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McDonnell Signs Bill Easing Standard For Challenging Wrongful Convictions

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The wrongfully-convicted in Virginia may now have a better chance at exoneration.
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The wrongfully-convicted in Virginia may now have a better chance at exoneration.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bill into law that makes it a bit easier for wrongly-convicted inmates to win exoneration.

Under previous revisions to the law, new biological and non-biological evidence could be submitted later than 21 days after a conviction. Del. Joe Morrissey says the language was still too strict.

"The old Writ of Actual Innocence law was a draconian measure that made it almost impossible for an innocent person to get a new trial or to be acquitted," Morrissey says.

Morrissey says the law's changes include revising one word. That alone makes it easier for the Court of Appeals or state Supreme Court to find that with this previously unknown evidence, no rational trier of fact would have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

"The language said that no rational trier of fact could find that the person was guilty," Morrissey says. "That's like saying, 'Well, a meteorite could hit you. But would it?' No. So, changing it to from could to would makes it easier for an innocent man."

And while an attorney general s role has been to defend the prosecutor's case and stress proof of guilt, the new law will permit him to provide evidence of innocence.

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