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. Recognizing that truth is a difficult conquest in any context, the guiding principal underlying Rago's efforts in the field of criminal justice is to establish policies and evidence-based best practices that serve with equal vigor the interests and needs 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, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA), policymakers in Harrisburg, PA Courts, and the criminal indigent defense and innocence advocate communities 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, criminal statute reforms, 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, and 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 and comprehensive 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 is a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, and 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.
- J.D., Law, Duquesne University, 1987
- B.A., History, Duquesne University, 1979
Criminal Procedure: Fundamentals
Functions and Duties of the Prosecution
Criminal Procedure: Fundamentals
Law, Public Service and the Executive Branch
In addition, Professor Rago teaches courses/seminars in the Bayer School Forensic Science and Law graduate program: Philosophy and Ethics in Science and Law, Wrongful Convictions, Constitutional Criminal Procedure, and Introduction to Forensic Science and Law (team taught with Dr. Fred Fochtman).
John Rago, Death Row Exonerations & Conviction Integrity, in The Death Penalty: A Reference Handbook 165-168 (Joseph A. Melusky and Keith A. Pesto, 2017).
A Fine Line between Chaos & Creation: Lessons on Innocence Reform from the Pennsylvania
John Rago, A Fine Line between Chaos & Creation: Lessons on Innocence Reform from the Pennsylvania Eight,12 Widener L. Rev. 359 (2005-2006).
Truth or Consequences and Post-Conviction DNA Testing: Have You Reached Your Verdict
John Rago, Truth or Consequences and Post-Conviction DNA Testing: Have You Reached Your Verdict,107 Dick. L. Rev. 845 (2002-2003).
Act 22 of 2017: Implications for Law Enforcement and the Courts. Pennsylvania Conference
of State Trial Judges
John Rago, Act 22 of 2017: Implications for Law Enforcement and the Courts. Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges, presentation at Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) Judicial Education Committee Annual Meeting (July 25-28, 2019).
Act 22 of 2017 (Police Body Cameras, Wiretap Reform and Right to Know Applications)
John Rago, Act 22 of 2017 (Police Body Cameras, Wiretap Reform and Right to Know Applications) The Pennsylvania Justice Network and Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Conference, State College, Pa.
(Dec. 12, 2018).
In Trouble With the Law and the Role of Community: The Veterans Court
John Rago and Daniel Kunz, In Trouble With the Law and the Role of Community: The Veterans Court, panel discussion at Moral injury and the Role of Community in the Veteran's Transformation and Homecoming (November 2, 2018).
Sustaining Public Confidence in Pennsylvania Criminal Justice
John Rago, Sustaining Public Confidence in Pennsylvania Criminal Justice, presentation at Carlow University (Oct. 22, 2018).
GPS Tracking, PFAs, and Domestic Violence
John Rago, GPS Tracking, PFAs, and Domestic Violence, presentation at Saint Vincent College (October 12, 2018).
Act 22 of 2017: Implications for Law Enforcement and the Courts
John Rago, Act 22 of 2017: Implications for Law Enforcement and the Courts, presentation at PCSTJ Annual Meeting (July 22-28, 2018).
From Chaos to Creation: A Look Behind the Curtain on the Flow of Policy-Making Powers
Between Pennsylvania's Executive and Legislative Leaders
John Rago, From Chaos to Creation: A Look Behind the Curtain on the Flow of Policy-Making Powers Between Pennsylvania's Executive and Legislative Leaders, presentation at 2016 The Fifth Colonial Frontier Legal Writing Conference, Pittsburgh, PA (December 3, 2016).
Pennsylvania Innocence Project's First Western Pennsylvania Case Reviews
John Rago, Pennsylvania Innocence Project's First Western Pennsylvania Case Reviews, presentation at Reed Smith, LLP, Pittsburgh, PA (July 16, 2018).
Criminal Law Updates/Standard Criminal Jury Instruction
John Rago, Criminal Law Updates/Standard Criminal Jury Instruction, presentation at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute 35th Annual Criminal Law Symposium, Harrisburg, PA (June 7-8, 2018).
Body-worn Cameras, Forensic Evidence and the Right to Know
John Rago, Body-worn Cameras, Forensic Evidence and the Right to Know, presentation at The Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law Continuing Legal Education Program, Pittsburgh, Pa (2017).
Establishing Uniform Science-Based Best Practices for Law Enforcement and Prosecutors;
Making the Case for Conviction Integrity
John Rago, Establishing Uniform Science-Based Best Practices for Law Enforcement and Prosecutors; Making the Case for Conviction Integrity, presentation at Law Enforcement/Prosecutors Program (May 23, 2014).
Post-conviction Actual Innocence Claims within a Constitutional Framework
John Rago, Post-conviction Actual Innocence Claims within a Constitutional Framework, presentation at Constitution Day, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania (2014).
Memory Science and False Confessions: Science-Based Reforms in Pursuit of Conviction
John Rago, Memory Science and False Confessions: Science-Based Reforms in Pursuit of Conviction Integrity, presentation at Westmoreland County Office of the District Attorney, Latrobe, PA (2014).
Conviction Integrity Initiatives for Allegheny County; A Model for Pennsylvania
John Rago, Conviction Integrity Initiatives for Allegheny County; A Model for Pennsylvania, presentation at Annual Conference of the Allegheny League of Municipalities, Seven Spring, PA (2014).
Update on County Wide Efforts to create Uniform, Science-Based Methods on Eyewitness
Examinations and Confessions and the Immediate Impact of the PA Supreme Court Decision
in Commonwealth v. Walker
John Rago, Update on County Wide Efforts to create Uniform, Science-Based Methods on Eyewitness Examinations and Confessions and the Immediate Impact of the PA Supreme Court Decision in Commonwealth v. Walker, presentation to County and City criminal justice executives and stakeholders (2014).
Developments in Post Conviction Actual Innocence Claims
John Rago, Developments in Post Conviction Actual Innocence Claims, CLE at Capital Track CLE Presentation, Ohio State Bar Association (2014).