North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley signed into law Thursday the creation of the country’s first state panel to evaluate felons’ innocence claims. The N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission will start reviewing such claims Nov. 1. The commission’s proponents say it will address inadequacy in the current criminal appeals process. The panel will focus on determining whether a defendant received a fair trial as opposed to evaluating guilt or innocence. Several North Carolina inmates who were later exonerated had to file as many as 11 appeals before they were freed.
“As a state that exacts the ultimate punishment, we should continue to ensure that we have the ultimate fairness in the review of our cases,” Easley said in a statement. The eight-member panel will consist of a judge, prosecutor, defense lawyer and others. Five of the eight members must agree that a defendant deserves judicial review. Then a three-judge panel must unanimously agree that a defendant has presented “clear and convincing evidence” of factual innocence to be exonerated.