Okla. Justice Commission Issues Final Report, Adjourns

[twothirds_left]FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 1, 2013

Emily Lang
(405) 417-4036

Carol Manning, Oklahoma Bar Association
(405) 416-7016

OKLAHOMA CITY, MARCH 1, 2013 — After a two-year review of the justice system in Oklahoma that included everything from DNA and false confessions to eyewitness identification and the use of informants, the Oklahoma Justice Commission (OJC) today released its final report and recommendations.

The commission was established by the Oklahoma Bar Association in September 2010 to “enhance the reliability and accuracy” of convictions in Oklahoma. Led by former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, the group included law enforcement officers, defense attorneys, prosecutors, members of the judiciary and victim advocates.

“For two years, this diverse group of individuals dedicated themselves to the study and betterment of our justice system,” Edmondson said. “I am proud of their service, and, if enacted, I believe the recommendations issued today will ensure that justice is more efficiently and accurately rendered.”

According to the report, members of the commission first reviewed cases where wrongful convictions occurred. Based on that initial study, the commission identified five broad areas of inquiry for further review including false confessions; eyewitness identifications; forensic evidence, including DNA; general criminal procedure, including use of informants; and victima nd family rights.

“We were surprised to find that 27 percent of hte 301 wrongful convictions we studied involved false confessions that were made by suspects during investigation of the crimes,” Edmondson said. “Those were the kinds of things we’ve attempted to redress — instances where a common factor existed and practical ways to prevent future error.”

The commission’s final report includes the recommendation that future confessions be videotaped as the technology and circumstances allow.

“This practice protects law enforcement by preventing allegations of coercion and preserving the subtle details of a suspect’s behavior for investigative and prosecutorial purposes,” Edmondson said. “The commission recognizes this practice may not always be feasible, but we believe it should be standard practice when possible.”

The commission also recommended new procedures for police line-ups and photo identification. The report expresses support for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in its efforts to regain national accreditation, obtain new facilities and secure additional pathologists in order to reach that standard.

“The commission reviewed instances where DNA evidence proved faulty and found that of the cases studied, only one instance occurred in an accredited laboratory,” Edmondson said. “This clear correlation underscores the importance of the work done by the medical examiner’s office, and it is in the public’s interest that they be given the resources and facilities they need to conduct their work.”

The commission also noted that Oklahoma is currently the only state in the U.S. that does not have a post-conviction DNA testing law and proposed legislation to allow access to DNA in cases where additional testing could establish innocence.

Legislation to remedy that fact has been proposed this year by State Rep. Lee Denny, R-Cushing, who is also a member of the Justice Commission.

“When a person’s life and liberty are at stake, we have a duty to be as thorough and exacting as possible to ensure that we are not sending an innocent person to prison,” Denny said. “Currently, Oklahoma is the only state in the union that does not have a post-conviction DNA testing process in place. This legislation creates that process, and it enhances the credibility of our justice system.”

“The members of the Justice Commission recognize that the incarceration of an innocent person is an injustice, not only to the wrongfully convicted, but to society as a whole as the real perpetrator remains at large,” Edmondson said. “The recommendations made in this report were based on thoughtful research and discussion. I am grateful to my fellow committee members and their undertaking of such a serious task, and I appreciate the Oklahoma Bar Association’s work in facilitation the study of these issues.”

The Commission dedicated the report and its recommendations to the late Professor J. William Conger, a member of the commission who died Jan. 1.

A full copy of the report is available on the Oklahoma Bar Association web site by clicking here.


Oklahoma Justice Commission

Dwight Adams
forensic specialist

Judge Thomas Alford
trial court judge, Muskogee Co.

Carrie Bullard
legal secretary

Cathy Christensen
OBA President-elect (2011)

Bill Citty
Chief, Oklahoma City Police Dept.

John Claro
attorney, legal scholar

J. William Conger
OCU School of Law

Rep. Lee Denny
Oklahoma House of Representatives

Tim Dorsey
Captain, Edmond Police Dept.

William A. “Drew” Edmondson

Steve Emmons

Chad Farmer
Captain, Muskogee Police Dept.

Stan Florence
Director, OSBI

Judge Tom Gilbert
trial court judge, Tulsa Co.

Andrea Hamor Edmondson
victims’ advocate

Lawrence K. Hellman
OCU School of Law

Rob Hudson
First Assistant, Oklahoma Attorney General

Sen. Constance Johnson
Oklahoma Senate

Mack Martin
defense attorney

David Prater
Oklahoma Co. district attorney

Bob Ravitz
Oklahoma Co. Public Defender

Judge Clancy Smith
Court of Criminal Appeals

Dennis Smith
District 2 district attorney

Joshua Snavely
OCU School of Law

Jackie Steyn
victims’ advocate

Judge Reta Strubhar (ret.)
Court of Criminal Appeals

Scott Walton
Rogers Co. Sheriff

John Whetsel
Oklahoma Co. Sheriff

Vonda Wilkins
defense attorney

Sue Wycoff
defense attorney

John Yoeckel
member of the public