NORTH CAROLINA ACTUAL INNOCENCE COMMISSION -
MISSION STATEMENT, OBJECTIVES, AND PROCEDURES
I. Mission Statement
The North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission is established to provide
a forum for education and dialog among prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges,
law enforcement personnel, legal scholars, legislative representatives, and
victim advocates regarding the common causes of wrongful conviction of the
innocent and to develop potential procedures to decrease the possibility of
conviction of the innocent in North Carolina, thereby increasing conviction
of the guilty.
Members of the Commission have varying viewpoints with regard to capital
punishment and the necessity for a moratorium in North Carolina. Members
unanimously agree that the Commission will not take a position on these
issues and that individual Commission members will not represent their
personal viewpoints on these issues as being shared by other Commission
members or the Commission as a whole.
II. Problem Summary
Recent developments in DNA testing have confirmed the long
standing fear that, despite the superior nature of our justice
system, there still exists the possibility that individuals
can be convicted of crimes they did not commit. Exoneration
cases in North Carolina include Ronald Cotton, Leslie Jean,
Leo Waters all of whom were exonerated by DNA; and Terrence
Garner, Charles Munsey, and Tim Hennis, whose exonerations
were not based on DNA. Although it is believed that the
risk of conviction of an innocent person is small in North
Carolina, the cause of even one innocent conviction should
be identified and corrected if possible. Wrongful
conviction of the innocent not only destroys the lives
of those convicted and their families; it allows the actual
perpetrator of the crime to go unpunished and to be free to
potentially commit additional crimes. Additionally,
injustices negatively impact public trust and confidence
in the justice system.
III. COMMISSION BACKGROUND
On November 22, 2002, North Carolina Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake
invited key representatives from the criminal justice system and
legal academic community to meet with him to discuss the issue of
the wrongful conviction of the innocent. The impetuses for the
meeting were the recent exonerations in North Carolina and the
Chief Justice's continued concern regarding the general public's
negative perceptions and decreasing confidence in the justice
Discussion during the meeting on November 22nd was candid and
productive, with agreement among representatives that causation
issues associated with conviction of the innocent need to be
understood by all members of the enforcement and justice system
and that corrective options should be identified and actions
implemented where possible. The Chief Justice thereby made the
decision that a working study commission should be established.
The primary objective of the North Carolina Actual Innocence
Commission is to make recommendations which reduce or eliminate
the possibility of the wrongful conviction of an innocent person.
Through its work, the Commission hopes to raise awareness of the
issues surrounding wrongful convictions. It is anticipated that
accomplishment of this objective will increase the conviction of
the guilty, positively impact public trust and confidence in the
State's justice system, and decrease the overall cost of the
prosecution, trial and appeal processes.
Specific Commission objectives are:
1) To identify the most common causations of
conviction of the innocent, both nationally
and in North Carolina.
2) To provide education to members
regarding each type of causation.
3) To provide a forum for open and productive
dialog between Commission members regarding
each type of causation.
4) To identify current North Carolina procedures
implicated by each type of causation.
5) To identify, through research, experts, and
discussion, potential solutions in the form of
procedural or process changes or educational
opportunities for elimination of each type of
6) To consider potential implementation plans,
cost implications, and the impact on conviction
of the guilty for each potential solution.
7) To issue interim reports recommending solutions
for each causation issue identified, including
recommended implementation plans, cost
implications, and potential impact on the
conviction of the guilty.
V. Rules of Procedure
(a) The Commission will meet once every six to eight weeks.
(b) The Commission shall meet at such time and place as
determined by the chairman announced at least one month
in advance of meetings with notice to each member.
(c) To the extent possible meetings will take place
during lunch time or after business hours to minimize
disruption to work routines.
(d) At all meetings, fifteen shall constitute a quorum for
the transaction of business. Voting may be in person, by
proxy, by letter or by telephone. Any matter or proposition
discussed shall not be binding upon the Commission without
the affirmative vote of at least half of the number of the
current membership of the Commission. Additionally, a
representative from prosecution, defense, law enforcement,
judiciary, and victim assistance network is required to be
present at any meeting where a majority vote is reported.
(e) Although the Commission will benefit from the expertise
of its membership, it will be necessary to provide the
Commission members with research materials as topics are
reached. A research analyst will conduct research and
accumulate and distribute materials; however, members will
be encouraged to discuss issues with the constituencies
and come to meetings prepared as representatives to discuss
the viewpoints of members of their area of expertise.
Additionally, experts from North Carolina and other states
will be invited to speak to the Commission as topics are
(f) Studies and surveys of North Carolina practices will
likely be conducted as part of the Commission's work.
(g) Topics to be studied by the Commission may include
eyewitness identification procedures, DNA evidence/testing,
false confessions, discovery and disclosure, informant/accomplice
testimony, law enforcement and attorney investigation procedures,
rules of professional conduct and their interplay with innocence,
and the post conviction review of claims of actual innocence.
A concrete topic list will not be established, as it is
anticipated that issues will be raised and considered
throughout the Commission's work.
(h) Local law school students will be recruited to assist
with research for the Commission. Additional research
may be contracted out.
