Vol. 78, No. 7, July
Avery Task Force examines wrongful
convictions, new study commission to examine criminal justice
The Avery Task Force has completed its work on several reform issues
to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the criminal justice system.
The task force, appointed by Rep. Mark Gundrum, Wisconsin Assembly
Judiciary Committee chair, was created to examine the causes of wrongful
convictions and other ways to improve the criminal justice system to
ensure conviction of only the guilty.
Accepting $10K each from the DOJ for
their organizations (from
left): John Ebbott, Legal Action of Wisconsin; Jim Walwrath, Legal Aid
Society of Milwaukee; and Chris Ford, Centro Legal por Derechos Humanos
at the Milwaukee Bar Association's annual meeting in June.
The task force, comprising Republican and Democrat legislators,
judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police and sheriffs, academics,
and a victim advocate, was established in 2003 after Steven Avery was
exonerated after serving nearly 18 years in prison for a sexual assault
that he did not commit. The State Bar Criminal Law Section provided
funds to bring to Wisconsin several key experts, including former U.S.
Attorney General Janet Reno, whose testimony helped the task force do
At its final meeting in June, the task force considered draft
legislation related to the recording of suspects' statements. The
proposal would establish a grant program to assist law enforcement
agencies in purchasing equipment for recording statements during
custodial interrogations. The grant program would be funded by a 1
percent increase to the penalty surcharge under Wis. Stat. section
757.05(1). The proposal also would make it a "state policy" to record
custodial interrogations. The committee recommended that the policy
apply only to felony cases for adults and juveniles.
Introducing statements during trial that do not comply with the new
recording policy could result in specific jury instructions if requested
by the defendant. In such circumstances, the court could instruct the
jury that state policy requires custodial interrogations for felonies be
recorded and that the absence of a recorded statement be considered when
evaluating that statement in evidence. Exceptions to this provision
include equipment failure, the defendant's refusal to cooperate with the
recording, or public safety exigent circumstances.
The proposal specifically provides for admitting into evidence a
statement that was recorded without a defendant's consent. The committee
also discussed the effect of the state's Open Records Law on taped
testimony, concluding that the recordings would be kept confidential
while the case is pending.
Final task force recommendations likely will include legislation
related to DNA testing, the adoption of guidelines for eyewitness
identifications, and the use of recorded testimony. Gundrum plans to
introduce the recommendations before the legislature adjourns next
While the official work of the task force has concluded, the process
continues with the establishment of a Criminal Justice Study Commission.
The original partners in this endeavor, the State Bar of Wisconsin and
the University of Wisconsin and Marquette law schools, have been joined
by the Attorney General's office to develop a broad-based coalition to
continue examining practices and procedures within the criminal justice
system. The commission will be staffed by Byron Lichstein of the U.W.
Law School and will begin work later this summer.
The Avery Task Force model guidelines and recommendations are
available at www.law.wisc.edu/fjr/innocence/averytaskforce.htm.
However, finalized drafts of proposed legislation to be recommended by
the task force and a committee report have yet to be completed.
Legal groups receive grants
for helping low-income individuals
Centro Legal por Derechos Humanos, the Legal Aid Society of
Milwaukee, Legal Action of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Coalition for
Advocacy each received a check for $10,000 from Attorney General Peg
Lautenschlager on behalf of the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ).
The funds will help the organizations to further their work in providing
legal assistance to low-income individuals. The DOJ obtained the funds
from settlements in enforcement actions.
"Fiscal constraints, including the significant decrease in grant
availability, are severely impacting the funding of legal services to
those in need," said then State Bar President Michelle Behnke. "Without
competent legal representation, individuals with basic human needs and
problems often find themselves without remedies. This funding will help
those in need."