State Representative Brendan Boyle, (D., Philadelphia), has introduced legislation that would enable "innocent" people to be set free if wrongfully convicted. Everyone is in favor of freeing innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted. Some would question releasing people who have been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but now a question has been raised about some of the evidence.
"My legislation would make the withholding of this evidence, regardless of when it is obtained, a violation of the defendant's rights," Boyle said.
Prosecutors would be required to turn over exculpatory evidence within 5 business days of obtaining it.
The proposed legislation raises some interesting questions about fairness and the search for truth. If the evidence is not turned over in five days are the charges automatically dismissed and the accused set free? When does the clock begin to run? If evidence is discovered and sent for testing does the clock run when the evidence is discovered or tested.
The discovery of exculpatory evidence does not mean that an accused is innocent. If the evidence is discovered after trial the accused may be entitled to a new trial--but what is fair about dismissing the charges? A new trial could result in another conviction. The legislation raises many question that rigorous debate may answer.
The Pennsylvania Innocence Project has pledged support for the legislation. Attorney Marissa Bluestine, legal director of the Innocence Project, stated:
"The Pennsylvania Innocence Project supports any efforts to ensure that only the truly guilty are prosecuted. While there have been isolated incidents of intentional misconduct by prosecutors, we are grateful for the prosecutors who serve their functions every day with honor and integrity. No prosecutor wants an innocent person in prison. This legislation provides guidance for prosecutors in handling issues which arise in the post-conviction setting where no current guidelines exist. Together with Senate Bills 1337 and 1338, pending before the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee, Representative Boyle's proposal is geared toward the particular goal of ensuring that only the guilty are prosecuted and the innocent go free."