Bev Lake, the former chief justice for the N.C. Supreme Court whose tenure led to massive criminal justice reforms across the state, was featured yesterday in a lengthy profile by the national criminal justice outlet The Marshall Project.
The story cites an article we published last month, “Bill is dead that would have protected defendants from lying informants,” which discussed a failed bill, the I. Beverly Lake Fair Trial Act, that would have placed increased scrutiny on jailhouse snitches prepared to testify in other people’s cases. The bill was killed by House leadership after the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys voiced its opposition to it.
Titled “A One-Man Justice Crusade in North Carolina,” the 2,354-word Marshall Project feature depicts Lake, a conservative Republican who served as chief justice from 2001 to 2006, as a trailblazer in the GOP’s recent effort to fix the holes within the criminal justice system.
A decade ago, during a time when most Republicans stressed tough-on-crime measures, Lake was responsible for the creation of an innocence commission that led to changes in DNA evidence storage, eyewitness identification and videotaped confessions. Lake’s efforts also triggered the creation of the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, the country’s first full-time state agency dedicated to investigating post-conviction claims of innocence.
Lake—who started focusing on criminal justice reform in 2002 when DNA testing prompted a rash of innocence claims—was able to accomplish his goals during a time when the General Assembly leaned right.
“It probably took a conservative Republican chief justice to see the serious problems in the criminal justice system and to push through extraordinary reforms,” Rep. Rick Glazier, D—Fayetteville, told the INDY.
“With the groundswell we’re seeing now around criminal justice, it’s becoming a bipartisan, even conservative issue,” the Innocence Project’s Rebecca Brown told The Marshall Project. “But way before conservatives like him were focused on all of this, Beverly Lake was the leader.”
The profile references recent North Carolina headlines and quotes several Triangle-area thought-leaders, such as Chris Mumma, executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, and Richard Rosen, retired UNC law professor.
Lake is now 81.