The phones have been ringing constantly at the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission since it won its historic first case last week, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Dozens of e-mail messages have come in to the seven-member staff on behalf of people who think they, too, have been wrongfully convicted. “This just shows that the process the state created works,” said director Kendra Montgomery-Blinn. “I think we’re going to see commissions in other states now.”
The commission, the first of its kind in the U.S., was created in 2006 after several high-profile cases of wrongful convictions raised questions about the criminal justice system. “The reason we created this was because we all knew the legal system operates under the presumption of guilt once you’re convicted,” said Richard Rosen, a UNC-Chapel Hill law professor. “This is a safety valve.” In 3 1/2 years, the commission has received 634 claims of innocence; 463 have been rejected. After thorough vetting, the panel has found enough evidence to send only three cases before a panel of judges.