A Worthy Experiment

by TChris

North Carolina's new Innocence Inquiry Commission is a worthy experiment. It gives wrongfully convicted prisoners a final chance to prove their innocence after the judicial system has declared their convictions final.

Cases will be reviewed by a finely balanced, eight-member panel: a judge, a prosecutor, a sheriff, a defense lawyer, a victim's advocate, and three at-large members. If a majority finds compelling evidence of innocence, the case would go to a panel of three Superior Court judges, who would have to rule unanimously to overturn the conviction.

Whether the panel will feel insulated from political pressure to keep the convicted behind bars is unclear, but North Carolina is at least responding to the serious problem of wrongful convictions.

Meanwhile, there is plenty that other states can do to work toward ensuring that only the guilty remain behind bars. Massachusetts and Vermont are among just 10 holdout states -- Alabama and Mississippi are others -- without laws providing inmates access to postconviction DNA testing. That is an embarrassment, and should be remedied quickly.

Massachusetts also has failed to create an innocence panel to look at 23 overturned convictions since the 1980s. Anyone who doubts the wisdom of reviewing those cases should consider this: Since 2000, in Suffolk County alone, the cumulative time exonerated prisoners had spent behind bars was 214 years.

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  • Re: A Worthy Experiment (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 12:26:33 PM EST
    "a judge, a prosecutor, a sheriff, a defense lawyer, a victim's advocate, and three at-large members" only in the USofA could the former be construed as "finely balanced" or are we talking specifically about the mass/weight of the panel? Sounds like another superfical poultice of justice meant to stem the ebb of life from a sucking chest wound. Perhaps, grossly imbalanced would be more descriptive of a panel which on its surface and in its depth seems intent on perpetuating an unjust system.

    Re: A Worthy Experiment (none / 0) (#2)
    by JSN on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 01:24:11 PM EST
    I would like to know who appoints the Innocence Commission members? If it is an appointment by the Governor that requires legislative confirmation it may have more status but it would also tend be more political. If it is political the supposition that it will seldom overturn a verdict seems reasonable to me.