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Ohio Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Justice Reform Bill that Originated in UC College of Law


Four new provisions for reform in the way that serious criminal cases are handled in the state of Ohio were approved as part of a bill put in front of the Ohio Senate on Wednesday. The roots of the reform effort reach back to a group of current UC law students.

Date: 6/24/2009 12:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825

UC ingot   A process that began with research done by students from the University of Cincinnati College of Law 18 months ago today resulted in near-unanimous approval by the Ohio Senate of a law that significantly enhances safeguards against wrongful convictions in the state’s legal system.

Senate Bill 77, sponsored by Sen. David Goodman of Columbus and Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, was approved this afternoon by a vote of 31-1. Advocacy for the bill was provided in a joint effort between the Ohio Innocence Project, based out of the UC College of Law, and the Columbus Dispatch newspaper.

The bill will now move forward for consideration in the Ohio House of Representatives.

“This was a piece of much needed legislation that will bring Ohio up to speed with the best practices in the country,” says Mark Godsey, a UC professor of law and faculty director of the Ohio Innocence Project.

The bill addresses four specific provisions relating to criminal investigations in Ohio:
  • A requirement for preservation of DNA evidence in all cases of serious crime, such as homicide and sexual assault
  • Establishment of a standard that requires the recording of all interrogations from beginning to end in cases of serious crime
  • A requirement for police lineups and eyewitness photo ID procedures to be conducted in double-blind fashion, meaning the officer who oversees the eyewitness procedure with the witness does not know who among the sample pool is the suspect
  • An expansion of Ohio’s post-conviction DNA testing law to allow for DNA testing to be done during the parole phase of the justice cycle
On hand during the vote were Joseph Fears, Robert McClendon and Walter Smith, three former Ohio inmates who were exonerated via DNA testing. They received a greeting of a standing ovation from the senators in attendance for the vote.

“The provisions in this bill reflect advances that have evolved all over the country,” says Godsey. “In a few years, every state will have these reforms.”

The UC law students who worked on doing the research for the bill include Christie Bebo, Chris Liu, Peter O’Shea, Eric Gooding, Amanda Marie Smith, Patrick Brown, Elizabeth Zilberberg, Jonathan Haas and Tommy Kemp. All will be beginning their third year of law school in August at UC.

The language for the bill itself was written by Godsey and Michele Berry, a UC College of Law alumnus and former Ohio Innocence Project participant who is now in practice as an attorney. Former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro also worked hard to build support for the bill.

The Columbus Dispatch has reported extensively on this issue, including a five-part investigative series called “Test of Convictions” that can still be viewed online.