Wrongful Convictions

POTENTIAL REFORMS

Efforts are underway in many states to reform the criminal justice system in ways to try to reduce the number of future wrongful convictions, and to help free those who are already incarcerated.  Here are some examples:

Eyewitness Reforms

The Innocence Project recommends a number of easy-to-implement procedures known to increase the reliability of eyewitness identification, including blind administration and videotaping.  New Jersey, North Carolina, and Wisconsin are leaders in these types of improvements.

Forensic Science Reforms

The Innocence Project reports that many forensic testing methods “have been applied with little or no scientific validation and with inadequate assessments of their robustness or reliability. Furthermore, they lacked scientifically acceptable standards for quality assurance and quality control before their implementation in cases.  As a result, forensic analysts sometimes testify in cases without a proper scientific basis for their findings.”  This was certainly one of the factors in Michael Morton’s conviction.  Stronger scientific standards are needed, along with more research to improve forensic methodology.   The Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant Program provides funding for state and local crime labs, while requiring grant recipients maintain oversight mechanisms to handle allegations of serious negligence or misconduct.

Recording of Interrogations

False confessions can result from many factors, including mental illness or overly aggressive interrogation techniques.  Over 800 jurisdictions nation-wide now require the recording of interrogations, the most effective approach for lowering this risk.

Access to DNA Testing and the CODIS database

Evidence Preservation

Prosecutor Accountability

A bill has been proposed in Texas that would extend the statute of limitations for offenses involving evidence suppression by district attorneys.

Compensation of exonerees

Some states provide financial compensation to exonerees once released,  a built-in financial incentive to avoid future wrongful convictions.  Texas currently provides the nation’s most generous program.

Innocence Commissions

Eleven states have formed criminal justice reform commissions charged with examining causes of wrongful convictions and associated reforms.  The North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission is considered a national role model.