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Wrongful convictions raise concern

TALLAHASSEE — Former Florida State University president Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte filed a petition with the state Supreme Court on Friday asking for a commission to investigate wrongful convictions.

"I think it's just strange to see all the recent exonerations and not try to learn something about the mistakes we've been making," said D'Alemberte, who also is a former state lawmaker and former president of the American Bar Association.

The 18-page petition, signed by nearly 70 lawyers including some former state Supreme Court justices, calls for creating the Florida Actual Innocence Commission modeled off a system in North Carolina by the same name. Such an idea is not new, but D'Alemberte cites the recent cases of Alan Crotzer, Wilton Dedge and nine others who were exonerated after being imprisoned. It also came a day after the Florida Innocence Project announced it has new evidence to clear a Polk County man, James Bain.

D'Alemberte, a prominent Tallahassee attorney, had harsh words for the Florida Bar Association, which he feels needs to do more to police the lawyers involved in these cases. "I am shocked the Bar hasn't opened ethical inquiries into these recent cases," he said. "I'm surprised they haven't shown more interest in the way the criminal justice system works."

Rules allow a group of 50 or more attorneys to petition the court for a rulemaking procedure, and D'Alemberte said this commission would mirror similar ones that looked at the issues of racial and gender bias in the court system.

At least eight other states have innocence commissions. The one in North Carolina makes recommendations for addressing issues like mistaken witness identifications and false confessions to decrease the possibility of convicting innocent people.

D'Alemberte acknowledges that funding such an entity is a likely roadblock, given the recent budget cuts to the court system.

Wrongful convictions raise concern 12/11/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 11, 2009 10:52pm]

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