Preventing wrongful convictions | Philadelphia Inquirer | 12/09/2010

Posted: December 12, 2010 by scaryhouse in Bad Cops, FOIA-Freedom of Information Act, IDOC, Police Misconduct, Prosecutorial Misconduct, Terrible Wrongs - Other Cases, The Causes of Wrongful Convictions, Uncategorized

By Marissa Boyers Bluestine

The case of Louis Mickens Thomas, a life prisoner whose contested murder conviction was detailed recently in The Inquirer, exposes a flaw in Pennsylvania’s criminal-justice system that’s largely unknown to the public: Convicts are often unable to access evidence that could prove their innocence because the state has destroyed it or isn’t required to provide it.

Pennsylvania is among a minority of states without regulations on the retention of physical evidence or public records. It is also one of the few with blanket prohibitions against disclosing documents related to criminal investigations.

With every question of innocence that could have been resolved had the evidence been available, it becomes clearer that better disclosure and preservation policies would help ensure that only the guilty are convicted.

Under current state law, it’s up to prosecutors to decide what information to disclose to a defendant before trial. While the U.S. Constitution requires prosecutors to turn over anything exculpatory, Pennsylvania lets prosecutors determine what does or does not meet that definition.

To be sure, state information should not be given unedited to defendants or defense attorneys before trials. But when it concerns a forensic evaluation of physical evidence, as with Thomas’ case, or an identification of another person as the perpetrator – as in the case of Kenneth Granger, whose homicide conviction was overturned last summer – it should be disclosed.

In many states, and under federal law, defendants are given access to government files after conviction. In Pennsylvania, that’s not the case. So evidence that could prove that the wrong person is in prison can sit forever undiscovered.

via Preventing wrongful convictions | Philadelphia Inquirer | 12/09/2010.

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