Keith William DeBlasio: Why do we want to keep innocent people in prison?
Why is the Virginia Legislature afraid to have laws that allow viable challenges to wrongful convictions? Does finality really trump true justice and freeing the actually innocent? Can a victim really have finality if an innocent person is sitting in prison for a crime they did not commit? Isn’t that actually just another crime in itself?
Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. is carrying legislation to permit successive petitions under the “Writ of Actual Innocence” ONLY if it is based on new retroactive rules of constitutional law and changes in statute when such rules are applicable to a collateral review of a criminal conviction. This legislation, SB171, is very narrowly drawn and is actually taken from federal statutes and case law. The United States Code, specifically 28 usc §2244, permits such similar successive filings in the federal courts based on state convictions. This appears to not only be a more costly route to take when the State is required to argue its position in federal proceedings, but it also appears to deprive the state courts from having the first opportunity to review the conclusions of law that should be applied to any intervening changes in statutes and/or precedent prior to being directed to do so by the federal courts. For that reason alone, it would seem to be logical that the state statute be amended in this fashion in order to reserve the right of first review for the state courts in these circumstances.
Most states allow for challenges to wrongful convictions, something that has only been permitted in Virginia since 2001 in cases where biological evidence is concerned and since 2004 for cases where no biological evidence was available. Virginia waited until the 21st century to catch up with the rest of the world, but there are still exclusions for those who may have pled guilty in fear of life sentences or by coercion. Some may remember that Earl Washington, Jr. confessed to a crime that he did not commit, only to be proven innocent by DNA much later on after serving over 15 years behind bars. So, why not just allow an innocent man the opportunity to prove his innocence, even if it means a successive petition, especially when there has been a change in the Code of Virginia that would affect the outcome?
We are hoping that you will bring some public awareness to this issue.
Let’s not continue to waste taxpayer dollars in defending these cases in federal courts, let’s not continue to drain the Commonwealth’s budget to keep innocent people in prison. Make Virginians aware of what is going on in our Legislature.
Keith William DeBlasio is the executive director of AdvoCare Inc.