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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: August 12, 2019 11:07 AM
From: Senator Vincent J. Hughes
To: All Senate members
Subject: Conviction Integrity Bill Package
In the near future, I plan to introduce two bills that will address areas of our criminal justice system that are leading to wrongful conviction and imprisonment in our Commonwealth.

This issue is striking throughout Pennsylvania. The PA Innocence Project highlights fourteen cases in which the conviction of a Pennsylvania resident was overturned due to new evidence. The average age at conviction of these innocent people was just over 21 years old: nine were 21 or younger. With this, the average amount of time spent in jail before their release was 24 and a half years, eight and a half more than the national average. Nine out of fourteen of these cases have spent at least half of their life in prison.

Wrongful convictions create a ripple effect in communities in which the actual perpetrator is not caught. Since 1982, when DNA evidence became usable in criminal proceedings, the United States has had 102 exonerations because of DNA evidence. The initial convictions of these individuals were a result of false confessions and a corrupt criminal justice system. It is a shame and a sham that innocent individuals receive harsh sentences, up to and including the death penalty, because our laws are not adequately protecting their rights. It is imperative that we enact these conviction integrity measure in order to ensure the real perpetrators of these crimes are held responsible. Of those 102 exonerations, 38 of the real perpetrators had committed 48 additional crimes while an innocent person served time in their place.

The first bill looks to end the possibility of false confessions and eyewitness misidentification by requiring alternative methods of interrogation and witness I.D. The second bill relates to the use and treatment of informants from within prisons, especially in determining if an informant is a reliable witness. Wrongful imprisonment is an inexcusable, but curable problem in our criminal justice system.

These two bills are similar to the previously introduced legislation in Senator Greenleaf’s Senate Bill 711 (2013-2014). These pieces of legislation are meant to protect all parties within our criminal justice system.

Let’s restore confidence by enacting these measures that will ensure conviction integrity.

Please join me in sponsoring this important legislation. If you have any questions, please contact Veronica Miller in my office.

Document #1

Introduced as SB872

Description: The first piece of legislation puts forth guidelines for law enforcement regarding proper interrogation practices and eyewitness identification techniques.

The primary objective of this legislation requires the recording of custodial interrogations regarding specific crimes. The Innocence Project highlights that this legislation would protect both the individuals being interrogated and law enforcement officials by creating a record of the entire interaction. This ensures that the rights of the innocent are not infringed upon and prevents disputes on how officers conducted themselves during an interrogation. Similar custodial interrogation practices have been implemented in 25 states, including neighboring states of New Jersey, Maryland, New York and Ohio.

Improving eyewitness identification procedures is the second goal of this legislation. Improving upon these procedures recommends and encourages greater use of double-blind identification techniques, in which the administrator does not know who the suspect is. This legislation also recommends detailed instructions to be given by the administrator; requirement of a random composition of the lineup, documentation of the lineup, and a confidence statement given by the witness. Promoting these techniques would ensure the potential identification is not a result of influences or unintentional cues. Additionally, similar eyewitness identification practices have been implemented in 24 states, including Texas, California, Michigan and West Virginia.

Document #2

Introduced as SB873

Description: The second piece of legislation I plan on introducing addresses the use of informant testimonies in any criminal proceeding or capital case. For this purpose, an informant is an individual that claims that the accused made admissions to them while detained or incarcerated in a penal institution contemporaneously. This legislation will require the prosecution to disclose a detailed background on the informant, including any agreements that have been offered in return for the testimony, 30 days prior to a relevant hearing or trial. Additionally, this legislation will mandate a reliability hearing, held by the court, that requires the prosecution to prove that the informant’s testimony is reliable.