Are prosecutors’ conviction-integrity units the real deal?

Are prosecutors’ conviction-review or conviction-integrity units a sincere effort to right wrongs or an insincere attempt to cover up challenged cases with a heavy layer of whitewash? Hella Winston explores the issue in an excellent article for The Crime Report, which you will find here.

5 responses to “Are prosecutors’ conviction-integrity units the real deal?

  1. I’m really happy to see some progress in the Giuca case. That one has bothered me for years.

  2. sliter.chews.pens@gmail.com

    RE: Dallas County CIU – If one were so inclined to perform a statistical analysis from the National Registry of Exonerations, of the 1242 exonerations in the United States, 22% involved “false or misleading forensics evidence” (F/MFE). In Texas, this number jumps to 28.6%. However, the F/MFE number for the State of Texas would actually be higher if Dallas County is removed from the analysis because the statistics for F/MFE is unusually, if not suspiciously, low — 12% in Dallas County. Of the exonerations under Craig Watkins’ leadership, the F/MFE drops even further to 7%.

    Conversely, the percentage of exonerations whereby “mistaken witness identification” (MWID) was involved is 38.2% for the nation. In Texas, the MWID is 47.4%. In Dallas County alone, this number is a staggering 71%. Of the exonerations under Craig Watkins leadership, 75% are due to MWID.

    Why the skewed statistics for Dallas County vs. the Nation? Were the police agencies that poor at performing correct police line-ups in Dallas County? Is the forensics that good as to never make a mistake? Or could it be argued that Dallas County (and Watkins’ Conviction Integrity Unit) only goes after the “low hanging fruit” for post-conviction investigations?

    It has everything to do with civil remedies for the exonerated. Eye witnesses who mistakenly identify the wrong person (“oops!”) can’t be sued. However, crime labs and their employees can (as State actors).

    Also, a mistaken eye witness only affects a single criminal proceeding. Conversely, if a crime lab or M.E. is found to have made a mistake, hundreds if not thousands of adjudicated cases can be challenged (depending on the number of cases the forensic analyst or M.E. handled for the County — e.g. Fred Zain, Jonathan Salvador, Annie Dookhan). There’s a huge financial and time-consuming burden for the Counties to perform root-cause analysis of the mistakes/problems and subsequent “duty to correct” actions. Not to mention, the embarrassment to the crime lab’s or MEO’s integrity inside (or outside) the court room. (Prosecutor’s can’t get the easy plea bargains if their so-called expert witnesses have been known to get the science wrong.) Thus, there’s much less incentive for a prosecutor to investigate claims of wrongful convictions based on flawed forensics. Eye witnesses are the easiest to blame.

    While Watkins may have created something noble with his Conviction Integrity Unit in Dallas County, statistically the numbers suggest that he doesn’t (or hasn’t) practice what he preaches.

  3. Marty, thanks for posting this. Very enlightening.
    Here’s what I think. The flaws in the justice system are getting more and more public exposure, which is creating problems for politically elected officials (prosecutors), so they have to respond somehow. Let us not forget that the prosecutor is first and foremost a POLITICIAN. And putting prosecutors in charge of Conviction Integrity Units is absolutely like having the fox guard the henhouse. Until I see compelling data confirming the efficacy of CIU’s, I going to believe that they are nothing but a facade erected for political gain.

  4. RE: Dallas County CIU – If one were so inclined to perform a statistical analysis from the National Registry of Exonerations, of the 1242 exonerations in the United States, 22% involved “false or misleading forensics evidence” (F/MFE). In Texas, this number jumps to 28.6%. However, the F/MFE number for the State of Texas would actually be higher if Dallas County is removed from the analysis because the statistics for F/MFE is unusually, if not suspiciously, low — 12% in Dallas County. Of the exonerations under Craig Watkins’ leadership, the F/MFE drops even further to 7%.

    Conversely, the percentage of exonerations whereby “mistaken witness identification” (MWID) was involved is 38.2% for the nation. In Texas, the MWID is 47.4%. In Dallas County alone, this number is a staggering 71%. Of the exonerations under Craig Watkins leadership, 75% are due to MWID.

    Why the skewed statistics for Dallas County vs. the Nation? Were the police agencies that poor at performing correct police line-ups in Dallas County? Is the forensics that good as to never make a mistake? Or could it be argued that Dallas County (and Watkins’ Conviction Integrity Unit) only goes after the “low hanging fruit” for post-conviction investigations?

    It has everything to do with civil remedies for the exonerated. Eye witnesses who mistakenly identify the wrong person (“oops!”) can’t be sued. However, crime labs and their employees can (as State actors).

    Also, a mistaken eye witness only affects a single criminal proceeding. Conversely, if a crime lab or M.E. is found to have made a mistake, hundreds if not thousands of adjudicated cases can be challenged (depending on the number of cases the forensic analyst or M.E. handled for the County — e.g. Fred Zain, Jonathan Salvador, Annie Dookin). There’s a huge financial and time-consuming burden for the Counties to perform root-cause analysis of the mistakes/problems and subsequent “duty to correct” actions. Not to mention, the embarrassment to the crime lab’s or MEO’s integrity inside (or outside) the court room. (Prosecutor’s can’t get the easy plea bargains if their so-called expert witnesses have been known to get the science wrong.) Thus, there’s much less incentive for a prosecutor to investigate claims of wrongful convictions based on flawed forensics. Eye witnesses are the easiest to blame.

    Also, (dis)honorable mentions for the work of Dallas County’s Craig Watkins and his Conviction Integrity Unit include,

    …In 2011, Dale Duke was exonerated in part due to prosecutorial misconduct (Brady Violations). Yet, no criminal action has been taken against the prosecutor who withheld the material favorable to the Defense.

    …In early 2012, Richard Miles Jr. was exonerated in part due to prosecutor misconduct (Brady Violations) and faulty forensics including misleading expert witness testimony. Again, no criminal actions taken for the misconduct of either the original prosecutor or the forensic analyst.

    …In May 2012, Ricky Dale Wyatt was exonerated after 31 years. DCDAO states it was prosecutorial misconduct (Brady Violation). According to the writ, the forensic expert for the State also provided false and misleading testimony (her lab notes did not fit her scientific conclusions). Did Watkins pursue a criminal investigation? Nope.

    As a reminder of what Watkins promised ck to you Grits), http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2008/05/dallas-da-proposes-penalties-for-brady.html

    Since 2007, about 44% (n=13) of the exonerations in Dallas County were, in part, because of “official misconduct”, mostly Brady Violations.

    Although he stated in 2007 that he would, Craig Watkins has yet to address the prosecutorial misconduct of these cases. Also, he has yet to address his crime lab about the possibility that those lab analysts or MEs involved with the wrongful convictions may have contributed to other wrongful convictions (not yet identified). That is, no retrospective audits performed. (The director of the crime lab and M.E., Dr. Barnard, is a member of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. So, good luck getting the FSC to investigate thoroughly…or at all. And the State Bar is a moot point.)

    Obviously, he has the means to execute his “Big Plans”, but without the numbers to back up his past work, they are just more political posturing of smoke and mirrors.

    While Watkins may have created something noble with his Conviction Integrity Unit in Dallas County, statistically the numbers suggest that he doesn’t (or hasn’t) practice what he preaches.

  5. I have a question regarding the legality of a manipulated interview. In the matter of our loved one here in MA, the ADA, Renee Dupuis showed autopsy photos to people being interviewed. She said, “He (Brian) did this.”
    I go back and forth between legal and ethical. I understand strategy, but where does this fall?

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