Press Release
Senator Joe Pennacchio Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26)
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Contact: Erin Darreff / (609) 847-3600
February 13, 2020
As Two Innocent Men are Released, Pennacchio Calls for Creation of Innocence Study and Review Commission

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Urges Action on His Bipartisan Bill to Reduce Wrongful Convictions

Senator Joseph Pennacchio called on Legislative leaders to vote on his bipartisan bill that would establish the “New Jersey Innocence Study and Review Commission.”

Pennacchio is calling for action in light of news that Kevin Baker and Sean Washington, two wrongfully convicted men who spent nearly 25 years in prison, have been exonerated and freed.

From left: Exoneree Anthony Ways, Sen. Joe Pennacchio, Exoneree Jean Dorval, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nick Scutari, Exoneree Rodney Roberts, and advocate Lesley Risinger. All were present for the 2018 committee passage of this bill, which would bring justice to the wrongfully convicted. (

“Our criminal justice system is nowhere near perfect, and innocent victims are suffering behind bars for decades because of our state’s failure to address systematic flaws,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “We can and must do more to create a pathway to justice. By studying and solving the failures that keep innocent people confined behind bars, we can ensure that others are not forced to suffer the same injustices.”

Pennacchio’s bipartisan bill, S-282, would establish a commission tasked with reviewing all aspects of criminal cases involving wrongful conviction in New Jersey and recommending reforms to reduce the likelihood of wrongful conviction occurring in the future.

This legislation has received the support of a number of advocates, including numerous exonerees and leaders of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference.

Lesley Risinger, the founder and director of The Last Resort Exoneration Project at Seton Hall Law School, which provides pro-bono legal and investigative services to wrongfully convicted people in New Jersey, also supports the creation of this commission. Her organization was instrumental in the exoneration of Kevin Baker and Sean Washington, as well as many other exonerees in New Jersey.

“Without the hard work and commitment of the team at the Last Resort Exoneration Project, Kevin Baker and Sean Washington could still be behind bars,” added Pennacchio. “While we cannot give back the years that were stolen from the innocent people who were wrongfully convicted, we can do more to prevent this travesty of justice from continuing.”

Nationwide, 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, with many more piling up over time.

Last session, Pennacchio’s legislation unanimously passed the Senate, but failed to move in the Assembly.

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