Wrongful Convictions Topic of Law Center’s Constitution Day Event
September 19, 2011 – Two law professors and a former state attorney general spoke about wrongful convictions at a Constitution Day event Sept. 15 at the Law Center.
Jim Petro, a former Ohio attorney general, and his wife, Nancy, who co-authored False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent last year, were part of a panel called “How Flaws in the Criminal Justice System Result in Wrongful Convictions.”
Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia and author of Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong (Harvard University Press) and Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University law professor made up the rest of the panel.
“Like many people, I [once] accepted one of the myths … that most people who are imprisoned are guilty….” said Rosen. “It’s impossible to maintain that position after you review the statistics in both of these books.”
Rosen is also legal affairs editor of The New Republic.
Created in 2004, Constitution Day is a national holiday celebrating the Sept. 17 signing of the document. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Education mandated that all publically funded education institutions provide educational programming on the supreme law of the land.
The Petros’ book notes that in 1999, Clarence Elkins was convicted for rape and murder in Ohio based on the eyewitness testimony of a 6-year-old. While serving his life sentence, he obtained part of a cigarette smoked by another inmate suspected of committing the crime and mailed it to his wife for DNA testing. Elkins was exonerated in 2005.
“The intent of the book is to wake people up to this recognition that these problems can occur, and we have to do all that we can,” Jim Petro said. “Those of you law students in the room … your job is to seek the truth, not just to win the contest.”
Ginny Sloan, president of the Constitution Project, introduced the panel and presented the authors with its Constitutional Commentary awards — honoring outstanding works that “improved quality of public discourse” on a constitutional issue of the day.
Preventing Future Wrongs
The Constitution Project co-sponsored the event with the Law Center and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.
“Today, these constitutional rights that are vital to providing a check on the government’s power often go unenforced or under-enforced,” Sloan said. “As a result, our criminal justice system has become too often not just, not accurate and not constitutional.”