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PR: Defense Attorneys Urged to Speak Out on H.R. 1620, Which Would Remove Impartial and Fair Investigations

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Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


Defense Attorneys Urged to Speak Out on H.R. 1620, Which Would Remove Impartial and Fair Investigations

WASHINGTON / March 15, 2021 – A bill recently introduced in Congress, H.R. 1620, would vitiate the right of defendants to an impartial and fair investigation, thereby removing a key due process right and increasing the risk of a finding of guilt. H.R. 1620 seeks to promote so-called “victim-centered” and “trauma-informed” investigations, which are known to remove the presumption of innocence and sharply bias the investigation in favor of the complainant (1).

H.R. 1620 defines “victim-centered” as asking questions of a complainant “in a manner that is focused on the experience of the reported victim.” This description is an admission of the one-sided nature of such investigations, because it says nothing about focusing on the experiences of the defendant, or on the objective facts of the case.

A report from the National Registry of Exonerations found that investigative misconduct contributes to 35% of all wrongful convictions. The investigative misconduct includes concealment of evidence, fabrication of evidence, witness tampering, misconduct in interrogations, and making false statements at trial (2). To date, 2,754 wrongful convictions have been documented (3), a figure that is believed to substantially underestimate the actual number.

Settlement agreements involve compensation payments to exonerees typically in the range of $50,000 to $100,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment (4).

Black male defendants are often targeted by such “victim-centered” methods. A recent article by Wendy McElroy reported that 73.6% of wrongful convictions involved Blacks who were victimized by officer misconduct (5).

Ethics codes admonish police officers to conduct investigations that are impartial, fair, and honest (6).  The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics of the International Association of Chiefs of Police states, for example, “As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is… respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality, and justice.” (7)

SAVE urges defense attorneys to contact the bill sponsor, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and tell her to remove the unconstitutional provisions from H.R. 1620, found at Sections 206 and 303. The full text of H.R. 1620 is available online (8).

A vote on H.R. 1620 is expected to take place later this week. Jackson Lee’s telephone number is 202-225-3816.