Bill Watch

New Bill Seeks Fewer Wrongful Convictions in California

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On Friday, California Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced a new bill that he hopes will reduce the number of people who are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in the state.

According to a 2018 report from the National Registry for Exonerations, the more than 2,200 people exonerated between 1989 and 2018 spent a total of more than 20,000 years in prison for crimes they did not commit — or an average of more than 8 years, 10 months behind bars.

Another 2016 study revealed that taxpayers in California had paid more than $282 million between 1989 and 2012 to cover incarceration expenses, legal costs, and compensation for the wrongful imprisonment of 692 people.

Unreliable or wrong forensic science — like hair, fingerprint, and bullet analysis — presented by experts is the second most common reason for a wrongful conviction. Nationally, the misapplication of forensic science was a contributing factor in 45 percent of wrongful convictions nationally, data shows. Part of the problem is that courts do not submit expert testimony to much scrutiny, and instead, accept most any such testimony as admissible in court.

Sen. Wiener’s bill, SB 938, would address the problem by strengthening standards for how expert witness testimony is evaluated in court, in an effort to “move away from baseless expert testimony.” Current law, Wiener said, allows people to be convicted based on expert testimony that is not scientifically sound.

“When innocent people are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, it’s a terrible miscarriage of justice and also means the guilty go free,” said Senator Wiener. “SB 938 takes us one step closer to ensuring that our criminal justice system is both fair and accurate.”

Wiener’s bill also makes clearer the official path for wrongfully convicted people to secure post-conviction relief.

The bill, which is sponsored by the California Innocence Project, the Loyola Project for the Innocent, and the Northern California Innocence Project, and supported by San Francisco’s new District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, will first land before state lawmakers for consideration in mid-March.

“Wrongful convictions cause concentric circles of harm,” said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, “to the wrongfully convicted and their communities, to the crime victims who were told a false story and face re-traumatization, to the jurors who unwittingly participated in the injustice, and to the integrity of the system as a whole.”


Image by Arctic Wolves, Flickr.

9 Comments

  • WTF!!!

    “Unreliable or wrong forensic science…is the second most common reason for a wrongful conviction.”

    So what is the first reason, and how come it’s not getting mentioned in this piece?

    ?

  • Cognistator, unfortunately you and your ilk are not number one on this one. I would venture to say eyewitness mis-identification. You and your ilk, and the rogue prosecutors, probably make up the number 3 slot. I’m sure you will resort to the Google Journal of Wrongful Convictions to do your research. Of course, you do not even believe people are even wrongfully convicted and that your ilk has no hand in wrongfully convicting anyone, especially when they are black.

    • I just Googled it & came up with

      Eyewitness misidentification.

      Were it not for Google I would’ve said falsified facts in arrest & other reports.

      So.

      My misperception corrected by

      Google.

    • Gj, how would it be fortunate for any one thing to be the number one cause of wrongful convictions? Unless that cause reenforces your envy and rage. So you root for more wrongful convictions, just to indulge your petty anger, pathetic

  • “Current law, Wiener said, allows people to be convicted based on expert testimony that is not scientifically sound.”

    OK Celeste,I’ll bite. What expert testimony is being allowed that is not based on science that is not sound. Do YOU have any ideas, or hints you would care to share with your avid readers? Or is it a secret for you and Mr Wiener to share when the time is right?

  • Sorry, I meant ask the question of Taylor. Celeste would have taken the time to offer some explanation of what type of voodoo Mr Wiener is talking about.

  • Madame Kong-GJ? You got me. In any event, I unfortunately for your ilk, because you and your ilk are such cowboys that you would have probably have taken pride in being the number one reason for convictions. You’ll take them any way you can.

    Two bits, I know you meant no pun when you said you’ll “bite,” but how about bite mark analysis. A bunch of junk without any science. How about finger-print analysis. It does not work as it does on the Forensic Files or 48 Hours. Or, fire pattern/arson analysis; also a bunch of junk. Police and prosecutors use this crap to convict people, many of whom are already like fish in a barrel.

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