New Jersey's 26th Legislative District

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Pennacchio/Turner Bill to Combat Wrongful Convictions Clears Senate

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Creates New Jersey Innocence Study and Review Commission to Examine the Issue and Recommend Steps to Prevent the Miscarriage of Justice

Bipartisan legislation that would combat the wrongful convictions and imprisonment of innocent individuals, sponsored by Senator Joe Pennacchio and Senator Shirley Turner was approved today by the Senate.

Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senator Pennacchio to establish the New Jersey Innocence Study and Review Commission was approved by the Senate today. (©iStock)

The bill, S-282, establishes the New Jersey Innocence Study and Review Commission, with the mission of recommending reforms to reduce the likelihood of wrongful convictions occurring in the future.

“I strongly believe this legislation will help find the answers we need to help prevent innocent people from being locked away for crimes they didn’t commit,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “I have stood shoulder to shoulder with some of those who were wrongfully convicted and listened to their stories. That inspired my effort to address the flaws in our system. The Senate unanimously passed a version of this bill in the previous session, and once again, my colleagues are standing up for justice.”

Among the commission’s duties would be identifying the primary causes leading to wrongful conviction, examining existing research on these causes, reviewing wrongful conviction cases, and making a recommendation for the establishment of a permanent innocence review panel for imprisoned individuals to request review of their own conviction.

“Nothing can return the time lost with loved ones or milestones missed when a wrongful conviction steals years from an innocent person’s life,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “While we often consider the impact this has on an individual’s personal life, we need to remember it also stifles their potential lifetime earnings as well as threatening the financial security of themselves and their families. This legislation will help us identify how to prevent wrongful convictions and create an avenue to better address wrongful convictions when they do occur. We must do everything in our power to ensure those who have been wrongfully convicted are given justice, restorations, and the tools they need to successfully reenter society.”

Pennacchio and Turner introduced the measure in 2017 following a press report on wrongful conviction cases in the state.

The Last Resort Exoneration Project at Seton Hall University School of Law noted the most conservative estimate of the factual innocence rate for convictions of serious crimes is approximately 1 percent and other studies suggest rates of 2 to 5 percent.

With 5,853 inmates in New Jersey state prisons with sentences of 15-years or more, a wrongful conviction rate of only 1 percent translates to almost 60 innocent men and women are serving lengthy sentences behind bars for crimes they did not commit.

“The impact of just one wrongful conviction is unimaginable,” said Pennacchio. “An unjust conviction destroys the lives not just of the individual serving the time, but their families and friends also pay a devastating toll.

“The residents of New Jersey support the legal system in its quest for justice, and I am confident they share my commitment to ensuring that justice conveys to those who are wrongly convicted. It is our responsibility to take every precaution to prevent an innocent person from being forsaken,” Pennacchio said.

The measure is also sponsored by Senator Declan O’Scanlon and Senator Gerald Cardinale.

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