Professor John T. Rago
Duquesne University School of Law
Professor John Rago’s work in criminal justice focuses on conviction integrity initiatives undertaken through collaborative policy making and the establishment of science-based best practices for law enforcement, prosecutors, and indigent defense. The guiding principal of his efforts is to establish policies and practices that equally serve the interests of law enforcement, victims, and the accused.
Rago has worked closely with Allegheny County District Attorney, Stephen Zappala, individual district attorneys and members of law enforcement across the Commonwealth, including the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA), and policymakers in Harrisburg, to advance conviction integrity initiatives in criminal investigations and prosecutions. His ongoing efforts and collaborations in Allegheny County have produced various best-practices models for the county and the commonwealth in such areas as evidence-based eyewitness identification practices for police and prosecutors, electronic recording of custodial interrogations, and uniform evidence preservation practices. Most recently, these collaborations significantly contributed to the passage of comprehensive legislation on police-worn body cameras in Pennsylvania (PA SB 560 leading to the passage and signing into law of Act 22 of 2017). Currently, Rago is working with Allegheny County stakeholders on a range of criminal justice initiatives. Among them include holistic defense models for indigent representation, true diversion programs for non-violent low-level offenders, and greater collaboration between criminal justice and public health stakeholders.
Subject to a Pennsylvania Senate Resolution calling for a study of wrongful convictions in Pennsylvania, under the auspices of the Joint State Government Commission, Rago served as chairperson of a 51-member statewide committee. Working closely with Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Chairman Senator Stewart Greenleaf, Rago’s committee produced Pennsylvania’s joint state government commission document, Report of the Advisory Commission on Wrongful Convictions, which was hailed by the New York Innocence Project for its depth of analysis and insightful recommendations. The seminal report provides a series of legislative reforms and suggested practices, many of which have been adopted by the PDAA and Pennsylvania law enforcement in the form of best practices.
Rago serves on the Pennsylvania Bar Institute (PBI) Committee on Standard Criminal Jury Instructions. He also serves as special counsel to the Allegheny County Criminal Justice Advisory Board. Rago is frequently consulted on matters of conviction integrity, police and prosecutorial practices, and post-conviction claims of actual innocence. Most recently, Professor Rago was appointed by Governor Wolf to serve as a member of the Parolee Homicide Review Team as authorized under Act 115 of 2019.