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A controversial resolution calling for judges to support the efforts of innocence projects and other criminal justice “stakeholders” was tabled at a recent conference of chief justices. But the presence of the resolution-and the sharp debate it triggered at a recent meeting of the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) in New York-illustrates concern among several state chief justices that there are critical weaknesses in their justice systems. One justice worried that passage of the resolution would “substantiate” the notion that there was a problem of innocent people getting convicted. Resolution author Pascal F. Calogero, chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, vowed to refine it and resubmit it to the Public Trust and Confidence in the Judiciary Committee when the chief justices next congregate on July 31 in South Carolina. “I did not serve with any wide-eyed liberals and I am not one myself, but you can’t look around the country and my own state and not be moved by the plight of people whose freedom got taken away and who were later found to be innocent,” Calogero said. “It’s time for the judiciary to take a more proactive part to attempt to assure improvements in the administration of justice so that there are not these baseless convictions.” A different kind of prevention The resolution encouraged judges to “support efforts by other criminal jus-tice stakeholders”-including innocence projects and commissions-to “prevent, predict and correct wrongful convictions” while improving the systems’ “ability to prevent and deter crimes” with proper arrests, prosecutions and convictions. It said that “judges should work with legislatures and criminal justice agencies to improve the accuracy of eyewitness identification, the certainty and fairness of police and prosecutorial procedures, the quality of forensic investigations . . . post conviction procedures and the competence of counsel.” Louisiana is one of several states that have been accused in lawsuits of abrogating their federal and state constitutional mandates to provide indigents with an adequate defense [NLJ, 2-4-04]. But Calogero had been working on the resolution long before the state got sued, and had written opinions taking the legislature to task for not adequately funding indigent defense since 1995, he said. Even those committee members who supported Calogero’s rationale thought that the resolution was problematical. Arizona Chief Justice Charles E. Jones, the committee’s co-chairman, counseled circumspection. “There needs to be an element of caution,” asserted Jones. “The problem is in casting the court too much as a law enforcement vehicle.” Conceding that his own state “had made some serious mistakes,” North Carolina Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake expressed ambivalence about the resolution that he seconded, despite the fact that his own court had ordered the establishment of an innocence commission at the end of 2002. He said that Calogero’s resolution crossed the line when its language changed from “encourages,” to “should,” in effect telling judges what they ought to do. He noted that the North Carolina court has established a bipartisan commission, while Calogero’s resolution speaks only to the activism of individual judges. North Carolina’s Actual Innocence Commission recommends solutions for problems it identifies as contributing to wrongful convictions. For example, in 2003, the commission recommended to law enforcement officials that they change their lineup procedures. [NLJ, 9-29-03]. “We are about to propose legislation for a claim review commission to investigate claims of newly discovered evidence or witness recantation and make recommendations back to the trial courts,” Lake said. Lake predicted that 99% of claims would be rejected out of hand. “Our citizens are strong supporters of the death penalty . . . .It’s an additional safeguard,” he said. Nevada Chief Justice Nancy Becker voiced the strongest objections to the CCJ ever adopting a resolution of this kind. “In effect we’re substantiating that there is a problem [by passing this]. Federal public defenders will use this as an argument to get rid of the death penalty . . . which they want to do at all costs,” she asserted.

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