Successful Law Reforms
Preventing Wrongful Convictions
Over the last 30 years, thousands of wrongfully convicted people have been freed from prison for crimes they did not commit. The litigation of these cases have uncovered many systemic flaws in our criminal justice system that need to be addressed. The California Innocence Project has worked over the years to enact legislation to prevent innocent people from being convicted before they become another victim of the criminal justice system.
Reforming and Standardizing Eyewitness Identification (Senate Bill No. 923)
An act to add Section 859.7 to the Penal Code, relating to criminal procedure.
Research over the last thirty years has revolutionized what we know about eyewitnesses misidentification, which remains one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions across the country. Study after study has shown that misleading or improper eyewitness identification procedures can significantly affect an eyewitness’s memory and testimony, and can cause well-meaning witnesses to erroneously identify innocent people in court.
Approved by Governor Jerry Brown on September 30, 2018, starting January 1, 2020, SB 923 requires all law enforcement agencies and prosecutorial entities to comply with regulations for photo lineups and live lineups with eyewitnesses to improve the reliability of suspect identifications. Failure to use these practices increases the risk of mistaken identifications and wrongful convictions.
Freeing the Innocent
For years, California was the most restrictive state in the country for getting wrongfully convicted people relief from their incarceration and proving their innocence. The California Innocence Project has been successful in getting many policy changes through the legislature that make it easier for innocent people to establish their innocence and get their convictions reversed.
New Evidence of Innocence (Senate Bill No. 1134)
An act to amend Sections 1473, 1485.5, and 1485.55 of the Penal Code, relating to habeas corpus.
For years, California was the worst state in the country if you were an innocent person behind bars. If you discovered new evidence of innocence—DNA evidence, for example, proving another person committed the crime—there was a possibility you could not get your conviction reversed because the standard for relief was so high.
Approved by Governor Jerry Brown on September 28, 2016, SB 1134 requires new evidence to be presented to the prosecution if it would have likely changed the outcome of the trial and acquitted the exoneree.
Challenging Junk Science (Senate Bill No. 1058)
An act to amend Section 1473 of the Penal Code, relating to criminal procedure.
The nature of science and scientific achievements is that it is always changing and improving. What we previously thought was well-understood can often be disrupted by new scientific developments in the future. This is particularly true in forensic science. Many forensic science disciplines—bullet lead analysis, forensic odontology, and even friction ridge analysis (fingerprints)—have been recently challenged and/or found to be scientifically unsound.
Approved by Governor Jerry Brown on September 26, 2014, that aids wrongfully incarcerated individuals by allowing outdated expert testimonies on false evidence to overturn convictions if the expert recants their testimony or if it has later been undermined by scientific research or technological advancements.
Access to Evidence Post-Conviction (Senate Bill No. 651 and Assembly Bill No. 1987)
After your conviction, your rights to get access to the evidence of your innocence is severely curtailed. Prosecutors, judges, and government officials will only allow you to find out about evidence if the law permits them to provide that information to you.
On September 18, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1987, providing more reasonable and timely access to discovery materials post-conviction. The bill also requires trial counsel to retain a copy of a client’s files for the term of imprisonment where a person is convicted of a serious or violent felony resulting in a sentence of 15 years or more.
On October 2, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 651, extending the right to post-conviction discovery to a larger number of convicted inmates. AB 1987 made the law only applicable to individuals convicted from January 1, 2019, forward, lessening the impact of the legislation which was to benefit those currently convicted and in post-conviction proceedings.
Post-Conviction DNA Testing (Senate Bill No. 980)
An act to amend Sections 1405 and 1417.9 of, and to add Section 1405.1 to, the Penal Code, relating to DNA testing.
For obvious reasons, DNA evidence remains some of the most compelling pieces of evidence to show your innocence and get your conviction reversed. But for years, innocent people in prison could not ask for DNA testing to be performed after they were convicted. In many cases, they could not even find out whether the evidence in their case still existed for testing.
