As reported in the New York Times, two men were recently exonerated through proceedings in the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission based on DNA evidence that demonstrated the real criminal was another original suspect who had committed a similar crime. The two men each had served thirty years in prison, one on death row.
North Carolina of course is the only state in the United States with an independent commission established to examine the innocence claims of wrongly convicted individuals. England and Wales and Scotland have long had these commissions – the Criminal Cases Review Commissions. Although they obviously have critics, these commissions have functioned effectively – miraculously from a US perspective – in independently investigating (with subpoena power) and then referring cases to the court of appeal for review.
We should re-think our opposition to establishing independent commissions that can impartially and thoroughly investigate claims of wrongful conviction. Finality is an important value, yes, and we commit a tremendous amount of resources to the pre-conviction resolution of criminal charges. But it’s important to realize that the North Carolina courts and presumably the federal courts, did nothing to correct the manifestly erroneous convictions in this case. Were it not for the Commission, the convictions would stand. Can the correction of these so manifestly erroneous North Carolina convictions rationally be seen as threatening to our finality values?
Aside from the overriding importance of freeing the wrongly convicted, the public’s perception of the justice and reliability of our criminal process is deteriorating. One of the best and probably most cost-effective way to restore it is to establish direct review innocence commissions in our states.
- Kenneth Rose, I Just Freed an Innocent Man from Death Row. And I’m Still Furious., The Washington Post (Sept. 4, 2014).
- Jonathan M. Katz, From Death Row to Unfamiliar World, New York Times, Sept. 4, 2014, at A17.
- Editorial Board, The Innocent on Death Row, New York Times (Sept. 3, 2014).
- Jonathan M. Katz, North Carolina Men Are Released After Convictions Are Overturned, New York Times (Sept. 3, 2014).
- Jonathan M. Katz & Erik Eckholm, DNA Evidence Clears Two Men in 1983 Murder, New York Times (Sept. 2, 2014).
- North Carolina Launches ‘Innocence Board’, NPR Law (Aug. 5, 2006).
Related Journal Articles:
- Lissa Griffin, International Perspective on Correcting Wrongful Convictions: The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, 21 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 1153 (2013).
- Lissa Griffin, Correcting Injustice: Studying How the United Kingdom and the United States Review Claims of Innocence, 41 U. Tol. L. Rev. 107 (2009).
- Lissa Griffin, The Correction of Wrongful Convictions: A Comparative Perspective, 16 Am. U. Int’l. L. Rev. 1241 (2001).