Committee to hear bills on wrongful convictions

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice — a 15-member panel created in 2004 to studying the state’s past failures leading to wrongful convictions or death sentences — is rallying support for a trio of bills that’ll be heard Tuesday by the state Senate Public Safety Committee addressing false confessions, false informant testimony and mistaken eyewitness identifications.

Commission chairman John Van de Kamp, a two-term former state Attorney General and 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate, says the bills “will protect the police, defendants, victims and the state of California from wrongful convictions.”

SB 756, authored by Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Leimert Park, would require the Attorney General to develop new guidelines for conducting suspect line-ups, including using “fillers” who are similar in appearance to the suspect as well as separating multiple witnesses. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill by Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, last year; Ridley-Thomas reintroduced it after tweaking it to meet concerns expressed in the governor’s veto message.

SB 511, authored by Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, would require electronic recording of police interrogations in order to help put an end to coerced confessions. “California would not be the first state to enact this critical legislation and in fact Santa Clara County has implemented these reforms successfully for years,” Alquist said in a news release. Again, Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year, and Alquist reintroduced it after tweaking it based on the veto message.

SB 609, authored by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, would seek to curb false testimony by jailhouse informants — who have strong motivation to lie in return for lenience — by requiring corroborating evidence for all such testimony.

Appearing at tomorrow’s hearing will be Timothy Atkins of Los Angeles, who spent 20 years in state prison after being wrongfully convicted — based on mistaken eyewitness testimony and false informant testimony — of second degree murder and two counts of robbery; he has been exonerated, and went free in February. Also present will be Harold Hall of Los Angeles, who spent 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit as a result of a false confession and jailhouse informant testimony, and Arthur Carmona of Garden Grove, who was 16 years old when wrongfully convicted based on mistaken eyewitness identification.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.