Please attribute the following to Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California:
I strongly support Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s proposal to establish a unit in her office to reexamine claims of innocence in questionable convictions. She is taking a stand alongside more than a dozen other prosecutors around the country who recognize that the criminal justice system is fraught with problems making it all too easy, at times, to send innocent people to prison. Hardly a day passes when we do not learn of yet another wrongly convicted inmate being exonerated—nearly 1,600 since 1989, 152 of those from Death Row.
Wrongful convictions destroy innocent lives and public confidence in the justice system. We would like to have seen a more ambitious proposal from Lacey. She has asked the Board of Supervisors for $1 million to fund the unit with three prosecutors, a senior investigator and a paralegal. Brooklyn, N.Y. with a population roughly one-fourth the size of Los Angeles County has a unit with 10 prosecutors. But Lacey’s proposal, however modest, is an important first step. We urge her to seriously consider bringing in a former defense attorney to head the unit as some legal observers have suggested—an outsider who might find it less difficult to reexamine convictions won by colleagues.
Seeking justice for the innocent who have been convicted is consistent with the ACLU’s historic mission of protecting the rights of all citizens, as is demonstrated in our support for the Scottsboro Boys in 1932, our role in helping establish the right to counsel won in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963 and the protection against self-incrimination in Miranda v. Arizona in 1966.
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