Innocence Commission for Virginia
Jointly sponsored by the Innocence Project of the National Capital Region, the Administration of
Justice Program at George Mason University, and the Constitution Project
 
Since 1973, over 100 people have been exonerated and released from death row. Wrongful convictions are not limited to capital cases, where the heightened attention and greater available resources may ensure more careful consideration of the charges and evidence. Innocent defendants charged with other crimes may face worse odds.

When an airplane crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board has responsibility to examine what went wrong and how such a disaster can be prevented in the future. Similarly, when the criminal justice system fails in its most critical functions – convicting the guilty and exonerating the innocent – the government should step in to determine the causes of the failure and identify appropriate reforms. For this reason, experts in the criminal justice system have advocated the establishment of “innocence commissions” in jurisdictions where wrongful convictions have occurred. All citizens have an interest in such examinations. When an innocent person is convicted, many people suffer. The innocent person is wrongly incarcerated and perhaps put to death. The real perpetrator often remains free to prey on society. And, if an exoneration occurs and the real perpetrator is identified, the victims and their families must relive the crime through any retrial.

Canada has long had formal processes to investigate wrongful convictions. In the United States, jurisdictions have begun to establish innocence commissions to investigate erroneous convictions and recommend policy reforms to address systemic problems. Virginia, in particular, has instituted some laudable reforms. Both the Governor and General Assembly have proposed extending the 21-day rule, and in the last year the Virginia State Crime Commission has established a task force to continue to review the rule. A 2002 referendum provided death row defendants an avenue to introduce DNA evidence post-conviction. Yet, despite the good faith and hard work of the Commonwealth’s prosecutors and police, there is more work to be done to ensure that Virginia’s criminal justice system is accurately identifying the perpetrators of serious crimes and protecting its citizens.

To assist in examining the problems that may lead to wrongful convictions, a coalition of three organizations has created the Innocence Commission for Virginia (ICVA). Led by the Innocence Project of the National Capital Region, the Administration of Justice Program at George Mason University, and the Constitution Project, researchers will canvas the state to identify cases in which defendants have been erroneously convicted of serious crimes. After reviewing these cases to understand the mistakes that led to conviction, the Commission will release a report of its findings in late 2004. That report will chronicle the common errors in these cases, propose policy reforms to address the sources of those errors, and offer a series of best practices to improve the investigation and prosecution of serious criminal cases in Virginia.

The ICVA is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, dedicated to improving the administration of justice in Virginia. The ICVA’s advisory board includes former prosecutors and defense counsel, notable public officials, and members of law enforcement and public interest groups, among others. The ICVA’s work will take it across the Commonwealth, seeking input and feedback from the many individuals and offices involved in criminal investigations and prosecutions.

TEL: 202·274·4199 FAX: 202·730·4733 P.O. Box 10240, Arlington, VA 22210
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