New Jersey's 26th Legislative District

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Pennacchio/Turner Introduce Bill to Reduce Wrongful Convictions in NJ

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Bipartisan Bill Establishes “New Jersey Innocence Study and Review Commission”

Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) and Senator Shirley Turner (D-15) have introduced legislation to establish a commission charged with developing reforms to prevent wrongful convictions in New Jersey.

Sen. Joe Pennacchio’s bipartisan bill would establish a commission charged with developing reforms to reduce wrongful convictions in New Jersey (©iStock)

“The annual number of false convictions in our country has more than doubled since 2011,” Senator Pennacchio said. “In New Jersey, those who were exonerated spent an average of ten years behind bars. We cannot give back the years that were stolen from the innocent people who were wrongfully convicted in this state, but by developing comprehensive reforms, we can ensure that countless others are not forced to suffer the same injustices.”

“Our criminal justice system is more fallible than we realize,” Senator Turner said.  “Most people can imagine the trauma of being convicted of a crime they did not commit and serving years in prison; however, there are people in New Jersey who are living that trauma right now.  We need to get to the bottom of what’s happening in our justice system and make the necessary corrections to ensure that our time-honored system is not failing innocent people and their families.”

The “New Jersey Innocence Study and Review Commission” would review all aspects of criminal cases involving wrongful conviction in New Jersey and recommend reforms to reduce the likelihood of wrongful conviction occurring in the future.

Under S-3045, the commission must make a specific recommendation for establishing a permanent panel before which a person who believes they have been the victim of a wrongful conviction could request a review of their own conviction, including those that are currently incarcerated.

More than 2,000 wrongfully convicted persons have been exonerated since 1989, according to the National Registry on Exonerations. However, the Registry estimates that there are tens of thousands of false convictions annually nationwide, with many more piling up over time.

The commission’s responsibilities also include:

  • Identifying the main causes of wrongful conviction and studying existing research on these causes;
  • Recommending best practices to appropriate constituencies
  • Examining the existing system of restitution to compensate wrongfully convicted persons
  • Studying successful programs that assist with reintegration back into society following release

The commission would be composed of nine members, including two appointed by the Senate President and two appointed by the Assembly Speaker. The commission chairperson, appointed by the Governor, must be a retired Superior Court judge or retired justice of the Supreme Court.

The remaining members would include the Public Defender; the Attorney General; the Administrative Director of the Courts; a representative of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey, or their respective designees.  All members must be appointed within 45 days of enactment of the bill.

The commission would have 18 months following appointments to issue a report of its findings and recommendations to the Legislature and the Governor.

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