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Tuesday, June 30, 2015
New D.A. Unit Will Focus on Wrongful Conviction Claims
Wrongfully convicted defendants in Los Angeles County criminal cases can now hope to get their cases reviewed faster with the establishment of a new unit within the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office that will specifically focus on wrongful conviction claims.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced Monday the creation of a Conviction Review Unit, and the assignment of three experienced deputy district attorneys, one senior investigator and one paralegal staff to staff the new unit.
“I am proud to announce that my office is establishing a Conviction Review Unit that expands our office’s ability to address credible claims of innocence made by people currently incarcerated for serious and violent felonies,” District Attorney Lacey said at a news conference.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has recently approved Lacey’s request for nearly $1 million for the assignment of new staff and other requirements.
Considered the largest prosecutorial agency in the nation, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office files more than 71,000 felony cases annually. Most of those cases are upheld on appeal.
“In a few instances, new evidence is discovered and, on rare occasions, mistakes are found,” District Attorney Lacey said.
The District Attorney said it is the responsibility of prosecutors to re-examine the facts and, “if appropriate, seek to vacate a wrongful conviction” whenever new information is received that may exonerate a person.
Lacey said the Conviction Review Unit will review claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence. Claims may originate from inmates, attorneys or innocence projects. The requests will be made in writing to the District Attorney’s Office.
If an initial review determines that the claim appears to have merit, a formal investigation will be opened. A prosecutor and investigator will be assigned to review trial transcripts and interview witnesses. If warranted, the case will be presented to the Conviction Review Committee composed of managers similar to the group that reviews death penalty cases.
This process will not require the filing of any formal court documents, Lacey clarified.
With this new unit, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office now joins nearly two dozen prosecutorial agencies around the country, including those in Dallas, Manhattan and five counties in California — Ventura, San Diego, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Yolo — which have established similar conviction review programs.
The unit will only accept written inquiries. Letters should be addressed to: District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, Attn: AHD Ken Lynch, 320 West Temple St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.