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.