In an op-ed in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Legal Director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Marissa Boyers Bluestine, questions how many Pennsylvanians remain in prison for crimes they didn’t commit and what forms of evidence will be available to help prove their innocence.
These questions can’t be answered because so few people who are wrongly convicted get a chance to prove their innocence in court. Access to justice after conviction is limited, especially in Pennsylvania.
Even if an inmate has the resources for a post-conviction investigation, his chances in Pennsylvania are slight. State law sets extremely strict deadlines for inmates to file petitions asserting their innocence after conviction. And in Pennsylvania, unlike any other state in the nation or the federal system, an inmate who misses a deadline even by a single day can’t have his claim heard.
Other courts treat deadlines for such claims more flexibly and equitably, stretching them when there is convincing evidence of innocence, for example.Our criminal justice system must act with a degree of finality to maintain the confidence of the public, particularly crime victims. But while it should always be difficult to overturn a conviction, it should not be impossible. We have to start acknowledging the innocents in prison and ensuring that viable and credible claims get their day in court.
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Read more about limitations to
post-conviction DNA access in Pennsylvania