causes and remedies of wrongful conviction.

 

“This commission has undertaken one of the most robust examinations of wrongful conviction to date.  The proposals put forward are thoroughly researched, cost effective and important to justice.  The Commission was sensitive to the various realities and concerns in Pennsylvania when forming their recommendations and in some areas chose a more moderate approach than the research suggested.  States across the country are enacting similar reforms, and readers of this report will see that the Commission’s work and recommendations are the right fit for Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system,” said Rebecca Brown, Senior Policy Advocate for State Affairs at the Innocence Project.

The advisory committee analyzed only those Pennsylvania cases that were later overturned by DNA evidence, which represent only a fraction of the state’s wrongful convictions. 

“DNA exonerations represent just the tip of the wrongful conviction iceberg because DNA can only show innocence or guilt in a small number of serious cases. Therefore, while DNA exonerations illuminate the causes of wrongful conviction, they do not represent the much broader range of wrongful conviction cases,” said Brown.

“In one form or another, virtually all of the recommended legislative reforms have already been adopted by other state legislatures around the country.  And in no instance has dissatisfaction caused a move to go back to the old way of doing business – in fact, there tends to be agreement that they are reasonable and make the system better,” said Brown.

Pennsylvania joins several other states that have formed similar and effective criminal justice reform commissions that include experts from all parts of the criminal justice system — including crime victims, law enforcement and concerned members of the public. Experience has shown that these varied perspectives, combined with public and official support, can lead to true, lasting reforms that both prevent wrongful conviction and enhance public safety.

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