Legislation to Address Wrongful Convictions, Imprisonment in Pennsylvania

State Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) announced plans for two pieces of legislation aimed at curbing wrongful convictions and imprisonment in the commonwealth.

The first piece of legislation would set guidelines for interrogation practices, mandating that the entirety of an interrogation is recorded. Having a record of each interrogation would serve to protect the rights of the accused and the law enforcement officers by creating an accurate account of what transpired during the interrogation. The bill would also improve eyewitness identification procedures by promoting techniques that eliminate the biases or unintentional cues that may lead to an eyewitness identifying the wrong person.

The second piece of legislation would address information obtained through jailhouse informants. Prosecutors would be required to disclose background information or any plea agreements with a jailhouse informant at least 30 days prior to the trial of the accused. The informant would also be subject to a reliability hearing to determine whether the informant’s testimony is reliable.

“Our criminal justice system often fails to protect the rights of the accused who are spending time in prison for crimes they did not commit,” Sen. Hughes said. “Our laws do not do enough to ensure the integrity of a conviction, and we have to take a stand to fix this issue. Other states, including some that neighbor Pennsylvania, are enacting criminal justice reforms like the ones I’m proposing. We must support these types of progressive criminal justice reforms in the commonwealth.”

The Pennsylvania Innocence Project points to fourteen cases where convictions of Pennsylvania residents have been overturned as a result of new evidence. DNA evidence has helped exonerate 102 people across the U.S., many of those initial convictions were a result of false confessions and a corrupt criminal justice system. The result: 38 criminals were allowed to live freely and commit 48 additional crimes.

In early 2019, Sen. Hughes convened a series of policy hearings as a part of his New Deal for a New Pennsylvania. Criminal justice reform led the policy hearings and the senator remains focused on addressing myriad reforms needed in Pennsylvania’s justice system.