By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—State Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) has introduced a bipartisan-sponsored bill that would create an Innocence Inquiry Commission.
In 2002, North Carolina was the first state to establish an Innocence Commission to rehear cases where the accused and their advocates claim wrongful conviction.
“The reason I filed this bill is that Alabama is one of several states that have active death penalty statutes. Other states like North Carolina and Texas that have active death penalty statutes, have found it useful to establish these innocence commissions,” said Brewbaker.
According to Brewbaker, the purpose of the Innocence Commission is to grant a defendant a new trial or receive outright exoneration, if there, “is physical evidence that can prove actual innocence, not just reasonable doubt, but actual innocence.” Brewbaker said the commission, “would add a lot of integrity to the death penalty process for Alabama.” And hopes lawmakers will see the wisdom in “following the lead of states like Texas and establish an innocence commission.”
The North Carolina commission, “is charged with providing an independent and balanced truth-seeking forum for credible post-conviction claims of innocence in North Carolina. The Commission is separate from the appeals process. A person exonerated by the Commission process is declared innocent and cannot be retried for the same crime.”
While Brewbaker says he is “absolutely for the death penalty …society has the obligation if it is going to impose such penalties to make sure, absolutely sure, that it is being imposed on people are in fact guilty.”
He says, an innocence commission is a way to have cases reviewed, expediently, and at very low cost. This review needs to be handled in a “manner where you are not simply enriching a bunch of lawyers or stringing out the process for another four or five years.”
Alabama’s Commission would operate within the Administrative Office of Courts and would consist of eight members. Members would include:
A circuit court judge appointed by the Circuit Judges Association.
A district attorney appointed by the District Attorneys Association.
A victim’s advocate appointed by the Governor.
A defense lawyer appointed by the Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
A member of the public who is not an attorney and who is not an officer or employee of the Judicial branch of government appointed by the Governor.
A sheriff appointed by the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association.
A member appointed by the President Pro Tem of the Senate and one appointed by the Speaker of the House.