Wrongfully Convicted to Receive Increased Compensation in New Jersey
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill that will increase the amount of compensation that wrongfully convicted people can receive from the state for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned. Under the new law, exonerated individuals in New Jersey will be eligible to receive $50,000 for each year they were wrongly imprisoned. Previously, exonerees received either a max of $20,000 or twice that of their annual pre-conviction income for each year served.
New Jersey is one of 29 states, and the District of Columbia, that provides compensation to residents who have been wrongfully convicted. Prior to this bill being signed into law, the state’s compensation levels were last updated 16 years ago.
Vermont Legislature Takes On Wrongful Conviction Reform
Four years after Vermont passed legislation to allow post-conviction DNA testing, state legislators are now considering two bills — SB 184 and SB 297 — to improve eyewitness identification procedures and to prevent false confessions. The bills received a two-day hearing in the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
Mistaken eyewitness identifications contributed to nearly 75 percent of the 312 wrongful convictions in the United States that were overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence. SB 184 would implement “blind” lineup procedures, a best practice in which the officer who administers the lineup is unaware of the identity of the suspect in order to prevent the administrator from inadvertently or intentionally influencing the eyewitness.
SB 297 would require the electronic recording of interrogations for violent crimes in order to protect against false confessions. In approximately 25 percent of the wrongful convictions overturned through DNA evidence, defendants made false confessions or admissions to law enforcement officials. The electronic recording of interrogations, from the reading of Miranda rights onward, is the single best reform available to stem the tide of false confessions by creating a record of the interrogation.
Texas to Review Hair Analysis Cases
In the wake of a partnership between the Innocence Project, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the FBI and the Department of Justice to review microscopic hair analysis cases, the Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC) voted unanimously earlier this month to review state criminal convictions that included testimony on microscopic hair analysis. Texas’ planned review will make it the first state in the nation to conduct a review of cases involving this type of evidence.
Four of Texas’ twenty labs that conduct hair analysis have already submitted lists of cases where a "positive association" was made between a defendant and crime scene evidence. According to TFSC general counsel Lynn Robitaille, a database review of appeal court decisions has identified 85 cases for potential review. The Innocence Project of Texas partnered with the TFSC to identify cases that were currently waiting to be reviewed or were already processed.