A New Jersey lawmaker is seeking action on his plan for a commission to work on reducing wrongful convictions.
Senator Joe Pennacchio says 27 people in New Jersey have been exonerated since 1989 after an average of 10 years behind bars.
His proposed Innocence Study and Review Commission would examine causes of wrongful conviction and work on protocols for case reviews sought by prisoners.
“So I would consider this commission a success if we were able hopefully to totally eliminate it, but if you reduce that ten years down to a less significant number, if we hasten the process, I would consider it a success.”
New Jersey NAACP president Richard Smith says the legislation could address racial disparities.
“African Americans make up a disproportionate amount of the people found to have been convicted of crimes that they did not commit, both in this state and across the nation.
The majority, 63 percent exonerated through DNA evidence, are African American.”
Former Newark school teacher A-J Nash was exonerated after spending ten years in prison on a sexual assault conviction. He says the legislation is needed.
“In the ten years that I experienced this wrongful conviction, you had no one there listening to you. Every letter you sent out, every cry for help, went unanswered. Most of the litigation I did myself. I fought for myself.”
Nash says he believes he would have been freed sooner if there were a commission to review flawed convictions.
"Had this been created, had this been in place, I wouldn't spend ten years in prison. It would have been done expeditiously because there was like a lot of flaws in my case, but it had no one to review it."
Four years being exonerated, Nash says he’s still traumatized by being locked up so long for something he didn’t do.