Florida, Illinois Eliminate Commissions that Help Free Innocent, Investigate Police Torture


Spending $200,000 a year to study wrongful convictions in Florida is too much for Gov. Rick Scott's blood. He has eliminated funding for the two-year-old Florida Innocence Commission. Susan Clary encourages keeping the commission in a commentary for The Miami Herald:

The Florida Innocence Commission, with Orange/Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr. at the helm, was tasked with studying false eyewitness identifications, interrogation techniques, false confessions, the use of informants, the handling of forensic evidence, attorney competence and conduct, the processing of cases and the administration of the death penalty.

"We cannot ignore what must be done in order to improve our ever-evolving criminal justice system," Perry wrote in an interim report. "We must continue to be vigilant in seeking and maintaining the spirit of cooperation between the courts, law enforcement, and other agencies in identifying issues and implementing solutions."

Florida leads the nation with having the most prisoners released from death row – 23 since 1973 – after their innocence had been proven.

Radley Balko, former Reason editor and generally invaluable American justice system resource (and Southern California Journalism Award nominee!), makes quick work of whatever economic argument might have been used to justify this decision:

The average wrongful conviction costs taxpayers about $2 million. (I don't know of any national studies, but several state studies of the total cost of DNA exonerations in those states arrive at about $2 million.) That figure only covers the average costs of trying, imprisoning, exonerating, and compensating the person who was wrongly convicted. It doesn't include the costs associated with any additional crimes the real perpetrator may go on to commit, or the costs of resuming the investigation to find him, and then to arrest, try, and convict him.

So at minimum, if this commission's recommendations prevent a single wrongful conviction, the commission funds itself for 10 years.

Meanwhile in Illinois, why bother wasting $235,000 trying to determine the extent the Chicago police has used torture to extract confessions from people? Via the Chicago Tribune:

The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn in the summer of 2009, a response to the long-standing scandal around former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge and many of his subordinates, who were accused of torturing suspects to get confessions. After appointing a slate of commissioners and hiring a small staff, it launched investigations of its first cases in September.

Its budget last year: $150,000. Its proposed budget for the coming year, which called for adding a staff attorney: $235,000.

The state House and Senate, however, voted last week to strip the commission of its funding, meaning it will go out of business June 30, although the law that gave the commission its existence will remain on the books. The panel's eight voting members, led by a former judge and including a former public defender and former prosecutor as well as three non-attorneys, were unpaid, said David Thomas, the executive director.

Thomas said he is unsure why the funding was cut or how it happened. He simply got notice that the money would not be there.

The torture claims, which date back to the 1970s, resulted in Gov. George Ryan pardoning four prisoners on death row. Burge was convicted of federal charges of perjury and obstruction in 2010 and sentenced to 4 1/2 years.

CORRECTION: Balko reports that the Miami Herald's claim that Scott has defunded the innocence commission is factually incorrect. The commission was set to expire this year and did not request any more funding. He has corrected his Huffington Post piece (The Miami Herald has not corrected theirs).