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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: January 19, 2021 10:27 AM
From: Senator Vincent J. Hughes
To: All Senate members
Subject: Conviction Integrity Bill Package
In the near future, I plan to reintroduce my package of conviction integrity bills from the 2019-2020 legislative session (Senate Bills 872 and 873) 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 14 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:  9 were 21 or younger. With this, the average amount of time spent in jail before their release was 24 and a half years:  8 and a half more than the national average. Nine out fourteen of these innocent people have spent at least half of their life in prison. Since 1982, when DNA evidence became usable in criminal proceedings, the United States has had 102 exonerations. The initial convictions of these individuals were a result of false confessions.

Wrongful imprisonment is an inexcusable but curable problem in our criminal justice system. This legislation will help protect Pennsylvania residents from wrongful convictions that are ruining lives.

I hope you will join me in sponsoring these worthy initiatives. If you have any questions, please contact Veronica Miller in my office.

Document #1

Introduced as SB328

Description: The first piece of legislation puts forth guidelines for recording of interrogations and eyewitness identification. The legislation would require the recording of custodial interrogations regarding specific crimes and improve eyewitness identification procedures. Improving upon these procedures ensures the potential eyewitness identification is not a result of influences or unintentional cues, nor is the defendant’s confession the result of coercion. 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. 25 states have implemented similar custodial interrogation practices, including neighboring states of New Jersey, Maryland, New York and Ohio. Likewise, 24 states have implemented similar eyewitness identification practices, including Texas, California, Michigan and West Virginia.

Document #2

Introduced as SB329

Description: The second piece of legislation addresses the use of informant testimonies in any criminal proceedings or capital case. This legislation would fill the gaps in current law, which currently provides no limit on the use of such evidence and fails to provide sufficient means to ensure reliability. The bill would require the prosecution to make certain disclosures, including any agreements that have been offered in return for the testimony. Additionally, the bill would require the court to hold a reliability hearing to determine if the informant’s testimony is reliable. The disclosure requirements and reliability hearing are consistent with existing state and federal law.