Reconciling Truth and Freedom: The Criminal Justice System and the Phenomenon of Wrongful Convictions

From Bruce A. Antkowiak, Counsel to the College and Archabbey, Director: Criminology, Law, and Society, Professor of Law, St. Vincent College

Dear Westmoreland Bar Members:

I am honored to invite you to the first event sponsored by the Saint Vincent College Criminology, Law and Society Program.

On Tuesday, November 29, at 7 p.m. in the Rogers Center at Saint Vincent, we will present a program entitled Reconciling Truth and Freedom: The Criminal Justice System and the Phenomenon of Wrongful Convictions.

Since the 1980’s, two hundred and seventy three innocent people who were investigated, tried, convicted and sentenced for the most serious of offenses have been exonerated by later DNA analysis. In about 75% of those cases, one or more witnesses incorrectly identified the person later exonerated as the perpetrator. In about 25% of those cases, the person later exonerated actually “confessed” to a crime they did not commit.

Matters involving wrongful convictions are sometimes improperly viewed as issues only important to the criminal defense bar. But for public prosecutors, the tragedy of the incarceration of the wrong person is compounded by the fact that for every day spent in the prosecution and incarceration of that innocent person, the actual perpetrator escaped the justice he was due and that society needed to bring to him. For everyone, these incidents hurt the integrity of a system into which we all invest so much and in which we all rightfully take so much pride.

The featured speaker is John Rago, professor of law at Duquesne University, chairman of the Pennsylvania Innocence Commission and preeminent expert in the field. Professor Rago will discuss the primary causes of wrongful convictions in the United States, including the legal and scientific issues involving eyewitness identification and confessions. He will also discuss some reforms proposed by his Commission that will address those critical issues.

Professor Rago will be joined by Kirk Bloodsworth, the first man in America to be exonerated from Death Row by post-conviction DNA analysis. He served almost nine years in prison awaiting the death penalty until his innocence was established. A number of years later, DNA analysis identified the actual perpetrator as a man who was serving time in the same prison as Bloodsworth.  Mr. Bloodsworth has since testified before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and is largely credited for the passage of significant federal legislation bearing his name that funds DNA testing around the nation.

The event is free and open to the public. Please call 724-805-2177 to reserve your seat (seating is limited).

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