ANCHORAGE - No innocent person should be sent to jail: but it happens.
"I think everybody in our profession - judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys - what keeps you up at night is the possibility of somebody who is truly innocent sitting in jail,” said Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton Friday outside of a conference put on by the Alaska Bar Association.
The co-director of the Innocence Project, Peter Neufeld, was the key speaker. Neufeld is in Anchorage to speak with judges and lawyers about ways he says the justice system can be improved. There are numerous factors that can lead to a wrongful conviction, he said, including eyewitness misidentification, false confessions, bad defense lawyers, and the use of untrustworthy jailhouse informants.
Wolverton welcomed Neufeld and his ideas on how to address some of those factors.
"Our understanding of eye-witness identification is basically just wrong that all of us have accepted that this person said they saw the individual at the scene, and time and time again we're just wrong,” Wolverton said.
The Alaska chapter of the Innocence Project is being kept busy with almost 250 requests for assistance and five active cases. Project members are also working with lawmakers to try and strengthen the system.
"We are working now with Senator Hollis French to get legislation passed to bring best practices in eye-witness identification to Alaska,” said Bill Oberly, the executive director of the Alaska Innocence Project.
Using DNA evidence, the Innocence Project has helped overturn convictions for 289 people nationally.
"The much more challenging cases are the ones the Alaska Innocence Project takes, where there may not be any DNA but the person may still be innocent,” Neufeld said.