NEW JERSEY – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joe Pennacchio that would move to prevent the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of innocent people cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday.
Pennacchio’s bill, S-1205, would establish the New Jersey Innocence Study and Review Commission for the purpose of recommending reforms to reduce the likelihood of wrongful convictions occurring in the future.
“Over the years, I have had the opportunity to spend time with some of those who were wrongfully convicted and listen to their stories. That inspired my effort to address the flaws in our system,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “I very much believe this legislation will reveal some of the answers we need to help prevent innocent people from being locked away for crimes they didn’t commit.
“In each of the last two Legislatures, the Senate unanimously passed versions of this bill, and once again, my colleagues are standing up for justice,” the Senator continued.
The commissions duties would include: 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.
Pennacchio first introduced the measure in 2017 following a press report on wrongful conviction cases in the state.
“The impact of just one wrongful conviction is unimaginable,” Pennacchio said. “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 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.
“A strong commitment to law and order must be paralleled with just as strong a commitment to guarding against an injustice such as a wrongful conviction,” Pennacchio said.