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Exonerated NC inmates speak out against proposed law

Posted March 28, 2011

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— Five former North Carolina prison inmates who served a combined 60 years in prison for crimes they did not commit want state lawmakers to keep in place protections for those wrongly accused.

Opponents say House Bill 408, which was introduced into the General Assembly last week, would make it harder for suspects to see evidence that could help prove they are innocent.

Existing law requires prosecutors to turn over all files on a criminal case to defense attorneys during the discovery phase of a case. Under the proposed legislation, prosecutors would have to turn over only their files.

Defense attorneys said that would mean they wouldn't have access to police and medical evidence not included in a prosecutor's files, which they said could make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.

"We are really angry and disappointed that this is even being considered," said Mark Rabil, co-director of the Innocence and Justice Clinic at Wake Forest University. "We just don't want history to repeat itself."

Gregory Taylor, who was freed last year after 17 years in prison for murder, and Darryl Hunt, who was exonerated in 2004 of rape and murder charges, were among those at a Monday news conference to urge that lawmakers reject the bill.

“This bill would reverse years of progress in protecting the rights of the accused to a fair trial,” said Hunt, who spent 18 years in prison. “Have they forgotten about us, the people who wasted years of our lives in prison for nothing?”

Lady Justice, court generic, law generic Exonerated NC inmates speak out against proposed law

Peg Dorer, executive director of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, which backs the bill, said current law makes district attorneys responsible for omissions by police and others.

"To be held responsible for something they didn't know existed seems unfair," Dorer said.

Defense attorneys say that prosecutors should be accountable since they ultimately handle the criminal cases.

"They're the ones that have the ability to be responsible to ensure those requirements are met. They can't pass the buck on that responsibility because it's too difficult," said Christine Mumma, executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.

An independent review last year of the blood analysis unit of the State Bureau of Investigation's crime lab found that lab analysts omitted, overstated or falsely reported blood evidence in more than 200 cases, including three that ended in executions, between 1987 and 2003.

Attorney General Roy Cooper ordered an audit of the entire crime lab, and lawmakers recently approved reforms to the lab's operations.

Defense attorneys said House Bill 408 would move the state's criminal justice system in the opposite direction. They noted that a mistrial was declared Monday in a capital case in Iredell County when it was determined that prosecutors didn't make 1,800 pages of evidence, including some police files, available to defense attorneys until after the state finished its case.

"This statute turns back the clock and will deprive criminal defendants of the information they're entitled to to get a fair trial," Rabil said.

"If you have a good law or policy that is not being followed,” Mumma said, “the way to get it followed is to enforce consequences for not following it – not do away with the law or policy."

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  • rgbreed Mar 29, 2011

    Might I add that he had a court appointed attorney, which made matters worse.

  • rgbreed Mar 29, 2011

    Superman...and this has what to do with the bill. The bill is designed to help make sure that those who are TRULY innocent, don't end up like Mr. Taylor. I KNOW that prosecutors and LEO will withhold exculpatory evidence to help secure a conviction. My husband spent almost two years incarcerated and is now required to register as a sex offender. Without the resources to fight against it, we are stuck with this wrongful conviction and it's consequences. There was information that was not introduced that would have easily swayed the jury. Even one jury member I talked to after the trial said, "If we had known that, it might have made a difference." This bill could make it much more difficult for defendants. Yes, a lot are guilty but not all. If all were guilty, there would be no need for a judicial system anyway.

  • delilahk2000 Mar 29, 2011

    I MEANT RATHER, SORRY TYPE ERROR

  • delilahk2000 Mar 29, 2011

    THE DA'S SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE ALONG WITH THE INVESTERGATORS. IT HAS BEEN PROVEN OVER AND OVER THAT THEY MAKE UP EVIDENCE TO FIT THE PERSON CHARGED. IT MUST BE NICE TO BE THE ALL KNOWING DA THAT ALL BROUGHT BEFORE YOU ARE GUILTY AND THAT YOU WOULD RATHER KEEP IT TO YOURSELF THAT YOU HAVE THE WRONG PERSON. YES THEY SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE. ALL THEY CARE ABOUT IS A WARM BODY FOR THE CRIME AND THE H$LL WITH WEATHER IT IS THE RIGHT PERSON OR NOT. ALL THEY WANT IS A CONVICTION..........INNOCENCE, IS NOT A WORD THEY CARE ABOUT.....

  • superman Mar 29, 2011

    Ask any person in prison and they will tell you they are innocent. Very few if any will admit they were guilty.

  • blackdog Mar 28, 2011

    The Bill of Rights is only for a few.

  • geosol Mar 28, 2011

    Remember this next election. Don't re-elect ANYONE!!!

  • Inter Alios Mar 28, 2011

    The prosecutors I deal with require the investigating detective sign a verification that the detective has turned over to the prosecution all material collected in connection with the case. If something turns up later that wasn't provided to the prosecution to begin with, the verification makes it clear it was the fault of the detective. To the extent there is a problem here, the solution is to impose criminal penalties on the police for failing to comply with the law rather than changing the law to eliminate responsibility for the shananigans they have been getting away with for years.

  • BubbaDukeforPresident Mar 28, 2011

    As America goes further down the sewer, this law would only benefit the government, not the private citizen.

  • The Deadhead Mar 28, 2011

    DA's have a lot of power. Electing "good" DAs is important. They have the power to decide who is run through the system and who is not.

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