ACLU Urges Legislation to Prevent Wrongful Conviction of Innocents

June 18, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged committees in both the House and Senate to support and quickly pass legislation designed to reduce the risk of innocent persons being wrongfully convicted or sentenced to death in America.

“By now, more than 100 wrongly sentenced people have been released from death row, a fact that begs the question: how many more mistakes have been made that tragically have not been caught?” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Legislation desperately needs to be in place to require far more stringent protections against the execution of an innocent person, an act which is nothing less than the greatest violation of liberty imaginable.”

The ACLU is supporting the Innocence Protection Act (HR 912), a bill that would utilize DNA evidence and more competent legal counsel to seal a number of cracks in the current death penalty system that strengthen the likelihood of an innocent person being wrongfully convicted or sentenced to die. More than half of the House is cosponsoring the legislation; 25 senators also have signed on.

The bill was the subject of a hearing today in the Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee; the full Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing entitled “Protecting the Innocent: Proposals to Reform the Death Penalty.”

The new attention in Congress to death penalty reform comes on the heels of Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning’s decision in May to suspend executions while that state undertakes a thorough review of its death penalty system. Republican Governor George Ryan of Illinois had earlier imposed a moratorium in his state.

Attention was also added to the issue last week when, three men, all of whom had been sentenced to die and then exonerated, traveled to Washington to urge greater protections against the execution of innocent persons. Pennsylvania’s Ray Krone, Puerto Rican Juan Melendez and Maryland native Kirk Bloodsworth – the 100th, 99th and 53rd innocent persons to be released from death row, respectively — urged Congress to undertake a similar study on the national level and promoted the Innocence Protection Act.

“When it comes to the how we mete out criminal punishment, the stakes could not be higher. We have seen too many flaws in the system result in too many questionable convictions and especially executions,” King added. “Congress needs to do the responsible thing and make sure our criminal justice system is not convicting innocent people.”

More information on the Washington visit of the three exonerated men can be found at:

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