A bill to end wrongful convictions due to faulty expert witness testimony has passed the California Senate Public Safety Committee.
California Senate Bill 243 is a criminal justice reform bill that was authored by Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, and introduced on January 21, 2021. The bill proposes to add Section 806 to the Evidence Code and amend Section 1473 of the Penal Code. It relates to trial testimony.
Wiener has stated that the bill will “help exonerate innocent people across California, by strengthening the grounds for those wrongfully convicted based on faulty expert testimony to seek ‘post-conviction relief.’”
According to Wiener, currently
courts have discretion over which expert testimony is admissible. Studies show that courts accept most forensic science and expert testimony without sufficient scrutiny, leaving significant room for imprecision and human error. This error leads to the high rate of wrongful convictions. Expert testimony that fails to rely on sound logic should not be considered expert testimony at all.
SB 243 amends the standards for evaluating expert testimony and forensics in courts both in the pre- and post- conviction phases. SB 243 updates the definition of false testimony to include opinions that are based upon “flawed scientific research or outdated technology that is now unreliable or moot, and opinions about which a reasonable scientific dispute has emerged regarding its validity.”
Faulty ‘expert’ witness testimony is one of the main reasons innocent people are sent to prison for crimes they did not commit. That is an unacceptable miscarriage of justice. Even one innocent person in prison is too many. SB 243 will ensure that when expert witness testimony is given, the science behind it is reliable. This is an important criminal justice reform measure that will help many innocent people.
Melissa Dague O’Connell, Staff Attorney and Policy Liaison for the Northern California Innocence Project, has said, “The Committee’s vote to move SB 243 forward recognizes how important it is for our criminal courts to stay lockstep with the advancements in and scrutiny of forensics and expert testimony to not just prevent wrongful convictions, but to intervene and restore justice when a wrongful conviction occurs.”
SB 243 is sponsored by the California Innocence Coalition, which includes the Northern California Innocence Project, Loyola Project for the Innocent, and the California Innocence Project. The bill was passed by the Senate Public Safety Committee in a unanimous vote. The voting members were Senators Bradford, Kamlager, Ochoa Bogh, Skinner, and Wiener. The bill will now move on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Other Reform Bills
SB 243 is part of a larger group of California Innocence Coalition reform bills. Another bill is SB 923, which was also authored by Senator Wiener. SB 923 ensures that law enforcement must use evidence-based procedures when obtaining eyewitness identification. Before this bill was signed into law in 2018, California had no statewide standards or best practice for eyewitness identification.