Access to The Champion archive is one of many exclusive member benefits. It’s normally restricted to just NACDL members. However, this content, and others like it, is available to everyone in order to educate the public on why criminal justice reform is a necessity.
Collateral Consequences Florida: Ex-Offender Task Force Makes Recommendations on Reducing Collateral Sanctions
In 2005, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush issued an executive order to create an Ex-Offender Task Force to improve the re-entry of people from prison to the community and reduce recidivism. Since then, the 17-member task force has issued two reports that have made a variety of recommendations on how the state of Florida can ease the transition from prison and improve the likelihood that ex-offenders can be gainfully employed and self-sufficient.
In November 2006, the task force issued its “Final Report to the
Governor,” which contained 15 recommendations. Among other things, the
task force recommended that the Florida Department of Corrections place
more emphasis on, and commit more resources to reentry; develop
individualized reentry plans for all inmates; and transform their
community facilities into “transition release centers.” At the local
level, “transition authorities” should be created to coordinate reentry
planning and services. The task force also recommended that the
Legislature eliminate the requirement that one’s civil rights must be
restored as a condition for employment, and instead create a single
background check law with a list of disqualifying offenses relevant to
the occupation, license, or place of employment.
In January, the task force issued its second report; this one was focused on employment restrictions. Among other things, the report recommended that more due process and transparency be added to the background check process, and that a uniform process be developed for ex-offenders to apply for exemption from employment or licensing disqualifications.
For more information on the Florida Governor’s Ex-Offender Task Force, see http://exoffender.myflorida.com.
Maryland: Forensic Sciences Advisory Board Created; Legislation to Regulate Crime Labs Sought
One of Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s last acts as Maryland governor was to sign an executive order creating a State Forensic Sciences Advisory Board. The board is made up of 15 voting members, and is tasked with recommending ways in which crime labs can be improved, promoting collaboration between crime labs, and developing a Code of Ethics for crime lab employees.
The fact that many of the voting members represent state or county crime labs led the Maryland Office of the Public Defender (MD-OPD), the Maryland ACLU, and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project to issue a press release declaring the “Fox Still Guarding the Hen House” and that real oversight and regulation of the state crime labs is needed to improve public safety. Michele Nethercott, NACDL’s Forensics Evidence Committee Co-Chair and Chief Attorney for the MD-OPD’s Innocence Project, noted: “A cholesterol test is subject to more oversight than a DNA test used in a homicide or rape prosecution.” Advocates for crime lab reform are working with legislators to introduce legislation that will require crime labs to be regulated in the same stringent manner as clinical labs in the state.
New Jersey: Commission Recommends Abolition of Death Penalty
In 2006, the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission was formed by statute to “study all aspects of the death penalty as currently administered in New Jersey” and to report its recommendations, including legislation, to the legislature and the governor. During that time, a moratorium on executions was in place.
In January 2007, the Commission issued its report recommending that the death penalty in the Garden State be abolished and replaced with life without the possibility of parole. The Commission also recommended that any cost savings resulting from abolition be used for benefits and services for survivors of homicide victims.
Upon the release of the report, NACDL President Martin Pinales issued a statement, saying: “Study after study has shown that the death penalty — besides being unjust, uncivilized, and inconsistent with the fallibility of our justice system — is also economically untenable. Prosecuting a capital case to execution costs far more than incarceration without parole and provides absolutely nothing of real value in return. As the New Jersey study indicates, that money would be far better spent on services and benefits for the survivors of homicide victims. Diversion of state funding from retribution to compassion would be a shining example of our ‘evolving standards of decency.’”
NACDL also issued an action alert to its New Jersey members, calling on them to urge their legislators to enact the Commission’s recommendations. The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission report is online at http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/committees/njdeath_penalty.asp.
Eyewitness Identification Reform
Nation: Reform Bills Introduced, Hearings Held Around Country
Eyewitness identification reform bills had been introduced in five states for the 2007 legislative session as The Champion went to press, with many more likely to follow, according to reports from our affiliates. States in which bills were introduced include Maryland (HB 103/SB 157), New Mexico (HB 295/SB 5), New York (AB 925), Vermont (HB 50), and West Virginia (SB 82). Hearings have already taken place on the bills in New Mexico and Vermont, and a joint committee briefing on the issue has taken place in Maryland. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, state Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) will be introducing legislation to reform lineup procedures in Georgia in the wake of Willie O. “Pete” Williams’ wrongful rape conviction. Williams was in prison for more than 21 years before he was exonerated in January. (“Eyewitness Guidelines Urged After Man Freed,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 28, 2007) A similar bill passed the state’s House Judiciary Committee last year but was not voted on by the full House.
North Carolina: Winston-Salem Police Institute Sequential Lineup Procedures
The city of Winston-Salem is on the cutting edge of eyewitness identification thanks to a new computer program that will administer their lineup procedures. The $10,000 system will present eight photos sequentially (one at a time) to eyewitnesses. The length of time that a witness spends looking at a photo, the selected photo, and other information will be recorded by the software and generated for the police report. If a witness does not make a selection after viewing the photos twice, the process ends. The officer administering the lineup will not know the suspect’s identity.
The sequential, double-blind procedure that Winston-Salem is instituting was first proposed under 2004 guidelines promulgated by the state Chief Justice’s Commission on Actual Innocence. In addition to reforming its eyewitness ID procedures, the department will also begin recording custodial interrogations in late February. (“Police to Change Lineups: Officials Are Hoping to Reduce Wrongful IDs,” Winston-Salem Journal, January 9, 2007)
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Pennsylvania: Law Passed to Form Innocence Commission
In November, the Pennsylvania state Senate adopted Senate Resolution 381, directing the Joint State Government Commission to “establish an advisory committee to study the underlying causes of wrongful convictions and to make findings and recommendations” to reduce them. The resolution was crafted by Senate Judiciary Chairman Stewart Greenleaf (R) in response to Pennsylvania’s nine post-conviction DNA exoneration cases. The advisory committee will be comprised of “approximately 30 members” and will include representatives from all parts of the criminal justice system, including the defense bar, as well as academia and the faith community. Professor John T. Rago of Duquesne University School of Law has been appointed as chairman of the committee. A report containing findings and recommendations is due by Nov. 30, 2008.
Nation: Reform Bills Introduced Around the USA
Fourteen bills in 10 states (Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Virginia, and Vermont) have been introduced in 2007 to require custodial interrogations to be recorded. In some cases, like Florida (SB 176), recording would only be required in capital felonies. One Indiana bill (SB 385) requires recordings in murder cases, while another (SB 574) applies to all felonies. In Virginia (HB 1693), only juveniles would have to be recorded in violent crimes. By the time The Champion goes to press, hearings will have been held on bills in Maryland (HB 67), Montana (HB 172), Nebraska (LB 179), and Vermont (HB 50).