Fairness and justice

In 2001, Virginian Earl Washington Jr. came within nine days of being executed for a murder he did not commit. He’d spent 18 years in prison after being coerced by police into “confessing” several crimes that he didn’t do, including the murder, before DNA testing led to his exoneration.

Such false confessions are more common than people realize, forming the basis for as many as 20 percent of wrongful convictions, according to the nonpartisan group The Justice Project. That’s why state Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose) has authored a bill that would mandate that all police interrogations be recorded. Many police agencies in California already record their interrogations, but not all do, and this bill would rectify that.

In addition to indemnifying police against claims of misconduct, it would strengthen prosecutions by providing strong evidence while reducing the chance of wrongful conviction.

It’s one of three bills designed to bring fairness to the criminal-justice system. Another, SB 756, by Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), would improve the methodology and accuracy of eyewitness identification, the most frequent cause of wrongful convictions. The third, SB 609, by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), would require the corroboration of the testimony of jailhouse informants.

Nobody wants an innocent person to be convicted of a crime. Together these three bills would go a long way toward preventing such wrongful convictions. Governor Schwarzenegger has until Oct. 14 to sign them. He should do so.