Forensic errors, mistaken eyewitness identifications, and false confessions have led to wrongful convictions for serious crimes like rape, murder and kidnapping, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Since 1989, 198 convicted felons have been cleared based on DNA evidence, nine in Pennsylvania. The state last week convened a commission of judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, law enforcement officers and victims’ advocates to study the causes of erroneous convictions and make recommendations for preventing them. The project is chaired by John Rago, a Duquesne University law professor and director of the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law.
Pennsylvania joins a handful of states that have set up advisory groups to review wrongful convictions. Rago sees it as an opportunity to improve due process and investigators’ and prosecutors’ capacity to present judges and juries with reliable evidence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty. The committee will recommend policy changes after examining a broad range of factors that might influence wrongful convictions. “With 2.5 million people incarcerated in the U.S., can anybody with a straight face say that they’re all guilty? No more than you could say that they’re all innocent,” Rago said. The commission of 40 members will review the cases of the 198 exonerees.