By Todd Weiler
Utah State Senator, District 23
On Friday the Senate granted final passage to House Bill 307, Factual Innocence Amendments. I sponsored this bill in the Senate. This bill sets up specific procedures to ensure only a bona fide and compelling factual innocence petition, with credible and reliable supporting evidence, will be heard by a court. Let me explain the background of factual innocence in Utah:
The Factual Innocence statute was enacted in 2008, and then amended in 2010. Basically, the statute allows for someone convicted of a felony offense to ask the court to hear the case again and reconsider its decision with new evidence. In order to be overturn a conviction, the court can’t just prove beyond reasonable doubt that a person didn’t commit the crime.They must decide for certain a person did not commit the crime they were convicted of, and that under the facts, there is no way the petitioner could have been guilty.
The petitioner in factual innocence cases carries a high burden of proving their innocence. Since this statute was enacted, only one conviction has been overturned. Various petitions have been brought forward to on behalf of people convicted of felony offenses, and in the process of litigation, a number of unaddressed issues were discovered. Because of these issues, a proper criminal conviction and sentence could be appealed, wasting valuable time and resources in our legal system better spent on convictions that have valid reason for factual innocence appeal.
So what do the amendments to the Factual Innocence statute in House Bill 307 do? They set up specific procedures for the court and petitioner to follow to make sure every factual innocence petition has merit. Also, credible and reliable supporting evidence must be presented in the petition. These changes are needed to ensure that only bona fide factual innocent claims are considered since there are other protections already in place, such as:
* Post Conviction Relief, and
* Board of Pardons decisions.
This is simply one other option.
Another item this legislation ensures is that no payments are made by the State after the petitioner is deceased, and interest prior to judgment may be awarded in addition to the compensation provided if a conviction is overturned.
With this important legislation, we want to ensure convictions with legitimate reasons petition the courts for matters of factual innocence.