Conviction Review Units: A National Perspective
University of Pennsylvania Law School – Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice
December 23, 2015
U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 15-41
Over the past 25 years, Americans have become increasingly aware of a vast array of mistakes in the administration of justice, including wrongful convictions, situations where innocent individuals have been convicted and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. The most prevalent institutional response by prosecutors to address post-conviction fact-based claims of actual innocence is the Conviction Review Unit (CRU), sometimes called the Conviction Integrity Unit. Since the creation of the first CRU in the mid-2000s, more than 25 such units have been announced across the country; more than half of these have been created in the past 24 months.
CRUs have grown up ad hoc, and independently defined its structure, scope, and operations, often in reaction to a limited number of specific cases with unique circumstances. Very few have written protocols, policies, or procedures, and few of those have been made public. Given this rapid increase in number and the lack of standardization or evaluation of policies, procedures, and impact of CRUs, a more detailed evaluation of the actual policies and practices of operating CRUs may be helpful to a variety of audiences. This paper provides an analysis of a national survey of CRUs to identify policies and practices established by CRUs across the country, to assist: (a) Current CRUs in understanding how their peers have approached common challenges; (b) Offices without CRUs in the creation of effective units; and (c) Communities with metrics to evaluate the units and their utility.
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