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Criminal Justice Reform Commissions: Case Studies

A number of states have established commissions authorized to investigate the causes and remedies of wrongful convictions. While they all differ in their formation, structure and mandate, each serves as a different model for enabling states to review cases, identify the causes of wrongful convictions and recommend remedial steps to avoid their recurrence.

Learn more on criminal justice reform commissions in:


California

,

Connecticut

,

Florida

,

Illinois

,

Louisiana

,

Oklahoma

,

New York

,

North Carolina

,

Pennsylvania

,

Texas

and

Wisconsin




California


Establishment and Mandate

: On August 31, 2004, the California Legislature passed Senate Resolution No. 44, establishing the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. Senator Burton, outgoing President Pro-Tem of the Senate, introduced the resolution. The Commission was assigned three specific duties: 1) “to study and review…the extent to which California’s criminal justice system has failed in the past, resulting in wrongful executions or the wrongful conviction of innocent persons;” 2) “to examine ways of providing safeguards and making improvements in the way the criminal justice system functions;” 3) “to make any recommendations and proposals designed to further ensure that the application and administration of the criminal justice in California is just, fair, and accurate.”  Creation of the Commission followed a series of reports and developments drawing attention to the flaws of California’s criminal justice system in general, and its death penalty system in particular.  


Composition:

The 23 member Commission was housed at Santa Clara University and chaired by former California Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp. The Commission’s membership also included prosecutors, defense attorneys, law professors, a judge, a rabbi and law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.  


Scope of Review

: The Commission was charged with issuing recommendations regarding the fair administration of justice, addressing matters that concern wrongful convictions.

On April 13, 2006, the Commission issued its first of seven inquiries into the causes of wrongful conviction, which focused upon mistaken eyewitness identification. On the basis of its preliminary recommendations vis-à-vis eyewitness identification and mandating the recording of custodial interrogations, two bills passed through the California Legislature, but were ultimately vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. They were reintroduced in the next session, in addition to a bill seeking to reform the use of jailhouse informants, and passed the legislature again only to meet the same fate. In 2009, the trio of bills was reintroduced, but vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. However, a bill that sought to improve California’s wrongful conviction compensation scheme was successful and signed into law on October 11, 2009.

The Commission completed its work by delivering a report on the fair administration of justice in California to the Legislature and the Governor on June 30, 2008. Visit the

CCFAJ website

and

download the final report

.






Connecticut




Establishment and Mandate

: The Connecticut Advisory Commission on Wrongful Convictions was created by statute in 2003, to review “any criminal or juvenile case involving a wrongful conviction and recommend reforms to lessen the likelihood of a similar wrongful conviction occurring in the future.”   

Composition

There are 14 commission members: the Chief Court Administrator; the Chief State’s Attorney, the Chief Public Defender, the Victim Advocate or their designees; representatives from the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association and the Connecticut Bar Association; representatives from one or more law schools in Connecticut and one or more institutions of higher education in Connecticut that offer undergraduate programs in criminal justice and forensic science; and other members appointed by the Chief Court Administrator.  

Scope of Review

The purpose of the Connecticut Advisory Commission on Wrongful Convictions is to make recommendations that will reduce or eliminate the possibility of the conviction of an innocent person in the State of Connecticut.  The Commission anticipated it would fulfill this objective by identifying the main causes of wrongful conviction, studying existing research on these causes, commissioning additional research as deemed necessary, reviewing cases of wrongful conviction, reviewing any additional cases that would assist the Commission in understanding the causes of wrongful conviction, and recommending best practices to the appropriate constituencies.  

Connecticut Public Act 08-143 required the Commission on Wrongful Convictions to monitor and evaluate the implementation of: (1) the procedure for the compensation of wrongfully incarcerated persons established under section 1 of the act; (2) a pilot program to electronically record the interrogations of arrested persons; (3) eyewitness identification procedures that, when practicable, use a double-blind administration wherein the person conducting the identification procedure is not aware of which person in the photo lineup or live lineup is suspected as being the perpetrator of the crime.

Download the commission report

.






Florida


Establishment and Mandate


The Florida Innocence Commission was created by judicial order on July 2, 2010 by the Florida Supreme Court. Its mandate is to conduct a comprehensive study of the causes of wrongful conviction and of measures to prevent such convictions.


