Posted: 2003-02-10 13:48:00
University of Wisconsin Law School clinical professor Keith Findley, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, participated in "a remarkable three-day conference" in January in Alexandria, Virginia: the National Conference on Preventing the Conviction of Innocent Persons.
This groundbreaking conference, sponsored by the American Judicature Society (AJS), brought together, by invitation, teams of criminal justice professionals from 11 states to discuss appropriate responses to the increasingly apparent problems in the criminal justice system highlighted by the recent spate of DNA exonerations.
The event was a working conference, designed to bring together all of the various stakeholders in the criminal justice system, to work on reforms that might be implemented in each represented state to minimize the risks of convicting the innocent, and the concomitant risk of failing to apprehend or convict the guilty.
Former Attorney General Janet Reno set the tone for the conference with her keynote address, in which she highlighted the importance of this venture, stressing that "What we need is finality, but accurate finality based on the truth."
Wisconsin was one of the states invited to send a delegation. In addition to Findley, the Wisconsin team included Judge Fred Fleishauer of Stevens Point, Dane County Deputy District Attorney Judy Schwaemle, Madison Police Captain Cheri Maples, and the Director of the State Crime Laboratory at Madison, Jerry Geurts.
The theory of the conference was to break through the polarizing influences inherent in an adversarial system to find ways to meet a goal all participants share: ensuring that the system reliably acquits or exonerates the innocent and convicts the guilty. The conference highlighted the interest of all stakeholders in the criminal justice system in improving the system so that it employs the best possible police, prosecution, judicial, and defense practices.
Each jurisdictional team identified several goals and an action-plan for achieving those goals:
- Improve lineup and photo array identification procedures in the state by adopting the best practices suggested by recent psychological studies, including the use of double blind identification procedures (in which neither the witness nor the police officer conducting the lineup knows who the suspect is) and a sequential, rather than simultaneous, presentation of photographs or live suspects. Captain Maples committed to implementing a demonstration project in the Madison Police Department employing these new identification procedures, which can then be used as the basis for demonstrating the value of the procedures to other police departments throughout the state.
- Raise consciousness among judges, prosecutors, and police, about the risks and causes of wrongful convictions, and the steps that can be taken to minimize those risks. This goal will be accomplished through education and ethics programs presented in judicial, prosecution, and police training forums.
- Support the creation of a Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission to examine more exhaustively the causes of wrongful convictions and failed investigations or prosecutions in Wisconsin, and to recommend reforms to the criminal justice system. Such a commission is currently being organized by the University of Wisconsin and Marquette law schools in conjunction with the Criminal Law Section of the State Bar of Wisconsin. Wisconsin's AJS team has now committed to assisting in the creation of this commission, and to seek the support for such a commission from the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.