Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Innocence Commissions

The concept, as being utilized in North Carolina and reported by the Raleigh News Observer, is an excellent idea.

In a world of human error—which in the criminal justice system can be disastrous—any back-up to the system that is effective, is something that should be replicated.

An excerpt.

“RALEIGH -- As Greg Taylor finds his way back into a changed world 17 years after being wrongfully convicted of murder, the fledgling state agency that made his freedom possible is adjusting to a different way of life, too.

“The phones have been ringing constantly at the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission since it won its historic first case last week. Dozens of e-mail messages have come in to the seven-member staff on behalf of people who think they, too, have been wrongfully convicted.

"This just shows that the process the state created works," Executive Director Kendra Montgomery-Blinn said Friday. "I think we're going to see commissions in other states now."

“The Innocence Inquiry Commission, the first of its kind in the country, was created in 2006 after several high-profile cases of wrongful convictions raised questions about the criminal justice system. The wrongfully convicted can appeal their verdicts, but their claims generally are limited to technical problems at the trial level, not claims of innocence. The commission has legal authority and powers to delve into such claims and then put them before a panel of judges that can grant immediate freedom.

"The reason we created this was because we all knew the legal system operates under the presumption of guilt once you're convicted," said Richard Rosen, a UNC-Chapel Hill law professor who helped create the commission. "This is a safety valve."