We have been discussing the Illinois approach to overturning wrongful convictions. It's important to remember that a conviction is only wrongful if the man or woman did not commit the crime. In Illinois, though, being pardoned is not the same thing as establishing actual innocence, and only a finding of actual innocence -- and a certificate of innocence -- will wipe that conviction from the person's criminal record.
We are returning to wrongful convictions and certificates of innocence, picking up where we left off in our Aug. 26 post. It is important to remember that convictions are overturned or set aside for a number of reasons. There may have been procedural errors during the investigation or the trial, for example, that could lead a court of appeals to reverse a guilty verdict. Jury instructions may have been misleading, or evidence may have been improperly obtained.
More and more, observers and authorities, including President Obama, have acknowledged that America’s “War on Drugs” has been a failure. Millions of people are spending years in prison or otherwise under institutional control for non-violent drug offenses. A disproportionate amount of these people are racial minorities, leading critics to charge that federal drug laws are discriminatory.
Before we even begin talking about the probationary system, consider this amazing fact: according to federal data, only about two-thirds of people who are placed on probation actually complete their probationary term.