Causes of Wrongful Conviction
There are a variety of causes that can be pointed to which contribute to wrongful convictions. The following section helps to outline some of the major causes and NCIP efforts to help reform the system.
- Eyewitness Error
- False Confessions
- Faulty Forensic Science
- Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
- Official Misconduct
Through education, outreach and advocacy, NCIP supports policies that keep innocent people out of prison, free the wrongfully convicted, and provide adequate supports and resources for exonerees. We recognize that the criminal justice system makes mistakes; we work with other system stakeholders to rectify mistakes that have happened and to prevent future mistakes.
Targeted efforts currently focus on improving California’s new evidence standard for proving actual innocence and on streamlining the exoneree compensation process. We also back efforts to enhance law enforcement interrogation and eyewitness identification practices–to reduce false confession and eyewitness error–and we partner with prosecutors to implement effective post-conviction case review.
The following is a sample of NCIP’s successes in impacting public policy to create a fairer criminal justice system.
SB 635 (Increases exoneree compensation to $140 per day wrongly incarcerated)
On October 1, 2015, Governor Brown signed SB 635 sponsored by the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) which increases compensation from $100 to $140 for each day an exoneree is wrongly imprisoned, including jail time. The increase, the first since 2000, brings compensation rates up to adjust for inflation and current costs of living and better helps exonerees to rebuild their lives after release from prison. The bill, authored by Senator Jim Nielsen and co-authored by Senator Mark Leno, received unopposed bipartisan support in the California legislature. Read more here.
AB 672 (Provides transitional services to certain exonerees upon release from prison)
NCIP also supported AB 672, signed into law by Governor Brown on October 1, 2015. AB 672, authored by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, requires the California Department of Corrections to help exonerees obtain identification cards and transitional services after their release from prison. The bill is named Obie’s Law after NCIP exoneree Obie Anthony who testified in support of it.
SB 980 (Improves access to physical and biological evidence and to DNA testing)
On September 25, 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 980, sponsored by the Northern California Innocence Project and others, which will improve the process for wrongfully convicted prisoners to obtain DNA testing. The bill, authored by Sen. Ted Lieu, gives prisoners improved access to the physical and biological evidence preserved in their cases and clarifies the procedures for obtaining DNA testing in California. The bill makes the following specific improvements to inmates’ access to DNA evidence:
- Requires law enforcement agencies to provide information about the existence of biological evidence, such as whether it has been destroyed or preserved;
- Extends the period of time inmates and their counsel have to respond to a notice of evidence destruction from 90 days to 180 days, and further extends the time for requesting DNA testing from six months to one year;
- Enables courts to order the relevant government agency to search the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database for a match in order to find the true perpetrator, in the event that the DNA test is granted and the results exclude the convicted person.
SB 1058 (Expands the false testimony innocence claim to include outdated expert testimony)
Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1058 into law on September 26, 2014, the second of two bills sponsored by NCIP to be signed this year which aid the wrongfully convicted. Authored by Sen. Mark Leno, SB 1058 will help exonerate innocent men and women who have been wrongfully convicted based on outdated expert testimony. It will help assure people wrongfully convicted based on such testimony can have their conviction overturned when the expert later admits he or she was wrong, or when new science proves the testimony wrong. Read more here.
SB 569 & SB618 (SB 569 requires law enforcement to videorecord custodial interrogations of juvenile murder suspects. SB 618 streamlines the exoneree compensation claims process.)
In 2013 NCIP was instrumental in passing two crucial pieces of California legislation that were signed by Governor Brown. The first bill, SB 569, sponsored by Sen. Ted Lieu, helps to prevent false confessions of juveniles accused of murder by requiring that police departments videotape these interrogations.
The second bill, SB 618, sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno, streamlines the process for the wrongfully convicted to receive compensation for their erroneous conviction. We are especially proud to note that two NCIP exonerees, Maurice Caldwell and Franky Carrillo, traveled to Sacramento to urge state representatives to pass these bills. Our exonerees are becoming powerful and effective advocates.
Reforming Eyewitness Identification Practices in California
Nearly 200 people attended the Northern California Innocence Project’s (NCIP) Eyewitness Identification Best Practices Symposium at the University of San Francisco (USF) on May 21, 2014. The symposium, sponsored by a Flom Incubator Grant from the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, brought together police chiefs, district attorneys, social scientists and criminal justice reform advocates to discuss best practices for eyewitness identification procedures in California, and inspired some jurisdictions to make changes to their existing procedures.
Hosted by NCIP at Santa Clara University School of Law and the International Institute of Criminal Justice Leadership at USF School of Law, the symposium featured an impressive lineup of speakers. Read more here.
For more information about the Innocence Network (of which NCIP is a part), see www.innocencenetwork.org.
To see a complete list of exonerations in the United States, visit the National Registry Database: https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/about.aspx
For assistance with an innocence claim where the conviction occurred in a southern California county: contact the California Innocence Project at www.californiainnocenceproject.org or (619) 525-1485
For assistance with locating an inmate within the California prison system: use the online Inmate Locator Service at www.inmatelocator.cdcr.gov or call them at (916) 445-6713
For assistance with addressing unfavorable conditions or matters within a prison: contact the Prison Law Office online at www.prisonlaw.com or write them at Prison Law Office, General Delivery, San Quentin, CA 94964 or visit the Prison Policy Initiative online for various prisoner rights issues at www.prisonpolicy.org
For assistance with finding a pro bono (free of charge) attorney in California: visit the California State Bar online at www.calbar.ca.gov or call them at (415) 538-2000