They included:
  • Revamping the protocols of witness identification that allow police to be open to the possibility of error. (There were several points where the woman’s positive ID of Cortez remained open to doubt, but police did not pursue them.)
  • Equip Philadelphia courtrooms with the ability to display digital information to the jury and all parties in the case. (Relevant data on Cortez’ cellphone suggesting his innocence were withheld from view because prosecutors maintained it was impossible to adequately show them.)
  • Philadelphia courts should adopt a standing “open discovery” protocol that would require prosecutors to provide potentially exculpatory material early in the pre-trial phase.
The team also agreed that changes in establishing the expertise of forensic witnesses were needed. In one instance, an “expert’s” assertion that Cortez’ cellphone had been altered to support his alibi was found to be incorrect, after defense attorneys discovered later that it was impossible to alter that model of phone without detection. The team also noted that a crowded court docket made prosecutors and judges too eager to overlook potential errors in the interest of time and efficiency. Systemic Errors: Many of these systemic errors have been recognized in other jurisdictions following the increase in exoneration proceedings and the growing number of Conviction Integrity Units in prosecutors’ offices around the country. But the Sentinel Event Review process provides an effective framework for components of the justice system that are normally at odds, as they find themselves increasingly under attack from community leaders and the press when justice goes wrong, advocates say. “It’s really exciting that so many criminal justice stakeholders have come together in partnership to see what we can learn from cases where things don’t turn out the way they should, and how we can use those learnings to make Philadelphia’s criminal justice system more reliable and more just,” said John Hollway, director of the Quattrone Center, and Associate Dean at Penn Law. The Philadelphia case is expected to set the standard for similar initiatives underway around the country. The Quattrone Center received a $1.6 million grant from Justice to provide technical assistance to other jurisdictions interested in conducting stakeholder reviews. On April 17, the Office of Justice Programs will host a webinar open to everyone involved in justice around the country, including community stakeholders, to provide further information about the project, answer questions, and take recommendations. Anyone interested can register here for the Webinar . The complete PERT report is available here."

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