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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2013 - 2014 Regular Session


Posted: December 11, 2012 02:31 PM
From: Senator Jim Ferlo
To: All Senate members
Subject: Compensation for Victims of Wrongful Conviction and Improving Eyewitness Identification Procedures
In the near future, I will re-introduce Senate Bills 578, 579, and 580 from the previous session. These three pieces of legislation amend Title 42 to make certain provisions for compensation in the event of wrongful convictions and to address improvements of eyewitness identification procedures.

The horrific experience of Mr. Thomas Doswell, a constituent from my district, who spent much of his two sons’ childhoods in prison for a crime he did not commit, has brought our need to revisit the issue of wrongful imprisonment to the forefront. Unfortunately, Mr. Doswell’s nearly 20 years behind bars as an innocent man is not a unique situation in our Commonwealth. Quite a few prisoners in Pennsylvania’s system of justice have been able to concretely prove their innocence after being convicted and incarcerated. While complete numbers are difficult to determine, it is clear that more than 30 people have been wrongfully convicted and subsequently exonerated in Pennsylvania. I believe it is time to offer real reforms which ensure that our justice system is not only swift and efficient, but more accurate and fair as well.

Document #1

Introduced as SB38

Description: Senate Bill 579 from the previous session will be reintroduced and provide for compensation for persons who are wrongfully convicted and are later proved innocent. When we convict the innocent, we wrongfully deny these people their lives, their families, and their futures. The federal government, Washington DC, and 27 other states have statutes which allow the wrongfully convicted to receive compensation in various amounts.  This legislation will propose compensation comparable to that provided in other states.

In the previous session Senate Bill 579 was co-sponsored by Senators Fontana, Stack, Kitchen, Williams, Wozniak, Farnese, and Washington.

Document #2

Introduced as SB39

Description: Senate Bill 578 from the previous session will be reintroduced and will provide for the establishment of pilot programs throughout the state to apply best practices in law enforcement to help Pennsylvania test new witness identification procedures. The bill will create a grant program for different sized municipalities to apply different types of procedures to make recommendations on improvements that can be made statewide. New policies and procedures, such as those recommended by the National Institute of Justice, are readily available and have proven effective in other jurisdictions, so it is imperative that adequate funding be made available to train officers and implement the procedures in line with any changes required by above legislation.

In the previous session this was Senate Bill 578 and was co-sponsored by Senators Fontana, Williams, Wozniak, Kitchen, Stack and Farnese.

Document #3

Introduced as SB40

Description: Senate Bill 580 from the previous session will be reintroduced and will provide new procedures for eyewitness identification. Statistics indicate that three-quarters of the individuals exonerated in the US through DNA testing were wrongfully convicted by mistaken eyewitness identification. Minor changes in the administration of eyewitness identification procedures, endorsed by the US Department of Justice, the American Bar Association, and other states, show drastic improvements in the accuracy of those identifications. The changes include using a “blind” administrator, a person who does not know which individual in the lineup is the suspect; providing instructions to the eyewitness that the administrator does not know who the suspect is or if the suspect is even in the lineup; and using a sequential lineup, as opposed to a simultaneous lineup, so that the eyewitness can make a more accurate judgment on the suspect’s image.

In the previous session this was Senate Bill 580 and was co-sponsored by Senators Fontana, Williams, Wozniak, Kitchen, Stack and Farnese.