Thursday, September 29, 2016
Governor Brown Signs Legislation Easing Standard of Proof of Wrongful Conviction
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday signed legislation designed to lessen the burden on a criminal defendant seeking to set aside an allegedly wrongful conviction.
SB 1134, by Sens. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon, will create a new ground for habeas corpus relief: that “[n]ew evidence exists that is credible, material, presented without substantial delay, and of such decisive force and value that it would have more likely than not changed the outcome at trial.”
The bill received unanimous support in both houses of the Legislature, and was sponsored by the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law, the Northern California Innocence Project at University of Santa Clara School of Law, the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Other legal and religious organizations supported the bill, and legislative committees reported that no opposition was received.
The Senate floor analysis quoted former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp, who is also a former State Bar president, writing in support:
“To win a claim of factual innocence under current California case law, an individual must ‘undermine the entire prosecution case and point unerringly to innocence’ with evidence that no ‘reasonable jury would reject.’ This standard is the most difficult in the country and is so impossibly high that it functions as a barrier to wrongfully convicted individuals seeking justice in our criminal justice system. SB  amends [the] California Penal Code to incorporate a standard of proof in line with the standards in 43 other states…. The ‘more likely [than] not’ standard proposed by the bill is clear and is a standard familiar to the courts. It is still a very high standard, but a fair one….”
Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project, said in a statement:
“For many years California has been the most difficult place in the United States to bring a new evidence claim on behalf of innocent clients. Finally, we have a standard where the courts can reverse a conviction based on new evidence that would have led to an acquittal had it been introduced at trial. This law makes sense, has bi-partisan support, is consistent with the new evidence standards across the United States, and will save taxpayers the cost of housing innocent people in prison.”
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