Composition


The Commission is composed of 23 members representing the spectrum of criminal justice actors, from state legislators to judges, attorneys to law professors.


Scope of Review


In conducting its work, the Commission may review individual cases involving a wrongful conviction where innocence has already been officially acknowledged, to determine the cause of these wrongful convictions. The Commission is to submit an interim report to the Florida Supreme Court no later than June 30, 2011, and a final report on its investigations and findings and recommendations designed to prevent the conviction of the innocent to the Court no later than June 30, 2012. The Commission’s report is to chronicle the common errors in wrongful convictions and propose reforms to address the sources of those errors.






Illinois


Establishment and Mandate


In January 2000, Illinois Governor George Ryan issued a moratorium on executions and appointed a commission to study capital punishment in Illinois to prevent the execution of the innocent.   


Composition


The Commission was composed of two elected county state’s attorneys and three former assistants; the chief of staff of the Chicago Police Department; two former assistant Illinois attorneys general; a former U.S. attorney and four former assistants; the former chief judge of the federal district court in Chicago; the Cook County Public Defender and the State Appellate Defender; the Deputy Governor who had oversight responsibility for the State Police, the prison system, and forensic lab; a former U.S. Senator; and the son of a murder victim.  


Scope of Review


The 15-member commission met for two years and then dissolved after issuing a report of 85 recommendations necessary to provide significant safeguards against further wrongful convictions in Illinois. In 2003, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 472, which addressed some 20 of the Commission’s recommendations. 

Download the full report of the Governor’s Commission on Capital Punishment

.






Louisiana


Establishment and Mandate


In June 2010, the Louisiana Legislature directed the Louisiana State Law Institute to study and make recommendations for the revision of the laws regarding criminal procedure, the preservation of forensic evidence, confessions and admissions, the code of evidence, and all other issues regarding the finality and accuracy of criminal convictions. The Louisiana State Law Institute is to report its findings and recommendations to the Legislature of Louisiana on or before January 1, 2013.


Composition


The review will be conducted by the Louisiana State Law Institute, which is an official law revision commission, law reform agency and legal research agency of the State of Louisiana. The Institute will work in conjunction with and request information from the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, the Louisiana Public Defender Board, the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, the Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana Commission of Law Enforcement and the Administration of Criminal Justice, Innocence Project of New Orleans, and any other agencies or associations deemed appropriate regarding its study.  






Oklahoma




Establishment and Mandate


In September 2010, the Oklahoma Bar Association established the Oklahoma Justice Commission. The Commission’s aim is to create remedial strategies designed to reduce or lessen the possibility of conviction of the innocent, including, but not limited to, procedural and educational remedies, training of criminal justice practitioners, and the development of procedures to identify, expedite the release of, and rightfully compensate persons wrongly convicted.


Composition


The Commission will consist of as many members as the Chair deems necessary. The Commission will include a host of criminal justice stakeholders, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, legislators and policymakers, police officials, victims’ advocates, scientists and academics.



Scope of Review


The Commission will research and identify the common causes of conviction of the innocent, both nationally and in Oklahoma, including, but not limited to: eyewitness misidentification, unvalidated or improper forensics, false confessions or admissions, forensic science misconduct, government misconduct, incentivized witnesses, and inadequate or improper lawyering.






New York




NYSBA Task Force on Wrongful Conviction




Establishment and Mandate


On June 4, 2008, the new President of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) announced the creation of a Task Force on Wrongful Convictions, stating, “[f]or each wrongful conviction that surfaces, how many others are still unfairly resolved? Ensuring the fair administration of justice must be the number one priority in our criminal justice system. As leaders of the profession, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect the innocent and make sure men and women are not punished – not even for one day – for crimes they did not commit.”


Composition


While not a government entity, NYSBA is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country and was well-positioned to convene a wide variety of relevant stakeholders.  The NYSBA Task Force on Wrongful Convictions included 22 distinguished members, including jurists, defense attorneys, members of law enforcement, government groups, prosecutors, criminal justice practitioners and academics.


