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Report of the Philadelphia Event Review Team on the Wrongful Conviction of Marshall Hale

April 17, 2024

Report of the Philadelphia Event Review Team on The Wrongful Conviction of Marshall Hale
Report of the Philadelphia Event Review Team on The Wrongful Conviction of Marshall Hale

A new report provides recommended criminal justice system reforms based on a Sentinel Event Review (SER) of the wrongful conviction and 33-year incarceration of Hale.

The Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, a criminal justice research and policy hub at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, has released the Report of the Philadelphia Event Review Team on the Wrongful Conviction of Marshall Hale.

Marshall Hale on release day Marshall Hale on release dayThe report provides the results of a Sentinel Event Review (SER) of the wrongful conviction and 33-year incarceration of Hale, improperly convicted in 1984 of rape and released in 2017 after all charges against him were vacated and dismissed.

The SER was moderated by the Quattrone Center and conducted by the Philadelphia Event Review Team (PERT), a voluntary collaboration among the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO), the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), the Court of Common Pleas First Judicial District Court of Pennsylvania, and the Defender Association of Philadelphia, with additional support from Professor Jules Epstein at Temple University Beasley School of Law and lawyers and legal professionals from Dechert LLP.

“The PERT is something unique to Philadelphia–a group of criminal justice agencies that come together regularly to learn from errors in the criminal justice system and collaborate to help each part of the system fulfill its obligations to quality and safety. Mr. Hale’s wrongful conviction could not have happened without systemic errors occurring at every level of his case,” said Quattrone Center Executive Director John Hollway. “Most of them were the result of ineffective or inefficient systems and processes, rather than bad actors. The PERT collaboration helps all of us learn from this wrongful conviction and make changes designed to prevent future errors, helping the criminal justice system operate fairly and justly for all.”

The PERT identified 46 distinct factors that came together to lead to:

  • The inaccurate identification and arrest of Hale;
  • The failure to conduct necessary scientific testing prior to the start of his trial, and the failure to report all forensic test results to all parties in a timely fashion;
  • The destruction of physical evidence while the case was open and on appeal, leading to the inability to perform DNA analyses;
  • The delayed disclosure of scientific information to Hale by the PPD’s Forensic Science Bureau and by the Philadelphia DAO;
  • A system-wide lack of awareness and comprehension of forensic scientific information conducted in Hale’s case; and
  • Delays in reaching an appropriate adjudication of the case after the scientific information was identified and understood.

Hale’s conviction, which occurred prior to the advent of DNA testing, rested largely on eyewitness identification by the rape victim. Hale steadfastly proclaimed his innocence, submitting many petitions for postconviction review in the years following his conviction. As part of these petitions, he submitted multiple requests for scientific information related to his case and physical evidence that could be used to assess his claims of innocence, particularly as DNA testing became an available technology.

“These issues caused an innocent man to be inaccurately identified as the perpetrator of these terrible crimes and allowed the actual perpetrator of the crimes to avoid accountability and potentially commit other crimes while Hale was incarcerated,” added Hollway. “Further, they delayed the disclosure of key test results for 14 years, delayed the comprehension of key test results for an additional 12 years; and extended Mr. Hale’s incarceration for seven additional years until his charges were vacated.”

Hale praised the work of the PERT.

“I hope that this review of my case will help to prevent other people from going through what I and my family went through,” he said, “and will help the criminal justice system avoid wrongful arrests and convictions in the future. This should happen after every wrongful conviction.”

“The DAO was thrilled to participate in the Sentinel Event Review Process, led by the Quattrone Center. We believe there is real value in examining the mistakes of the past with all our criminal justice partners, to make sure that similar mistakes are not made in the future,” said Assistant District Attorney and DAO Director of Policy Dana Bazelon. “The Krasner administration continues to work with police and our partners in law enforcement to modernize forensic capabilities and improve investigative trainings, which unfortunately remain outdated compared with our peer cities.”

The PERT also agreed upon 29 consensus recommendations for changing the criminal justice system in Philadelphia, including but not limited to:

  • Enhancing eyewitness identification accuracy by minimizing repeated exposures of potential suspects to eyewitnesses;
  • Recording physical line-ups on video whenever possible;
  • Training police officers on cognitive biases that may impact investigations;
  • Reviewing and signing victim/witness logs at the beginning of every shift and well-being checks of any persons being interviewed or waiting to be interviewed;
  • Initiating trials only after the completion and distribution to all parties of all agreed-upon forensic testing and reporting;
  • Providing necessary funding to the Office of Forensic Science to ensure that it can meet the volume of forensic testing required and within reasonable time frames; and
  • Implementing statewide standards for document retention in criminal and capital cases that would be applicable to participants in the PERT.

“The breakthrough in Mr. Hale’s case didn’t occur until 2009, when the Pennsylvania Innocence Project was launched and Mr. Hale finally was represented by counsel,” said Hollway. “SERs such as this one allow us to look beyond the specific actors and evaluate the systems at play with an eye on consensus reform, helping each part of the system improve and generate better outcomes in the future. The PERT process will help identify the actual perpetrator of crimes as well as prevent wrongful convictions like Mr. Hale’s.”

The Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School is a nonpartisan national research and policy hub producing and disseminating research designed to prevent errors in the criminal justice system.

Read the full report.

Learn more about the pathbreaking work of the Quattrone Center.