Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pays lip service but won’t take easy steps to make California’s criminal justice sysyem fairer, former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp, chairman of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, said today.
“Governor Schwarzenegger has taken California out of the front lines of criminal justice reform. His veto of three FAIR Commission bills shows once again the power of California’s law enforcement agencies to block needed justice reform at the state level.
“The three bills:
SB 756 requiring the appointment of a task force to consider current research and best practices to develop guidelines for the conduct of police line-ups and photo arrays to increase the accuracy of eyewitness identification, SB 511 requiring the electronic recording of police interrogations that happen in police stations, jails, or other holding facilities for cases involving homicides and other violent felonies, and SB 609 requiring the corroboration of testimony by jailhouse informants,
had legislative support and the editorial support of every California newspaper which editorialized about them. They were modest bills which were based on the best science and the best practices available. Each was intended to guard the public and the individuals affected by wrongful convictions against the avoidable errors that have led to large dollar judgments inflicted against cities and counties. These were errors which let the guilty go free. In framing the bills, their authors took special note of the Governor’s veto messages in 2006 and drafted the bills to meet the concerns he expressed at that time.
“By vetoing the bills, the Governor has essentially washed his hands of the state powers to take measures to reduce the possibility of wrongful conviction and has left it up to every police department and sheriff’s department to do what it wishes. Some departments have stepped up and adopted the protective measures the Commission recommended. We urge other departments to review our recommendations and implement them. They’ll find it’s in their own best interests.
Added commission executive director Gerald F. Uelmen: “The vacuum of leadership in the Governor’s mansion will not make the causes of wrongful convictions disappear. We cannot insert our heads in the sand as the parade of innocents who have been wrongfully convicted continues to grow. They will continue to haunt the courts, and invite the courts to step in and fashion measures necessary to prevent injustice.”
Read the governor’s veto-message rationales, and the commission’s future plans, after the jump…
In his veto message for SB 756, Schwarzenegger wrote, “Law enforcement agencies must have the authority to develop investigative policies and procedures that they can mold to their own unique local conditions and logistical circumstances rather than be restricted to methods created that may make sense from a broad statewide perspective.”
Of SB 511, he wrote, “While reducing the number of false confessions is a laudable goal, I cannot support a measure that would deny law enforcement the flexibility necessary to interrogate suspects in homicide and violent felony cases when the need to do so is not clear. Police interrogations are dynamic processes that require investigators to use acumen, skill and experience to determine which methods of interrogation are best for the situation. This bill would place unnecessary restrictions on police investigators.”
And of SB 609, the governor wrote, “This bill would enact a broad solution to a perceived problem that arises in very few criminal cases. In-custody informant testimony is disfavored and therefore rarely used. When that kind of testimony is necessary, current criminal procedures provide adequate safeguards against its misuse. Consequently, this bill is unnecessary.”
Its efforts thus far vetoed, the commission is preparing to release its reports on mandatory reporting of misconduct and incompetence, funding of defense services and other issues raised during public hearings in July on the professional responsibility and accountability of prosecutors and defense lawyers. This Wednesday, it’ll hold a public hearing at Santa Clara University to discuss post-conviction access to scientific testing and other remedies for the wrongfully convicted.
And in January, the commission will tackle a four-month study of the fair administration of the death penalty in California, starting off with a public hearing at the State Capitol including testimony from California Chief Justice Ronald George and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon. Further hearings are scheduled for Feb. 13 in Los Angeles and March 27 at Santa Clara University. The commission will issue its final reports and recommendations by June.