There has been a reasonable amount of fanfare recently about the establishment of “conviction integrity units.” See Mark Godsey’s December 11 WCB post, “Center for Prosecutor Integrity Surveys Rise of Conviction Integrity Units”, here.
We can do nothing but applaud these efforts, but there is one aspect of these units that troubles me. They are all totally contained within the prosecutor’s office. Does anyone else think this presents an inherent conflict of interest? My suspicion is that, because of increasing publicity about wrongful convictions, prosecutors are establishing these things to politically bolster their public image. Call me cynical – and we should welcome every step toward true justice – but I tend to see a fox guarding the hen house and a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Is there any requirement that all proceedings of these units be public record?
My belief is that the model for how these units should be set up is the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, which has been in operation since 2007. What I think is notable here is the composition of the commission: the members include a Superior Court Judge, a Prosecuting Attorney, a Defense Attorney, a Victim Advocate, a Member of the Public, a Sheriff, and two Discretionary members. This shows a reasoned effort to endow the commission with objectivity.
In a very recent development, the Innocence Project of New Orleans has announced that it is partnering with the Orleans district attorney’s office to establish a joint “conviction review project.” See the IPNO announcement here. This is a big deal, and will bear watching.
Mr. Locke, Thank you for pointing out this important aspect of the Conviction Integrity Units, which has been our concern, as well. The CIU’s should be ranked in quality. Those, that are an “empty shell”, just to be part of the “group”, should be identified as ineffective, as noted in a recent case. They can be dangerous to an innocent person.
Your comment: “We can do nothing but applaud these efforts, but there is one aspect of these units that troubles me. They are all totally contained within the prosecutor’s office. Does anyone else think this presents an inherent conflict of interest? My suspicion is that, because of increasing publicity about wrongful convictions, prosecutors are establishing these things to politically bolster their public image. Call me jaded – and we should welcome every step toward true justice – but I tend to see a fox watching the hen house and a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Is there any requirement that all proceedings of these units be public record?”
In Arizona, Pima County recently established a CIU, with little or no media coverage, while the largest county – Maricopa – where the hundreds of thousands of felony CASES exist (over 200,000, in one term in office (2005-2010) under disbarred, ex-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, which have been ignored and demand independent investigation for wrongful convictions of the innocent, the over-charged, over-sentenced, malicious prosecution and incompetence, which has prevailed in that office for decades. In a culture of convictions-at-all costs, no presumption of innocence (Victim’s Rights), the innocent are ALL at risk.
With the current decades long, Debra Milke case in the news, where her conviction and sentence was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, March 2013 and the Maricopa County Attorney chose to re-try her in 2015, people wonder why her wrongful conviction was kept hidden under the campaign cycle. Then yesterday, the state Court of Appeals dismissed her charges, due to “egregious prosecutorial misconduct”! We are left to wonder who is going to step forward to “right the wrongs” in these cases? How is it that Ray Krone is the last exoneree? The state legislators apologized to him and said they would do better next time. Better at what? Hiding these cases or “righting the wrongs”. The deliberate indifference to wrongful convictions that followed holds the answer.
Thank you for shining the harsh light on the related subjects.
New Conviction Integrity Unit in Maricopa County, AZ. Why wasn’t this story covered in Maricopa County media, the largest county in the state, where the hundreds of thousands of felony CASES reside? Are we going to have to go “county-by-county” across the nation?
correction: New Conviction Integrity Unit in PIMACounty, AZ.
Phil, you are not alone in your thinking. Certainly there is an aura of the mouse guarding the cheese here. We can only hope that this is not reform in name only. One overriding truth is that the prosecutor is by far the most important and powerful actor in the criminal justice system.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
“Call me cynical – and we should welcome every step toward true justice – ”
I believe “perceptive” is a better word than cynical.
3 law enforcement adversaries on the same team and maybe the Victim Advocate as well so that is a 4 votes out of 8 (which may still be biased depending upon who the 2 discretionary members are and who is selecting these Commission members – the NC Governor no doubt??? Why would anyone suggest that the prosecutor’s office be involved in reviewing “itself” and seriously believe that the assessments would be different – DUH!!!
What about the victims? As a victim myself, to have an old case from my childhood years come back to me in my adult years is a disaster. For those like myself, we have been through enough, but having to relive bad situations does not help in putting those things behind us and moving on with life.
Yes, I understand that sometimes people can be wrongfully convicted, and I agree that a conviction integrity unit is helpful for those individuals, however, there is a thin line between trying to prove someone’s innocence and bringing the entire history back into the victims life. It should be handled with care. There are other ways to review all the evidence in the case and do further research to see if a conviction was wrong, bringing the victim back into the picture should be the last resort.
I was represented by the DA’s office, and last year the same DA’s office came back to me after 20 years to further investigate due to this Conviction Integrity Unit. Are you telling me that 20 years ago, the DA who handled my case did so improperly? How can those who work in the public sector and protect the innocent come back and “accuse” the same innocent? It’s heartbreaking. There are organizations out there to protect the wrongfully convicted, but what about the victims? Who is looking out for us? Who will continue to protect us? Do we no longer matter because we’re adults?
I’m hoping the right person will read this. My life has changed drastically since last year. I am no longer the same person. Bringing back to light, a life that I put behind me, making me feel as though I was wrong, or I was doubted, or I’m still being doubted has put me into a huge depression. I have extreme issues with anxiety and I have now developed other illnesses that are caused from traumatic events. What am I to do?!! After the DA’s office reviewed my case last year, they once again found that there was NO WRONGFUL CONVICTION but now I’m left with the garbage to deal with. How is that fair? How do I deal with this all over again? I have children of my own to protect, I am now dealing with anxiety, depression among other issues and the DA’s office because of their politics are able to sleep well at night while I cannot. And for what? Oh that’s right, because whoever created this program didn’t put proper limitations into place, they didn’t stop to think how this would affect the victims and their current families.
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