The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System

The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System

The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System

The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System


"A thoughtful and disturbing account of his founding in 2003 of the Innocence Commission for Virginia (ICVA) to investigate wrongful convictions.... Written for the general public, Gould's book has important lessons for attorneys and policymakers as well.' -Library Journal ?The Innocence Commission adds to the scholarship in the area of wrongful convictions in several important ways and with riveting case descriptions.' -Daniel S. Medwed, University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law DNA testing and advances in forensic science have shaken the foundations of the U.S. criminal justice system. One of the most visible results is the exoneration of inmates who were wrongly convicted and incarcerated, many of them sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. This has caused a quandary for many states: how can claims of innocence be properly investigated and how can innocent inmates be reliably distinguished from the guilty? In answer, some states have created ?innocence commissions? to establish policies and provide legal assistance to the improperly imprisoned. The Innocence Commission describes the creation and first years of the Innocence Commission for Virginia (ICVA), the second innocence commission in the nation and the first to conduct a systematic inquiry into all cases of wrongful conviction. Written by Jon B. Gould, the Chair of the ICVA, who is a professor of justice studies and an attorney, the author focuses on twelve wrongful conviction cases to show how and why wrongful convictions occur, what steps legal and state advocates took to investigate the convictions, how these prisoners were ultimately freed, and what lessons can be learned from their experiences. Gould recounts how a small band of attorneys and other advocates - in Virginia and around the country - have fought wrongful convictions in court, advanced the subject of wrongful convictions in the media, and sought to remedy the issue of wrongful convictions in the political arena. He makes a strong case for the need for Innocence Commissions in every state, showing that not only do Innocence Commissions help to identify weaknesses in the criminal justice system and offer workable improvements, but also protect society by helping to ensure that actual perpetrators are expeditiously identified, arrested, and brought to trial. Everyone has an interest in preventing wrongful convictions, from police officers and prosecutors, who seek the latest and best investigative techniques, to taxpayers, who want an efficient criminal justice system, to suspects who are erroneously pursued and sometimes convicted. Free of legal jargon and written for a general audience, The Innocence Commission is instructive, informative, and highly compelling reading.


In December 2005, the abc television network issued a press release announcing a new project to “to overturn wrongful convictions, liberate the falsely accused and discover the identity of those really to blame.” Rather than heralding an advocacy organization, however, ABC's release concerned a new television series it would air, called In Justice. According to Stephen McPherson, president of abc entertainment, the show represented

A completely new take on the procedural drama. Focusing on cases of
justice run amok—sloppy police work, false testimony and biased ju
ries—the show would feature the fictitious National Justice Project, a
high-profile, non-profit organization made up of hungry young associ
ates who approach their work like a puzzle, a puzzle that's been put to
gether wrong.”

In Justice lasted for only thirteen episodes, earning such pans as “cutesy,” “drab,” and “not-so-amazing” from television critics. Yet the show's airing marked an important milestone, for its creation reflected a growing recognition in popular culture that the criminal justice system was capable of serious errors. Gone was the presumption found in other shows that police officers, prosecutors, and judges wear white hats. ABC's new offering not only showed a criminal justice system that could imprison the innocent, but it also trumpeted the effort of advocates working against the odds to free convicted defendants.

How did American society reach the point that a writer would feel confident pitching a series like In Justice to a television executive and that one of the nation's major networks would crow about “modernday heroes” who represent the convicted? To be sure, no reasonable person doubts that the American criminal justice system is more accurate than not, but American society seems to have moved past the “get . . .

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