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Too Many Wrongfully Convicted

In The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins’ character delights the audience by successfully escaping prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder and imprisoned for several years. In real life, there are inmates across the United States sitting in jail for crimes they didn’t commit-and politicians say that’s not okay.

After Dallas County’s recent 14th exoneration of a prison inmate, Texas Senator Rodney Ellis is unwilling to accept the system as it is, according to North Texas’ Star-Telegram. Senator Ellis, a member of the board of directors for the Innocence Project in New York, reportedly sees these exonerations-the most in any US county-as evidence of a “broken” criminal justice system.

His solution? A state-run Innocence Commission. Sources say that Ellis’ commission would consist of nine members appointed by the governor and other state leaders, and would be responsible for the review of cases with questionable criminal convictions, the acknowledgement of systemic flaws, and suggestions for correcting those flaws.

In this year’s legislative session, though, the proposal didn’t pass. But Texas isn’t the only state growing concerned about wrongful convictions.

In all but eight states, inmates are now allowed access to DNA evidence that wasn’t available at the time of their convictions, according to the New York Times. And many states are reportedly passing laws to toughen witness identification procedures, since 75% of exonerations so far have involved criminal convictions based on witness misidentification.

More than 500 jurisdictions around the country have instituted laws to monitor and limit police questioning tactics in an effort to eliminate false confessions, according to the article. And, because of the potential benefits to both civil rights and stricter law enforcement that these laws offer, Democrats and Republicans alike are apparently backing them.

So why is Ellis meeting opposition in getting his bill passed into law?

Most likely for the same reasons that only six states currently employ some sort of Innocence Commission. Law makers and enforcers are concerned that the existence of such groups would lead to excessive demands for reviews of convictions, notes the Star-Telegraph.

And the commission wouldn’t have the manpower to handle such a large caseload.

Others, reports the Times, worry that some of the proposed laws would allow too many defendants to get off on technicalities. But Ellis’ concern remains.

When people are spending 10 and 25 years in jail for crimes they did not commit, the system can indeed be considered “broken,” in a sense.

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