After serving 19 years behind bars, Thomas Doswell was released after DNA evidence clearly proved his innocence in a brutal rape case. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Nationally, 175 people have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing. At least eight involved inmates in Pennsylvania. One man spent nearly two decades in prison before being exonerated. Another spent many years on death row.
Legislation cosponsored by Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Montgomery/Bucks Counties) and Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) to establish an “innocence commission” in Pennsylvania passed in the state Senate. The commission will investigate the underlying causes of wrongful convictions and make recommendations to reduce or eliminate the chance that innocent people could spend time behind bars for crimes they did not commit. If passed, Pennsylvania joins six other states with similar commissions.
At a news conference about the legislation, Sen. Greenleaf said, “DNA technology is a great contribution to criminal justice. Its application has enabled the release of the innocent and the prosecution of perpetrators. It has also demonstrated that mistakes are possible and the justice system is not infallible.”
The Pennsylvania Innocence Commission will serve as a “safety valve” for our criminal justice system. With the trend over the past decade to toughen sentences for a wide range of crimes, and with the possibility of parole less likely for many serving life sentences, Pennsylvania would be wise to undertake this study.
Sen. Costa said, “This legislation is intended to help prosecutors, police, judges, witnesses and crime victims by suggesting better procedures for the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses to avoid some of the problems we have experienced in the past from misidentification and other issues resulting in wrongful conviction.”
In the name of justice, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) supports this legislation.
PCC Column May 2006 by Amy Beisel, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.