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Thursday, August 10, 2006

North Carolina gives Texas a model to follow

North Carolina's Innocence Commission is the first of its
kind in the nation. While far from perfect, it presents a
clear example of the kind of safeguards Texas is obligated to
implement based on the evidence that Texas has incarcerated and
executed innocent people.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/03/AR2006080300
801.html

N.C. Gov. Sets Up Innocence Commission

By GARY D. ROBERTSON
The Associated Press


RALEIGH, N.C. -- Inmates in North Carolina who claim they were wrongly
convicted got a new avenue of appeal Thursday as Gov. Mike Easley
signed a
law creating a state innocence commission described as the first of its
kind
in the nation.

The commission, modeled after one in the United Kingdom, was created
after
several high-profile convictions were overturned in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission will review innocence
claims
from people who can present new evidence that hasn't been considered in
court.

The eight-member commission will begin accepting claims in November. If
five
or more commission members agree there is enough evidence of potential
innocence, the case would be sent to a panel of three Superior Court
judges.
Overturning a conviction would require a unanimous decision by the
three
judges.

Easley, a former prosecutor and attorney general, said North Carolina
residents should be proud of the commission.

"Its creation gives our criminal justice system yet another safeguard
by
helping ensure that the people in our prisons in fact, belong there,"
Easley
said in a statement after signing the bill without a public ceremony.

Among the high-profile cases of wrongful conviction was that of Darryl
Hunt,
who served 18 years in prison for the 1984 murder of a Winston-Salem
newspaper employee before he was exonerated in 2003 by DNA evidence.
Easley
later pardoned him. In 2004, Alan Gell, a onetime death row inmate, was
retried and acquitted in a 1995 killing after it was revealed
prosecutors
withheld key evidence.

While other states have created panels to improve legal procedures to
reduce
the likelihood of wrongful conviction, North Carolina's commission will
consider individual cases.

"It is the first of its kind in the nation," said Eric Ferrero with the
Innocence Project, a New York-based legal clinic that handles cases
where
DNA testing can lead to overturning a conviction.

Convicts who pleaded guilty in their original cases will not be
eligible to
submit their claims for two years. After that time, the eight-member
commission would have to agree unanimously to send the case to the
judges'
panel.

The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys had objected to
that
provision because people who pleaded guilty in court can now proclaim
their
innocence. Garry Frank, the group's president, said it was "kind of
making a
mockery of the system."

The legislation allows the commission to hear claims filed through
2010,
after which the law that created it would have to be renewed.

© 2006 The Associated Press

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