By Matt Kelly
March 20, 2010
The Ohio House of Representatives this week passed sweeping reforms addressing the causes of wrongful conviction, setting a new standard for other states to follow in preventing this unimaginable — but very real — injustice.
The bill addresses evidence preservation, eyewitness identification procedures, recording of interrogations and improved access to DNA testing. It gained momentum in the wake of a groundbreaking series in the Columbus Dispatch highlighting cases of Ohio prisoners unable to obtain DNA tests that could prove them innocent.
SB 77 passed both chambers of the Ohio legislature with near-unanimous bipartisan support, and Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign it into law with a few days.
Ohio Rep. Tyrone Yates, who sponsored the bill in the House, called this bill “one of the most important pieces of criminal justice legislation in this state in a century.”
# The bill puts Ohio out ahead of many other states on four major reforms to prevent wrongful convictions and overturn injustice, including: Requiring the preservation of DNA evidence in serious crimes (such as homicide and sexual assault), because post-conviction reviews can’t be conducted when evidence has been tossed.
# Improving lineup procedures to significantly reduce the chance of misidentification, the leading cause of wrongful conviction.
# Incentivizing police departments to recording interrogations, a safeguard that prevents false confessions and a technique that helps law enforcement agencies conduct more efficient investigations
# Allowing parolees to apply for DNA testing in cases where it could potentially prove their innocence.
The Dispatch series that helped bring about these reforms has also led to two DNA exonerations so far, and other cases are in testing. The Innocence Network announced this week that the series’ two lead reporters, Mike Wagner and Geoff Dutton, will be given the group’s first annual Investigative Journalism Award in April.
With this bill, Ohio moves to the forefront on smart reforms to prevent injustice and improve efficiency in law enforcement and in courts. No one wants the innocent to go to prison. Wrongful convictions destroy lives and communities and leave the real perpetrators of crime on the streets. Kudos to Ohio for learning the lessons of injustice and making these critical changes.