The wrongful convictions of Kevin Strickland and Lamar Johnson have convinced a state Senator that Missouri needs a statewide unit dedicated to reviewing convictions. Strickland spent about 43 years and Johnson spent 28 years behind prison walls before being found innocent and freed.
State Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, wants to create a statewide conviction review unit to investigate a defendant’s claim of innocence, including those who plead guilty to charges.
“We already have one in St. Louis and in Kansas City, so this is just establishing a statewide conviction review unit. The criminal justice system is extremely complex,” he said. “For us to kind of get through the layers of protection for those that are entangled in the criminal justice system, we want to have this as a tool to be able to provide a remedy.”
His bill calls for the review unit to present its findings to the attorney who prosecuted the case or to the office that initiated the review.
Williams said a statewide conviction review unit would give Missourians a chance to have their day in court.
“We want it to be statewide, so if someone’s convicted of a crime in some other part of the state, we want them to be able to have a fair chance to determine whether or not they were innocent. Right now, without that unit existing, there’s really no tool to provide a remedy if somebody was falsely accused of a crime. We want to make sure we right that wrong,” he said.
Under the legislation, the unit could review any crimes.
“We don’t want to limit it to certain crimes. We want there to be really any crime just based on what the evidence has been provided for as well,” said Williams.
During a Senate committee public hearing, no one spoke in opposition to the proposal.
The Missouri Senate could soon debate his bill. Senate Bill 37 has been combined with other criminal justice bills.
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