A bill brought before the judiciary committee would allow convicted persons to file a petition for post-conviction review claiming actual innocence at any time while in prison.
Bill supporters say it’s needed to help overturn cases of wrongful convictions.
Representative John Picchiotti, a sponsor of the bill says, “If the Innocence Project’s estimation is correct, somewhere around 20 wrongfully convicted persons are currently in Maine’s prisons and jails in need of exoneration.”
Current law allows inmates one year after new evidence is found to file a petition for a post-conviction review.
Maeghan Maloney, Kennebec County District Attorney says, “What I’m hearing expressed her today is, ‘well what if someone has evidence that they are not guilty? ‘ It should be brought forward. And under the statute it can be brought forward at anytime, even if it’s discovered years later. But it has to be brought forward within one year of the discovery.”
Supporters of the proposed bill say this one-year stipulation makes the introduction of new evidence in a post-conviction proceeding increasingly difficult.
But opposers say the current time limit helps sort out actual claims of innocence.
Donald Macomber, Assistant District Attorney says, “You’re going to clog the courts up with frivolous petitions. This decreases the amount of time to deal with petitions that actually have merit. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Those against also say victims have to be taken into consideration.
Macomber says, “Not just the prisoner but the state and more importantly the victims of crimes are entitled to finality and closure.”
Committee members were full of questions and comments.
Senator Dawn Hill says, “You know closure and finality for victims of the crimes. I totally understand that and certainly we all want to see that. And perhaps you didn’t mean it this way but it strikes me that that does not rise above the level of justice for the defendant. I want justice for both but I don’t want it at the expense of either one.”
The bill will now move to work session in order to iron out details and seek consensus.
But no matter the outcome committee members say that legislation like this is important.
Hill says, “I believe our system of justice in Maine and the United States is the best that I’ve seen in the world. But it’s not perfect. It’s not perfect and that’s why we have to have these conversations.”