Lawmakers Urged to Support Spending to Fix Wrongful Convictions and Bad Forensics

A former FBI director and a former governor are asking key federal lawmakers to support vital forensic science and indigent defense programs that aim to reduce miscarriages of justice.

In a letter organized by TCP delivered to leaders of the Senate and House appropriation subcommittees responsible for criminal justice funding on May 6, Judge William S. Sessions, who served three presidents as director of the FBI, and former Texas Governor Mark White wrote that federal funding is urgently needed to improve the accuracy and reliability of our nation’s criminal justice system.

The letter noted that over 25% of wrongful convictions were due, in part, to bad lawyering or bad science and that just last month, the FBI acknowledged three decades of flawed testimony by its forensic unit analysts, affecting the integrity of thousands of convictions in the United States.

Sessions and White were joined in signing the letter by Gerald Kogan, who served as chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, and Beth Wilkinson, who was one of the lead prosecutors in the cases of the Oklahoma City bombers.  The latter three are co-chairs of The Constitution Project Death Penalty Committee, and Sessions is a member.

“While systemic reform is vital to prevent conviction of the innocent, we know that the use of faulty science – as well as representation of the accused by under-resourced, ill-equipped defense counsel – are too often contributing factors to wrongful convictions throughout the country,” they wrote.

In particular, the four signers called for enhanced funding to support the critical role of defense counsel to protect individuals from wrongful convictions, and to help support post-conviction investigation and representation in potential wrongful conviction cases.  They also called upon Congress to provide federal support for research to define the limits of the forensic sciences, and to set standards from that research to ensure that valid science is applied uniformly in the criminal justice system.

Last year, TCP’s bi-partisan Death Penalty Committee issued a comprehensive report on the systemic problems plaguing administration of capital punishment in America.  Among its 39 specific recommendations, the report called for improved access to counsel and better forensic science.

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