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Ohio's Governor Endorses Legislation Written by UC Law Students

A justice reform bill that originated from research compiled by a group of UC College of Law students has been publicly endorsed by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

Date: 8/18/2009 12:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825

UC ingot   Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has publicly thrown his support behind a piece of legislation that began in the research efforts of a group of University of Cincinnati College of Law students.

Strickland voiced his support for the legislation that works to prevent wrongful convictions in a story that ran in the Columbus Dispatch. Ohio Senate Bill 77 received overwhelming approval by Ohio’s senators in June and will move forward for consideration by the Ohio House in September. The bill allows for a number of key reforms in Ohio’s justice system.

If passed, four specific provisions relating to criminal investigations in Ohio would become state law:
  • 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
The groundwork for this legislation began in late 2007 when a group of UC law students working as part of the Ohio Innocence Project – which is based out of the college – looked at best practices from around the country and how Ohio’s system compared.

“I think we felt confident that this legislation would pass in the House, but having the governor’s support beforehand even increases the chances that much further,” says UC Professor of Law Mark Godsey, who is also the faculty director of the Ohio Innocence Project.

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.

Many aspects of the reforms mirror those that emerged from one of the country’s most well-known wrongful convictions, that involving Ronald Cotton from North Carolina. Cotton was convicted of rape in 1985 on the strength of eyewitness testimony by the victim, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, and subsequently served more than 10 years in prison. He was released in 1995, when DNA analysis of evidence showed he did not commit the crime. Another man from Burlington, N.C., who bore a physical resemblance to Cotton was then found to be a match to the DNA from the crime.

Cotton and Thompson-Cannino have since become friends and active in the cause of preventing wrongful convictions. This year, they published their story in the New York Times best-selling book “Picking Cotton,” and were the subject of a segment on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes.” The Ohio Innocence Project is bringing them to Cincinnati to speak on Sept. 17 at the Cincinnati Museum Center, and they have also agreed to make themselves available to travel to Columbus to testify in front of the Ohio House.

The origins of the bill now under consideration in Columbus date back to a partnership between the Ohio Innocence Project and the Columbus Dispatch. 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.