Scope of Review


The Task Force first reviewed both DNA and non-DNA exonerations from across the state in order to identify the various causal factors in each.  Then, it formed a series of issue-specific subcommittees to identify the systemic, procedural and statutory issues that set the stage for these wrongful convictions, and to develop a series of recommendations.  The full task force held a hearing in the fall of 2008, where it carefully reviewed and discussed each proposal submitted by the seven subcommittees.  At the end of each discussion, a vote was taken of those present, and specific proposals were passed by a majority.  


A final report

was issued in April 2009, delineating a course of action for the State of New York to prevent future wrongful convictions. 

The Task Force continuesd work in 2010 in a more limited capacity. It continues to advocate for its legislative proposals aimed at reducing and identifying wrongful convictions and compensating those who have been wrongfully convicted. It also supports the continued education of those involved in the justice system in issues relevant to the same.


New York Justice Task Force


Establishment and Mandate


In 2009, Chief Judge Lippman announced the creation of the Justice Task Force at the Court of Appeals.  The Task Force will work to isolate the factors that lead to wrongful convictions and recommend specific reforms not only to strengthen the accuracy and reliability of the criminal justice system but also to improve public safety.


Composition


The Justice Task Force is comprised of prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, legislators and policymakers, police officials, scientists and academics.  Its co-chairs are Associate Court of Appeals Judge Theodore Jones and Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore.






North Carolina


Establishment and Mandate


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 recent exonerations in North Carolina and the Chief Justice’s continued concern regarding the public’s negative perceptions and decreasing confidence in the justice system.   

The

North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission

originated through the Chief Justice’s supervisory authority over the courts.  Due to its success and the strong public support for its mission, it was officially established as the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission through order of the full Supreme Court in October 2005.  The primary goal of the Commission is “to develop potential procedures to decrease the possibility of conviction of the innocent in North Carolina, thereby increasing conviction of the guilty.”


Composition


Chaired by the sitting Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, the Commission is composed of members from the judiciary, law enforcement, prosecutorial and defense bars, and academic and victims’ rights communities.  


Scope of Review


The Commission has focused its work on studying the causes of wrongful convictions.  Specific Commission objectives are:

• To identify the most common causations of conviction of the innocent, both nationally and in North Carolina.

• To provide education to members regarding each type of causation.

• To provide a forum for open and productive dialog between Commission members regarding each type of causation.

• To identify current North Carolina procedures implicated by each type of causation.

• 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 causation.

• To consider potential implementation plans, cost implications, and the impact on conviction of the guilty for each potential solution.

• 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.     

The Commission’s first major work involved the problem of mistaken eyewitness identification.  Its recommendations, issued in 2003, were adopted by The Education and Training Committee of the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission and incorporated into State Basic Law Enforcement Training.  They eventually became statutory law in 2008. 

Download the Commission’s

Recommendations for Eyewitness Identification

.

Ultimately, the Court-appointed Commission recommended the enactment of a law establishing the

North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission

to provide an “independent and balanced truth-seeking forum for credible claims of innocence.”  In 2006, the Legislature created the Inquiry Commission. Dormant since 2007, there is a push to reactivate the Commission.





Pennsylvania




Establishment and Mandate


In November 2006, Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored a resolution passed by the Pennsylvania Senate creating a special advisory committee on wrongful convictions.  The Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions will examine cases where defendants were convicted of violent crimes and later exonerated through DNA testing or other evidence.  


Composition


As directed by Pennsylvania Senate Resolution 381, the Joint State Government Commission, which is charged with performing research for both houses and parties of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, established an advisory committee including individuals involved in prosecution, defense, law enforcement, corrections, the judiciary, victim assistance, academia, the faith community and criminal justice.  Currently, the advisory committee consists of 48 members from all corners of the criminal justice community.  


Scope of Review


“[T]o to study the underlying causes of wrongful convictions so that the advisory committee may develop a consensus on recommendations intended to reduce the possibility that in the future innocent persons will be wrongfully convicted in this Commonwealth,” to “review cases in which an innocent person was wrongfully convicted and subsequently exonerated, review any other relevant materials, identify the most common causes of wrongful convictions, identify current laws, rules and procedures implicated in each type of causation, and identify through research, experts and discussion potential solutions in the form of legislative, rule or procedural changes or educational opportunities for elimination of each type of causation,” and to “consider potential implementation plans, cost implications, including possible savings, and the impact on the criminal justice system for each potential solution.”   The Committee will submit its findings and recommendations to the Pennsylvania Senate shortly.

