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Ohio Passes Major Package of Reforms on Wrongful Convictions; Governor Is Expected to Sign Bill, Making Ohio a National Model

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Contact: Alana Salzberg; asalzberg@innocenceproject.org; 212-364-5983

(NEW YORK, NY; Wednesday, March 16, 2010) - A comprehensive criminal justice reform package passed in the Ohio House of Representatives by a vote of 85-7 today. After the bill is reconciled with a version passed by the Senate, it will go to the state’s governor, who has said he will sign it into law. The reform package offers strong new protections for avoiding wrongful convictions and will make it easier to exonerate innocent prisoners through DNA testing.

The legislation (Senate Bill 77) has already passed in the Senate, and Governor Ted Strickland is expected to sign the bill when it reaches his desk. Rep. Tyrone Yates, D-Cincinnati, who sponsored the bill in the House, has said: “This is one of the most important pieces of criminal justice legislation in this state in a century.”

Specifically, Senate Bill 77 creates:

• A requirement for preservation of DNA evidence in all cases of serious crime, such as homicide and sexual assault.
• Police incentives for the recording of all interrogations from beginning to end in cases of serious crime.
• A requirement for police lineups and eyewitness photo identification procedures to be conducted in double-blind fashion, meaning the officer who oversees the eyewitness procedure with the witness does not know who among the sample pool is the suspect.
• An expansion of Ohio’s post-conviction DNA testing law to allow for DNA testing to be done during the parole phase of the justice cycle.

The reform package stems from a joint project between the Ohio Innocence Project and the Columbus Dispatch, which found serious problems in addressing and preventing wrongful convictions. Two years ago, a group of first-year law students who were part of the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law began researching and drafting the legislation. They were supervised by Professor Mark Godsey, Director of the Ohio Innocence Project. The Innocence Project, a national organization based in New York, worked closely with the Ohio Innocence Project to build legislative support for the bill over the last two years, including legislative testimony, meetings with key legislators and substantial background on social science research and the effectiveness of reforms in other states. 

If the bill becomes law, Ohio will become a model state concerning reforms to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction, according to Innocence Project Policy Advocate Rebecca Brown, who testified in favor of the bill at three hearings and tracks similar legislation across the country.  While other states have adopted parts of the reform package contained in Senate Bill 77, no other state has adopted an omnibus bill of this magnitude that includes such comprehensive prescriptions to police practices.