“The criminal justice system doesn’t always get it right,” says the Ohio Chief Justice

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A team of legal experts is researching how Ohio’s criminal justice system can be reformed so that illegal convictions can be caught and corrected earlier.

The struggle to break a false belief under the current system can take decades and enormous resources. The Ohio Innocence Project, based at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, has worked to rescue 32 innocent people since 2003 – together they served behind bars for about 600 years.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor, a former district attorney, set up a task force of experts to investigate how Ohio can improve its review and detection of false convictions. The group is expected to submit a report by late summer.

“The criminal justice system doesn’t always get it right. I think that’s the starting point here. And if we didn’t get it right, we shouldn’t say, “Oh, the system worked” because the system didn’t work. If there is a way to check and recheck, these Integrity Task Forces are about it, ”said O’Connor.

She added, “I don’t think anyone should be against it.”

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly, who serves on the Sentencing Integrity Task Force, said he viewed the eradication of an innocent person’s freedom as “one of the worst forms of injustice in our democracy.”

Donnelly said the post-conviction review and appeal, as well as the efforts of public defenders and the Ohio Innocence Project, are not enough.

“The system as it is currently being developed does not deal effectively and efficiently with these innocence claims. The stars really need to adjust to someone wrongly convicted for the system to take a second look at their case and send them on the road to discharge, ”he said.

False convictions can arise due to issues such as poor forensics, police or prosecution malpractice, false eyewitness identification, and false confessions.

False conviction claims are rare in tens of thousands of cases, Tobin said, and valid claims are even rarer. Given that, smaller counties may not want to set up Integrity of Belief units, he said.

“Unity may not be practical for smaller counties where these claims do not exist or are extremely rare. In these counties, our practices can continue to be used as a guide to the points to consider or, alternatively, recommend entering into agreements with counties that have units, ”said Tobin.

Donnelly said Ohio could follow the lead of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which were establishing statewide conviction integrity units under their attorneys general.

He added that the state has paid millions of dollars to settle unlawful conviction claims and it would be wise to spend the money on the front end to prevent such claims.

The state of Ohio agreed last year to pay $ 1.2 million to M. Jenny Wilcox and Robert Aldridge, former Huber Heights residents who were wrongly convicted of 23 child molestations in 1985 and said it would take 60 years until they came into question slogan. They spent more than a decade in prison before the case was unraveled through the work of Columbus private investigator Martin Yant.

Donnelly, who served as the court judge for 14 years, said it was difficult to know how many innocent people could be wrongly convicted.

“It’s scary that there could be this very large percentage of people. Your claims need to be processed. We have to put truth above finality. We need to have a system that recognizes that these forms of injustice are occurring and how they can be systematically remedied as quickly as possible – it should be the goal of everyone, including prosecutors, “said Donnelly.

Prosecutor Tobin said: “It is unfair to label prosecutors as resistant to review requests or to act as if they are blind to convictions. Prosecutors are already subject to a higher ethical standard than other lawyers. They are resistant to scrutiny calls for lack of merit, and the vast majority of them have no merit. “

By the numbers:

2,755: Americans have been exonerated since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations – wrongly convicted and later cleared of all charges

85: Ohioans exonerated

3: People were exonerated, two cases are pending, and six others were sentenced to prison terms after the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Integrity Unit reviewed their cases

1: Request for review has been received by Summit County’s Sentencing Integrity Unit

This story was originally published by WCPO 9 News partner Journal-News. It will be republished here with permission.

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