The commission issued

a 328-page report

on September 20, 2011, analyzing causes of wrongful convictions in the state and recommending sweeping reforms to address these issues.






Texas


Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit


Establishment and Mandate


In June 2008, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, announced the formation of the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit to examine the weaknesses in its state’s system.  This took place on the heels of a public forum in which nine of the state’s wrongfully convicted men came together to bring attention to systemic flaws and called upon lawmakers to reverse the trend of wrongful conviction by examining its causes.  


Composition


The Integrity Unit has 13 members, including Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey, legislators, judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and law enforcement.


Scope of Review


The Unit was created to review the strengths and weaknesses of the Texas criminal justice system.  It aims to bring about meaningful reform through education, training, and legislative recommendations.  

The Tim Cole Task Force


Establishment and Mandate


In 2009, the Texas Legislature passed a House Bill 498, sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, establishing The Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Conviction to advise the Task Force on Indigent Defense in the preparation of a study regarding the causes of wrongful convictions and make recommendations to prevent future wrongful convictions.  


Composition


The Advisory Panel was composed of 10 members representing a range of criminal justice stakeholders.


Scope of Review


The Task Force studied the causes of wrongful conviction; procedures and programs that may be implemented to prevent wrongful convictions; and the effect of state innocence-related laws in specific areas, including eyewitness identification, the recording of custodial interrogations, post-conviction access to DNA testing, and writs of habeas corpus based on scientific evidence.  In total, the Advisory Panel made 11 specific recommendations for reform.

Its final report, issued in August 2010, can be found here

.






Wisconsin




Establishment and Mandate


Steven Avery Commission


Following the release of Steven Avery in 2003, Rep. Mark Gundrum, Republican Chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, decided to create a body that would investigate the causes of wrongful convictions.  According to Gundrum, “the Avery Task Force was formed to review various aspects of the criminal justice system and ways to improve it.”  The Task Force consisted of individuals from various branches of the criminal justice system – prosecutors, law enforcement professionals, judges, defense attorneys, law professors and victims’ rights groups.   

Following the recommendations of the Avery Task Force, the Wisconsin Legislature passed Assembly Bill 648, aimed at minimizing the factors leading to wrongful convictions.  In December 2005, the Governor signed the bill, which included provisions related to the preservation of biological evidence, improved eyewitness identification procedures on the part of law enforcement, the mandatory recording of custodial interrogations, into law.


Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission


Upon the conclusion of the final work of the Avery Task Force in July 2005, the State Bar of Wisconsin, Marquette University Law School, the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office, and the University of Wisconsin Law School established the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission to identify and remedy problems with Wisconsin criminal justice system.


Composition


The Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission was comprised of members from all facets of the criminal justice system, including police, defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and victims’ advocates, as well as individuals outside of the system with the hope that they would contribute novel and innovative ideas.  Membership did not include legislators, though the Commission identified four legislators to serve as liaisons in the event that the Commission’s work required a legislative response.


Scope of Review


The Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission sought to address issues that were not addressed by the Avery Task Force including the review of the use of expert testimony and jury instructions to address eyewitness error, jailhouse snitch testimony, junk science, false confessions, prosecutorial discretion, “tunnel vision” and “confirmation bias” in criminal investigations, crime lab standards and funding, defense attorney training and funding, and appellate standards of review.

In 2006 and early 2007, the Commission examined the DNA backlog at the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratories. After touring the Madison, WI facility, hearing testimony and presentations from experts, and engaging in extensive discussion, the Commission released a position paper and report and recommendations on Wisconsin’s DNA backlogs in February 2007, ”

Decreasing the Turnaround Time for DNA Testing

.” The Commission

also issued a position paper on false confessions

, found here.

1 Comment

  1. Laquana McEntyre

    Hey! I’m Brandon O’Neil Kirkland from Shelby, N.C. I wrongful convicted of a charge that my co-defendant admitted to them that was his. They had already charge him for it, and they charging me for say stuff. He even showed up at my trail and told The Judge, Da and The jury it was his. And plus they did have enough evidence on me, but some how they still charge me for it. Can they really do that?

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