CA AG Rob Bonta establishes a conviction integrity unit


In an effort to “remedy cases where there have been miscarriages of justice,” California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced earlier this month that he is creating a Post-Conviction Justice Unit — a first for California — to investigate past criminal convictions. The unit will work with local district attorneys to review and investigate cases to “resolve wrongful or improper criminal convictions, including matters where there may be evidence of significant integrity issues, and to identify cases that may be suitable for potential resentencing.”

Like other conviction integrity units in other states and counties, Bonta said this new unit will allow prosecutors to address “claims of injustice” and “reflects the recognition that new evidence may arise, past mistakes can be uncovered, and sentencing standards may change. Whether issues arise as a result of new exculpatory information or advancements in forensic science, it is incumbent on prosecutors to make good-faith efforts to correct injustice.”

The response has been mostly positive.

“We applaud Attorney General Bonta for taking this important step to address unjust convictions in California,” Fair & Just Prosecution Executive Director Miriam Krinsky said. “Local district attorneys bear the ultimate responsibility for correcting past injustices in their jurisdictions, but when the efforts of local prosecutors prove insufficient to protect the innocent and correct unjust sentences, state attorneys general can and should step up to help fill those gaps.”

Criminal defense attorney and DPF board member Robert M. Sanger noted the number of conviction integrity units set up around the country and, “Some, like Houston, for instance, have taken the job very seriously and have petitioned the court for relief on behalf of the wrongly convicted, while others may just be for publicity purposes.”

Still, Sanger says, “There is nothing wrong with the idea – defendants can still pursue their independent remedies and be represented by counsel. Some exonerations have involved post-conviction counsel and the Public Integrity lawyers standing side by side asking for relief.
“My hope would be that the Attorney General’s PIU will meet the highest standards and help exonerate the thousands of people who remain wrongfully convicted in California.”

Bonta said the new unit will be initially staffed by two deputy attorneys general in the Criminal Law Division. They will review and evaluate cases currently in the state Department of Justice and cases for potential resentencing in jurisdictions that don’t have conviction integrity units. The goal is to provide “statewide leadership and coordination among local [CIUs] to encourage the implementation of system-wide best practices and to further foster a culture of integrity, transparency, and efficacy that promotes public trust.”

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