March 30, 2005
Independent Group Releases Report on Wrongful Convictions
Bipartisan Innocence Commission for Virginia Recommends Systemic Reforms
The Innocence Commission for Virginia (ICVA) has issued a report examining
eleven exonerations in Virginia and recommending reforms for preventing
future wrongful convictions. The ICVA’s work was supported by a
major pro bono commitment by local lawyers and was guided by a distinguished
Advisory Board of former law enforcement officials and other experts.
The ICVA is only the second innocence commission in the United States
and the one of the first groups to study a state’s exoneration cases.
The eleven exonerated individuals spent a collective 118 years in prison
before being pardoned by Virginia’s governor or released from prison
after courts determined their innocence. It required many years, thousands
of hours of legal assistance, and huge costs to taxpayers, to secure their
release. Meanwhile, the actual perpetrators remained at large and, in
some cases, committed additional crimes.
According to Donald Salzman, President of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence
Project and ICVA Legal Director: “The costs and consequences of
wrongful convictions are enormous and affect all of society, not just
those imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.”
Said former FBI Director and federal judge William S. Sessions, a member
of ICVA’s Advisory Board, “The conviction of an innocent person
has broad implications for the criminal justice system. Victims, who have
a right to see their victimizers punished, suffer when the wrong person
is convicted, then suffer again if the true perpetrator is apprehended
and the victims must relive the crime through another trial. And the public’s
faith in law enforcement officials and the legitimacy of the
criminal justice system is diminished.”
Virginians spent over two million dollars to imprison these innocent
men, whose wrongful convictions might have been prevented by the policy
recommendations set forth in the ICVA’s report.
The report identifies common problems that led to these eleven wrongful
convictions. It calls for reform and highlights measures in seven areas
– eyewitness identification, interrogation, discovery, law enforcement
investigation, scientific evidence, and defense practices – that
would improve Virginia’s criminal justice system and offer the latest
and best practices to law enforcement officers, courts, prosecutors, and
defense counsel alike.
The report will be presented at the Innocence Network National Conference
at the University of the District of Columbia’s, David A. Clarke
School of Law in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, April 2, 2005. This annual
conference convenes experts and advocates in the area of wrongful convictions
and criminal justice reform.
For additional information or to view a complete copy of the report,
please go to http://www.icva.us.
The ICVA is sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, the Administration
Justice Program at George Mason University, and the Constitution Project,
part of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute.