Building off of recent policy reform successes, NCIP will prioritize legislative efforts that address the causes and consequences of wrongful conviction. NCIP’s legislative priorities for the current legislative session are outlined below:
Senate Bill (SB) 923 (Senator Wiener and Assemblymember Levine) Eyewitness Identification Best Practices
Eyewitness misidentification is one the leading causes of wrongful convictions. Nineteen states have adopted eyewitness identification best practices for their law enforcement agencies; California is not one of them.
Over the last 30 years, social scientists have identified core practices to reduce the risk of obtaining a misidentification: 1) a blind administration of the eyewitness identification process; meaning the person who conducts the procedure is not aware of who the suspect is; 2) admonitions informing the witness that the suspect may or may not be in the photos; 3) proper fillers, i.e. photos of non-suspects should be close to the description of the perpetrator so as to not make the suspect stand out; 4) a statement from the witness as to how confident they are in their identification at the time of the identification; and 5) a recording of the procedure. The goal of SB 923 is to reduce misidentifications and resulting wrongful convictions, and to increase public safety by improving the reliability of identifications through statewide adoption of eyewitness identification best practices in California. NCIP is partnering with the ACLU, the California Innocence Project in San Diego, and Loyola Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles on this bill.
SB 1094 (Senators Anderson, Skinner, and Glazer) Automatic Compensation for Exonerees
California Penal Codes sections 4900 – 4904 allow exonerees to seek compensation for their wrongful incarceration. Exonerees overcome huge obstacles to get their convictions reversed and charges dismissed, yet their compensation is not automatic.
In 2013, the passing of NCIP-sponsored SB 618 (Leno) was a great step allowing people who had proven their actual innocence to be granted automatic compensation. And in 2015 and 2017 respectively, NCIP-sponsored legislation SB 1058 (Leno) and SB 1134 (Leno), clarified standards by which a conviction may be reversed based on newly discovered evidence. However, these changes in the law have not been incorporated into the current compensation statute. The goal of SB 1094 is to incorporate language from SB 1058 and SB 1134 into the compensation scheme to allow for automatic compensation for exonerees in cases reversed under these laws. NCIP is partnering with the ACLU, the California Innocence Project in San Diego, and Loyola Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles on this bill.
AB 1987 (Assemblymember Lackey) Post-Conviction Discovery Reform
Once a person is convicted, current California law (Pen. Code, sec. 1054.9) grants a right to discovery only if the inmate was sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) or death. As a result, obtaining the evidence necessary to review and investigate most NCIP cases, even when the evidence exists in the hands of the prosecution, is difficult, greatly contributes to the length of time it takes to review and investigate cases, and generates unnecessary and costly litigation. The goal of AB 1987 is to allow the defense the same post-conviction discovery access in all felony cases, as they currently have in LWOP and death cases. NCIP is partnering with the ACLU, the California Innocence Project in San Diego and Loyola Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles on this bill.
AB 2988 (Assemblymember Weber) Evidence Retention
California Penal Code sections 1417.1 and 1417.9 govern the retention of evidence in criminal cases and allow for the destruction of physical evidence and court exhibits at the conclusion of a criminal proceeding once notice is provided to certain interested parties, including the convicted person.
However, without representation and assistance, most people lack the knowledge and skill to object to the destruction of evidence in their cases, even when notified. The current requirements also do not take into account that the destruction of evidence during a person’s incarceration prevents them from later taking advantage of developments in forensic science that may ultimately prove their innocence. To fix these loopholes, NCIP is partnering with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the California Innocence Project in San Diego, and the Loyola Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles on a bill that mandates the preservation of physical evidence and trial exhibits in homicide and sexual assault cases for the length of an inmate’s sentence.