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Lawmakers Reach Compromise On Innocence Commission

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Some inmates in state prisons are just one vote away from another chance at justice. On Tuesday, the state House approved the formation of an Innocence Commission to review convicted felons' claims of innocence.

Under the proposal, an eight-member innocence committee made up of judges, attorneys, law enforcement and citizens would look at evidence that was not considered at trial and determine whether a convict had a credible claim of innocence. The commission then could refer cases to a panel of judges that could overturn a conviction.

Lawmakers in both chambers had already approved the proposal, but differed on the details.

Under the compromise, the three-judge panel must decide unanimously to overturn a guilty verdict. Lawmakers also agreed the commission would close down after four years unless the Legislature renews it, using it as a sort of pilot project.

Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, sponsored the bill as it moved through the Legislature. He said he did it for the sake of justice.

"We can get the person who is actually, factually innocent out of jail if we've locked them up wrongly, and we have people who have real confidence that…we're human beings and mistakes are made," said Glazier. "We now have a process to correct them."

Those who plead guilty would not be able to petition the commission for the first two years after the start of the commission. After that, those prisoners can present their case to the commission, but their case must receive unanimous endorsement from the panel.

"We don't want to overwhelm the commission in the first years," said Glazier.

The compromise legislation now must pass through both chambers again.

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