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Innocent Could Die Under Law Limiting Federal Judges' Role

Publication Date: 
May 27, 2013
San Francisco Chronicle
Bob Egelko

Professor Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle's Bob Egelko about federal laws that can keep inmates who are found to be convicted unjustly behind bars, which allows for "the possibility that innocent people are executed or imprisoned."

George Souliotes has served 16 years of a life sentence for killing three tenants in a Modesto arson fire. The case against him was largely discredited by new scientific tests in 2005, and a federal magistrate has now found that his convictions were based on false evidence.

The 72-year-old Souliotes could soon be freed, but it won't be because there's no longer a provable case against him. Under a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and interpreted strictly by the Supreme Court, inmates who were convicted unjustly -- and some who are most likely innocent -- can be kept behind bars.


As Robert Weisberg, a Stanford criminal law professor observed, "The system allows the possibility that innocent people are executed or imprisoned."