More and more, district attorneys are creating specialized, dedicated teams of prosecutors to review viable claims of wrongful conviction in their counties.
They’re called conviction-review units or conviction-integrity units, and it’s a good thing.
They’ve only been around for ten or fifteen years, but the concept is catching on. According to this April 2016 study by the University of Pennsylvania Law School, there are 27 of them across American counties as of December 2015. That may seem like a small fraction of the overall number, but they include many of our most populous counties, accounting for nearly a hundred million people. From west to east, they include counties like Los Angeles (California), San Diego (California), Clark (Nevada), Dallas (Texas), Harris (Texas), Cook (Illinois), Wayne (Michigan), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), New York (New York), Kings (New York), Nassau (New York), and Washington (District of Columbia). More than half have been created in the last two or three years.
California has conviction-review units in Los Angeles, San Diego, Ventura, Santa Clara, and Yolo counties. When we wrote about the phenomenon two years ago, we thought Dallas was the first county to do it, in 2007, but it turns out Santa Clara got started in 2004, and San Diego first experimented with the idea in 2000. They’re all winners, though. Los Angeles created its unit last year, and San Diego launched its permanent unit this spring.
The good ones will be independent and transparent.
May we see more of them over time.