(The Associated Press)
In September 2006, Tharrington Smith criminal defense attorney Wade Smith was appointed to the new North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission by State Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker. The law establishing the Commission provides that one of its eight voting members “shall be engaged in the practice of criminal defense law.” North Carolina created the Commission to strengthen public confidence in the justice system and is the first state to empower an independent panel to investigate and review post-conviction claims of factual innocence. Claims of factual innocence may be referred to the Commission by any court, person or agency. The Commission may conduct a formal inquiry, collect evidence, and hold public hearings. If at least five members of the Commission conclude there is sufficient evidence of factual innocence to merit judicial review, a three-judge panel is convened to hear evidence relevant to the Commission’s recommendation. The judicial panel can dismiss all or any of the charges based on its unanimous vote that the convicted person has proved his innocence. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is patterned after one created in Britain in 1997.