01/27/05 — Justice: Do we really need a new dimension?

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Justice: Do we really need a new dimension?

Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. wants the General Assembly to create a commission that would develop a new level of appeal for some people convicted of major crimes.

The proposal comes as the result of some people having served years in prison before subsequent findings revealed their innocence.

The chief justice is to be respected and admired for his position, his record and his abiding concern for true justice.

He already has established the Actual Innocence Commission to study the possible creation of a permanent body. It apparently is not yet ready to make a formal, detailed proposal to the legislature.

An argument favoring such a commission is that the appellate courts today focus more on procedural matters than on factors involving a person’s guilt or innocence.

Perhaps that, rather than creating an entirely new dimension of the judicial system, is where the focus should be.

If post-conviction revelations suggest an innocent person is in prison, it would seem that the Court of Appeals would be the adequate and appropriate place for review and reconsideration. If there is something in the appellate court structure that precludes that, could it not be restructured?

On the surface, anyway, this would appear to be a far less expensive approach than financing a permanent Actual Innocence Commission. In addition to the cost of the commission, there would be the new level of activity of a parade of lawyers, many of whom undoubtedly would be working at taxpayers’ expense.

The real challenge here is for the judicial system at all levels to do the best possible job of establishing the “actual” guilt or innocence of people brought before it.

Published in Editorials on January 27, 2005 10:49 AM