In anticipation of the California Innocence Project’s upcoming Innocence March, San Diego’s KPBS Midday Edition interviewed CIP Co-Director Jan Stiglitz and CIP staff attorney Mike Semanchik. The march will start in San Diego and end 600 miles later in Sacramento with the walkers presenting Gov. Jerry Brown with clemency petitions on behalf of twelve of their clients (the “California 12”). Semanchik will be one of those walking the entire distance.
Host Maureen Cavanaugh started by asking what prompted CIP to take on this march. Stiglitz said that “we have had some heartbreaking losses caused by the fact that it’s very difficult legally — the standards for overturning a wrongful conviction are extremely high. We lost a case 4-3 in the California Supreme Court where even though we undermined the conviction and explained all the facts that led to the conviction and one of the key prosecution witnesses recanted and said he was wrong, we lost because the law requires us to actually prove our client was innocent. So there’s nothing more we can do legally. Going to the governor and other cases like it, to provide a law for someone who is innocent is not just a stunt.”
Semanchik also talked about his inspiration for undertaking this endeavor. ” I’ve met a number of the 12. And I see how they’re sitting there. They’re sitting there hopeless. We’ve done as much as we can and we can’t get them out. So I’d like to deliver these petitions personally. Hopefully get some attention from the governor and get him to help us get these 12 out. But in the process, also travel across the state and let everybody know about wrongful convictions and about the problems we have with the criminal justice system.”
Stiglitz then explained that the California 12 have limited avenues of relief through the courts. Each of the twelve “represents a situation where the legal system has convicted the person, but the legal system does not have a viable practical way for us to undo the conviction.”
Semanchik and Stiglitz talked about the work of CIP. In the case of William Richards, CIP won the reversal of Richards’ conviction but the state appealed the decision. Last fall, the California Supreme Court gave CIP some bad news and ruled that the project had not met the standard for new evidence needed to reverse Richards’ conviction. However, CIP client Brian Banks has a much happier ending. Almost a year after his exoneration, Banks fulfilled his dream and signed to play professional football with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. They also discussed the causes of wrongful convictions and how advances in forensic science research can help show a person’s innocence.
Semanchik also talked about his preparation for the march, telling Cavanaugh that “back in September of 2012, I did my first 20-mile walk. I walked from Ocean Beach to Del Mar. I’ve now done that probably 15 time, and I’ve talked across Camp Pendleton on a 23-mile walk. So I’ve done quite a few long walks. And there was quite a few weeks where I was talking to and from working which is Ocean Beach to Downtown.”
To listen to the entire KPBS Midday Edition interview, click here.
You can watch the KPBS Evening Edition interview with Stiglitz and Semanchik below.