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Monday, December 07, 2015

Ind. Courts - "In Indiana, the wrongfully convicted are on their own"

In a good front-page Indianapolis Star story today, Kristine Guerra reports:

People who are wrongfully convicted and released from prison in Indiana are left almost entirely on their own, with no help from the government that placed them behind bars. Compared with the rest of the nation, experts say Indiana has been sluggish in implementing reforms that would assist innocent people who leave prison after years of incarceration.

Just because the system exonerates someone does not “equate to money in their pockets,” said Fran Watson, law professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. Some choose to file wrongful conviction lawsuits and are awarded settlements, but only after a lengthy civil litigation.

Unlike Indiana, about 30 states, as well as the federal government and the District of Columbia, automatically provide some form of financial compensation when someone has been wrongfully convicted, whether it was caused by official misconduct or a mistake by either witnesses or investigators.

The report points out that Texas "provides exonerees $80,000 for every year they were falsely imprisoned," and Illinois:
...provides about $85,000 for those who served up to 5 years in prison, $170,000 for those who served between 5 and 14 years, and about $199,000 for those who served more than 14 years. Illinois also makes available education and insurance plans and offers job training and housing assistance to exonerees.
18 people have been officially exonerated in Indiana. More from the story:
Justice advocates say the problem in Indiana is exacerbated because the state not only lags many others in assistance to the wrongfully accused, it also lacks some important best practices that prevent wrongful convictions in the first place.

For example, Indiana lacks specific safeguards to prevent eye witness misidentification, the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the country, according to the Innocence Project.

Model legislation suggested by the Innocence Project would require that whoever is showing a photo lineup to witnesses does not know which person investigators believe is the suspect. That lessens the likelihood that someone would make suggestive statements to stir witnesses toward identifying someone. The legislation also would require witnesses to describe in their own words how certain they are of their identification.

Indiana, however, has made some strides in certain areas. Under the Indiana Rules of Evidence, police interrogation of suspects should not be presented as evidence in court unless it’s recorded in a video that captures facial expressions and body language of both the suspect and the interrogator.

Indiana also allows people who are convicted of murder and Class A, B and C felonies to request testing of DNA evidence after they’ve been sentenced. But the Innocence Project’s Brown said this points to another loophole in Indiana: DNA evidence is preserved only after someone has petitioned for testing, and there’s no law requiring automatic preservation of any kind of evidence that was presented in court.

“There’s a huge hole in the law that enables the destruction of evidence legally,” Brown said. “In many instances, it takes somebody years to petition DNA testing in the first place.”

Watson, who runs a local Innocence Project network at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, said enacting a law that governs evidence preservation would be a good starting point for Indiana. She said she has advocated for it in the legislature, but with very little success.

“It’s important that the evidence be preserved because science changes,” Watson said. “If science is going to continue to evolve, you would want a strong law about what you keep or don’t keep and how you keep it and how long you keep it.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 7, 2015 08:26 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts