RALEIGH – Wrongfully convicted North Carolinians and defense lawyers say proposed legislation would put more innocent people behind bars. District attorneys support the bill, which would make them less responsible for any evidence withheld by law enforcement.
"Being wrongfully convicted is something we have to live with everyday," said Daryl Hunt of Winston-Salem.
"And it really hurts to see us go back to the way that it was," added Greg Taylor, of Cary.
Hunt, Taylor, and two other men - convicted of rape, sexual assault, armed robbery, and murder – all came together Monday. They spent up to 18 years of their lives in prison, before earning freedom from crimes they did not commit.
"We stand in opposition to House Bill 408, which essentially guts open discovery in North Carolina," said Mark Rabil, of Wake Forest University's Innocence and Justice Clinic.
If passed, the bill would ensure prosecutors would no longer be held responsible for information withheld by police. Defenses lawyers say it would reverse years of progress in protecting the rights of the accused.
"In order to protect prosecutors from a hypothetical problem, this statute turns back the clock, and will deprive criminal defendants of the information they're entitled to, to get a fair trial,” Rabil said. “And the net result will be more wrongful convictions."
"Prosecutors are being held accountable for discovery information that they don't even know exists," argued Peg Dorer of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, which supports the bill.
Dorer says this change would simply protect unknowing prosecutors.
"It doesn't change the fact that a prosecutor is responsible for turning over everything,” said Dorer. “And it doesn't change the fact that law enforcement is responsible for turning over everything."
One thing on which both sides agree: Hold law enforcement accountable to turn over all evidence that could determine innocence or guilt.
House Bill 408, an act to amend the law regarding discovery in criminal cases, was filed last week. It's set to be debated in the judiciary subcommittee.