Criminal Justice Reform Commissions
Convicting an innocent person represents a failure in our criminal justice system.
With the advent of DNA evidence, we can now know with absolute certainty that certain convictions were mistakes. But how did the police, prosecutor, judge, and jury all find this person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? Criminal Justice Reform Commissions enable us to review the case, identify the causes of mistaken conviction, and recommend remedial steps to avoid future mistaken convictions.
When innocent people are the focus of investigations and prosecution, the real perpetrator evades responsibility. By improving the operation of our criminal justice system, Criminal Justice Reform Commissions are just good law enforcement.
What is a Criminal Justice Reform Commission?
A Criminal Justice Reform Commission is an independent investigative committee comprised of key players from throughout the criminal justice system, including prosecutors, judges, police officers, defense attorneys and forensic scientists. They examine post-conviction DNA exonerations to establish their causes and recommend changes to prevent future wrongful convictions.
The key features of Criminal Justice Reform Commissions are subpoena power, access to first-rate investigative resources, and political independence. These commissions must be trusted to speak out about cases where the system fails. Finally, they must consist of distinguished players from all aspects of the criminal justice system, so that their findings will be trusted, respected, and acted upon.
Have Criminal Justice Reform Commissions been formed elsewhere?
Government entities in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin have established Criminal Justice Reform Commissions, and many more states are considering doing the same. Based on the work of these commissions, states have enacted reforms relating to eyewitness identification practice, reducing the prevalence of false confessions and establishing statewide forensic oversight.
In some states where governmental efforts to form Criminal Justice Reform Commissions have not come to fruition, state bar associations have taken on similar work. In 2008, the President of the New York State Bar Association announced the formation of a blue ribbon task force charged with identifying the systemic, procedural and statutory causes of wrongful conviction in New York State. The 22-member task force issued a report to the New York legislature in April 2009.
How much will a Criminal Justice Reform Commission cost?
Criminal Justice Reform Commissions needn’t be costly. Participation on the Criminal Justice Reform Commission is consistent with most members’ existing work, and in many cases can simply be an extension of their existing jobs. In Pennsylvania, for instance, existing state research staff provide the administrative support for the Commission’s work.