On September 25, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown approved SB 980, which improves the process for prisoners to obtain DNA testing regarding their case. SB 980 extends the time inmates can respond to DNA evidence from 60 to 90 days and enables courts to access the State Index System, and if appropriate, the Federal DNA Index System (CODIS), to see if the DNA in their case matches the true perpetrator or perpetrators.
Preserving DNA Evidence (Assembly Bill No. 2988)
An act to amend Section 1417.9 of the Penal Code, relating to evidence.
As DNA testing becomes more sophisticated and discriminating, evidence previously thought to be useless or degraded can now be tested with astonishing results. But DNA evidence can only be used if the evidence still exists and gets tested.
On September 30, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2988, which requires the appropriate governmental entity to preserve any object or material that contains or includes biological material and that notice of intent to destroy be sent to the incarcerated person.
Many people think of wrongful convictions like the movies, where an exoneree is found innocent, the credits roll, and they live happily ever after. In reality, many exonerees have difficulty adjusting to life outside prison after years, sometimes decades, behind bars for crimes someone else committed. The California Innocence Project works to pass laws and policy that will help exonerees get back on their feet and on with their lives.
Changing Compensation for the Better (Senate Bill No. 618)
An act to amend Sections 4900, 4901, 4902, 4903, and 4904 of, and to add Sections 851.865, 1485.5, and 1485.55 to, the Penal Code, relating to wrongful convictions.
Since 2000, California has allowed people who have been wrongfully incarcerated the opportunity to be compensated—$100 a day for every day of wrongful incarceration, or $36,500 per year. The process to get that compensation, however, was difficult and lengthy, and many exonerees were often denied compensation even after a court had found them innocent.
Governor Jerry Brown approved SB 618 on October 13, 2013, which gives wrongfully convicted individuals the right to seek compensation after presenting evidence that shows undeniable innocence.
Increasing Compensation Amounts (Senate Bill No. 635)
An act to amend Section 4909 of the Penal Code, relating to erroneously convicted and imprisoned persons.
How much would you take to do a year in prison for something you didn’t do? To not see your family for holidays, to miss your children’s graduation, to not be able to visit your parents one last time? Compensation is not meant to replace those missing moments, but it helps exonerees to move on with their lives and return to society after prison.
On October 1, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown approved SB 635 which increases compensation from $100 to $140 for each day an exoneree spent wrongfully incarcerated.
Extending Compensation Deadlines (Senate Bill No. 269)
An act to add Sections 1485.55, 4901, and 4903 of the Penal Code, relating to criminal procedure.
After release, many exonerees have immediate needs and concerns that take up their time—looking for housing, finding a job, and reconnecting with friends and loved ones. Exonerees struggle to have their basic needs met, and often do not have time or resources to dedicate to asking the state for compensation until those needs are addressed.
Approved by Governor Gavin Newsome on October 2, 2019, SB 269 extends the statute of limitations upon which a person can bring a compensation claim from two years to ten years after judgement of acquittal, dismissal of charges, pardon granted, or release from custody, whichever is later.
Transitional Services for Exonerees (Senate Bill No. 336)
An act to add Section 3007.05 of the Penal Code, relating to inmates.
For years, it was actually worse in many ways to have your conviction reversed than it was to be correctly convicted and paroled. Parolees—people who did the crime and were released into the parole system—had access to housing programs, parole-specific job opportunities, and other services. Exonerees, on the other hand, got nothing—not even the $200 “gate money” that parolees got when they left prison.
Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 336 on October 12, 2017, expanding the eligibility of wrongfully convicted individuals to receive transitional services after their release from prison.
The California Innocence Coalition
The California Innocence Coalition consists of the three innocence projects in California, the Northern California Innocence Project, the Loyola Project for the Innocent, and the California Innocence Project. The mission of our coalition is to advocate for change in California laws and policy based on the devastating impact of convicting the innocent. Collectively, the California Innocence Coalition has won the freedom of over 70 wrongly imprisoned individuals who collectively spent over 750 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.