By RIA ROEBUCK JOSEPH
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced today in Oakland the formation of a Post-Conviction Justice Unit in a new effort to support the integrity of the criminal justice system statewide.
He was joined by Pricilla Ocean, Special Assistant Attorney General Michael Redding; Special Assistant Attorney General Lance Winters; Chief Assistant Attorney General from the Criminal Law Division and staff from all across the Department of Justice (DOJ) who were dedicated to developing the unit and who helped spearhead the announcement.
Mr. Bonta began preparing the unit as soon as he was appointed as attorney general and is the “first ever” in the 175-year history of the DOJ.
Over the course of this last year, a team dedicated solely to the integrity of criminal convictions statewide and working to correct potential miscarriages of justice began to study and analyze conviction integrity work being done across the country and within California. The best practices, approaches and models were reviewed and the team then provided the attorney general with recommendations for the best way for the new unit to have an impact.
The new Post-Conviction Unit seeks to strengthen trust in the criminal justice system and ultimately support public safety.
The new unit is starting off staffed by two attorneys working with the DOJ. Once fully staffed it will be empowered to conduct investigations and reviews aimed at resolving wrongful or improper criminal convictions, including cases where there may be evidence of significant integrity issues. It will also identify cases that may be suitable for resentencing if the sentence has been determined to be excessive based on the facts or new developments.
The attorney general emphasized two things:
– California prosecutors’ duty to integrity of conviction. They must have a deeper understanding of issues that affect conviction, from DNA to racism, and the importance that every prosecutor’s office to consider how issues of DNA affect their convictions both present and past.
– A commitment to ensuring that California DOJ is leading the way,
“That we are walking the walk. We are already doing this work taking a hard look at cases we’re handling on appeal and considering Racial Justice Act claims with an eye toward systemic racism,” Mr. Bonta said.
Bonta, stated in launching this new unit, a commitment “To seek justice, not to blindly seek convictions.”
“We will be looking at cases where there is credible evidence of innocence or integrity issues … Nobody should serve time for a crime they didn’t commit,” the AG stated.
The National Registry of Exonerations have shown more than 3,000 exonerations of wrongful convicted since 1989. Additionally, Bonta noted that tens of thousands of individuals have been wrongfully convicted with the majority of convicted persons coming from “communities that are racially and economically disadvantaged and marginalized that do not have the resources to mount a reasonable defense.”
Past mistakes can be discovered with new evidence or scientific advances, and with the unit able to conduct reviews, it is hoped that public trust in the system can be built.
The Post-Conviction Unit will provide independent reviews where there are claims of innocence or of wrongful conviction or integrity issues, provide oversight and consideration of any potential errors or miscarriages of justice, and offer support to other integrity units already in place in some cities..
The Post-Conviction Unit is part of “a growing effort nationwide to find new pathways to seek justice, reduce harm, eliminate racial bias and increase trust in the criminal legal system. Through the post-conviction investigations and reviews of individual criminal cases, we will be working to do that here at the California DOJ,” united in pursuit of truth and justice.