LANSING, Mich. — A task force created this year by Governor Gretchen Whitmer continues to meet each month to come up with recommendations and best practices for how forensic science work is used, conducted and assessed in the criminal justice system.
The impact of this issue is far-reaching. Not just for those wrongfully convicted, but for taxpayers, too.
"The costs are exorbitantly high for taxpayers. Not only are we paying to compensate those who are wrongfully convicted, which we should. We are paying for their incarceration,” said Marla Mitchell-Cichon of the Cooley Law Innocence Project.
According to data from the National Registry of Exonerations, there have been over 100 exonerations in Michigan. That data also shows about 20% of those wrongful convictions are because of faulty forensic science.
Mitchell estimates a cost of $40,000 per year to house, clothe and feed one prisoner. Multiply that number times the 526 years stakeholders say have been lost to wrongful convictions and you get over $21 million.
- Michigan's Conviction Integrity Unit, Cooley Innocence Project help free man after 32 years
- They spent years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit, and now the fund set up to pay them for the years they lost is almost empty
- State agencies, nonprofits help the wrongfully convicted adjust to life after release
FOX 47 News brought you the story of one of those men back in May.
Gilbert Poole spent over 30 years behind bars, accused of killing a man in Oakland County. One of the reasons for his conviction? A forensic expert who testified that Poole’s bite mark was found on the victim’s body.
The dental expert had never given expert testimony in a murder trial before Poole’s case but the jury was instructed to accept his findings as fact.
“Pretty much buried me in the courtroom. So once it's presented and dismissed as acceptable there was not a lot of argument after that,” said Poole.
Stakeholders from the innocence community including lawyers, forensic experts and exonerees all gave testimony during the task force meeting on Tuesday.
A slide show shared the names and faces of 34 people impacted by this issue, representing over 500 years lost behind bars.
- After serving time for crimes they didn't commit, many exonerees find little help on the outside
- Rally to stop wrongful convictions held in Lansing
Mitchell-Cichon says the state needs a Forensics Commission in place for three main reasons.
“One is to provide guidance and best practices for the scientific community statewide. Two is to provide guidance and training to courts, lawyers and criminal justice stakeholders. Three is to assist in identifying and correcting systemic problems,” said Mitchell-Cichon.
The task force meets each month and will present its findings to Governor Gretchen Whitmer by December 31.
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