(i) The Commission may look at individual cases where
innocence has already been proven for the purpose of
identifying causations of those convictions. However,
unproven innocence claims will not be reviewed.
(j) Written minutes will be kept of all meetings.
(k) All research will be organized and consolidated for
(l) The Commission will issue interim reports outlining
its findings and recommendations as the study of
each topic area is completed. Additionally, the
Commission will issue a final report outlining all
findings and recommendations.
(m) The Commission will hereafter adopt any additional
rules as are necessary to carry out its objectives.
VI. Commission Composition
The Commission is a "working" commission of no more
than thirty members, invited to participate at the
discretion of the Chief Justice. Individuals who
are invited to participate will be reminded of the
substantial commitment of time and energy that may
be requested of them.
Additional expertise and constituent representation
may be provided by organizing the Commission into
task forces, with persons in addition to Commission
members being asked to serve on each task force.
However, the majority of the Commission's work will
be done as a whole and not as task forces.
Initial Commission members were invited to voluntarily
participate in the Commission's work based upon
individual competence, experience, and anticipated
commitment. Invitations were further based on the
need for the Commission to be diversely representative
of the criminal justice system.
Although members are invited to participate at the
discretion of the chair, representation must include
at least one member from the following constituencies:
prosecution, defense, law enforcement, judiciary, and
victim assistance network. The specific number of
representatives from each constituency will not be
established and may vary over the life of the Commission
at the discretion of the chair.
The initial representation of the Commission is made up
of three judicial representatives, two representatives
from the Governor's office, three defense attorneys, six
law enforcement representatives, five prosecution
representatives, three law professors, one victim
assistance representative, one journalism professor,
and two general interest representatives. Following
is a list of the initial roster of Commission participants.
The Honorable Bryan E. Beatty, Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety
Robert Brown, Jr., Public Defender, Durham County
Professor James Coleman, Duke University Law School
The Honorable Roy Cooper, North Carolina Attorney General
Chief Michael R. Gauldin, Burlington Police Department
The Honorable Donald Harrison, Sheriff, Wake County
Malcolm R. Hunter Jr., Executive Director, N.C. Office of Indigent Defense Services
The Honorable Robert F. Johnson, District Attorney, Alamance County
The Honorable William Kenerly, District Attorney, Rowan County
The Honorable I. Beverly Lake, Jr., N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice
Chris Mumma, Legal Counsel, N.C. Center on Actual Innocence
Associate Dean Theresa Newman, Duke University Law School
The Honorable Robert Orr, N.C. Supreme Court Justice
Robin Pendergraft, Director, N.C. State Bureau of Investigation
Donna Pygott, N.C. Victims' Assistance Network
Professor Richard Rosen, UNC School of Law
The Honorable Thomas W. Ross, Executive Director, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation
Chief Darrel Stephens, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
The Honorable Donald Stephens, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, Wake County
Dick Taylor, Executive Director, Academy of Trial Lawyers
Thomas Walker, N.C. Assistant Attorney General
Pete Weitzel, Executive Director, N.C. Center on Actual Innocence
The Honorable Colon C. Willoughby, Jr., District Attorney, Wake County
Nina Wright, Deputy Chief, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
Reubin Young, Deputy Legal Counsel, N.C. Governor's Office
These individuals offer differing perspectives and expertise that
will enable the Commission to meets its overall mission and
Senate and House representatives will be added to the Commission
at a later date. Additionally, Commission members may suggest
the addition or substitution of members as the work of the
Commission progresses and/or if a current member is unable to
participate on an ongoing basis.
It is anticipated that the work of the Commission will take
approximately two years. With the exception of the chairman,
members of the Commission serve on a voluntary basis and are
invited to serve for two years. However, Commission members
may provide for termination of membership of a member under
appropriate circumstances and upon approval of the Chief Justice
The officers of the Commission shall be a chairman, an executive
director and/or vice chairman, a secretary and a treasurer.
The Commission's chair will be the Chief Justice or his designee.
The executive director and/or vice chairman, the secretary and the
treasurer shall be elected by the Commission on recommendation of
The executive director will be responsible for supervisory and
administrative responsibilities; performing and compiling research,
data and reports; identifying and coordinating expert testimony where
appropriate; and assuming an oversight role by developing expertise
in, keeping abreast of, and contributing to the substantive work of
the Commission and task forces. Research associates, through law
school externships and volunteer student work, as well as contractor
services, will assist the executive director with these tasks.
A grant application for $37,250 annually has been submitted to
the Governor's Crime Commission. Funds will be paid through and
managed by the AOC, as a receipt-supported activity.
With the assistance of the AOC's grants administrator,
Commission staff will process requisitions and other expense
documentation. Grant funding will be used to cover copying,
mailing, meeting expenses, expert travel expenses and consulting
fees, and contractor services for excessive administrative or
Commission members will be donating their time, energy
and expertise. Expenses for travel by Commission members
will be paid through grant funds.
IX. Effective Date
The effective date of the organization of the NC Actual Innocence
Commission shall be deemed to be February 14, 2003 as of the time
of the initial meeting of the full body of the Commission as
reflected by the minutes.