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PANEL TO FOCUS ON STOPPING INJUSTICE

Preventing wrongful convictions will be the group's job for the next two years.

TALLAHASSEE - The new chief justice of the state Supreme Court created the Florida Innocence Commission on Friday, saying it will study issues dealing with wrongful convictions over the next two years.

Chief Justice Charles Canady signed an order establishing the 23-member panel a day after starting his two-year term leading the court. Panel members include legislators, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials and some of Florida's top lawyers.

Canady ordered the panel to submit a preliminary report, including proposals for preventing injustices, by June 30, 2011. Final recommendations are to be presented a year later.

Florida State University president emeritus Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, who led a group of 68 lawyers last year in requesting the creation of such a panel, said he was pleased with Canady's order and appointments.

Canady's predecessor, Justice Peggy Quince, who remains on the court, obtained a $200,000 appropriation from the Legislature to cover the commission's expenses. The Florida Bar Foundation also has approved a $114,862 grant for the commission.

DNA testing alone has exonerated 12 wrongly convicted people in Florida. There are no records on how many have been cleared for other reasons, but the DNA cases probably are just a small part, said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida. Miller's organization is a private agency that attempts to find wrongly convicted prisoners and obtain their release.

The Innocence Commission, on the other hand, will focus on policy. A similar commission in North Carolina made recommendations dealing with such issues as mistaken witness identification, improper collection, labeling and preservation of evidence and false confessions.

The commission includes two Tampa residents: former American Academy of Appellate Lawyers president Sylvia Walbot and former Florida Bar president Benjamin Hill III.

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