Under the protocol for the Conviction Integrity Unit, a defendant making a claim of innocence must meet certain standards.
CLEVELAND -- Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty has created a Conviction Integrity Unit that will review the claims of prisoners who present credible new evidence of their innocence.
"All of us in the criminal justice system have an obligation to seek justice and to seek the truth. We want to convict the guilty, not the innocent," Prosecutor McGinty said. "So if we learn we have convicted the wrong person, we want to correct it. We always want to have open ears on the subject of innocence."
A team of prosecuting attorneys will review credible new evidence of innocence. Should that thorough review conclude that someone has been wrongfully convicted, the Prosecutor's Office will file a motion to vacate the verdict.
"The number of cases where we find mistakes is going to be small, but it is important that we correct them," Prosecutor McGinty said. "We never want to turn a blind eye just because there was a conviction."
Under the protocol for the Conviction Integrity Unit, a defendant making a claim of innocence must meet the following standards:
- The conviction must have been in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court
- The convicted offender must be alive
- There must be a claim of actual innocence, not a legal issue that should be decided in the appellate system
- New and credible evidence of innocence must exist
- The claim cannot be frivolous; and
- The convicted offender must waive procedural safeguards and privileges, agree to cooperate with the Unit and agree to provide full disclosure regarding all inquiry requirements of the Conviction Integrity Unit.
When an application for review is received by the Prosecutor's Office, it first will be evaluated by the Conviction Integrity Coordinator. If the above prerequisites are met, the case will be assigned to one or more assistant county prosecutors for a preliminary examination. That analysis will go to a Conviction Integrity Committee composed of senior assistant county prosecutors.
The committee will decide if a full investigation of the claim is merited. Whenever such an investigation is authorized and completed, the full committee will review its findings. The committee will then vote and send both the investigative findings and its recommendation to the County Prosecutor.
The County Prosecutor will make the final decision on all claims.
"As prosecutors, we are ultimately responsible for our convictions," McGinty said. "We want to believe in our cases. That means we also have to be able to reevaluate our decisions later."
McGinty has assigned Assistant County Prosecutor Jose A. Torres to be the first coordinator of the Conviction Integrity Unit. Torres spent 10 years in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office before becoming Deputy Legal Counsel to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in 2007. He then served for two years on the Ohio Adult Parole Board before returning the Prosecutor's Office in 2013 as a Regional Supervisor.
In developing policies, the new unit will be assisted by an advisory panel of outside legal experts.
The first members of this committee will be former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Lillian Greene, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Professor Patricia J. Falk and Case Western Reserve University School of Law Professor Carmen Naso.
By establishing a Conviction Integrity Unit, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office joins a growing list of major urban counties with a mechanism to evaluate wrongful conviction claims. Earlier this year, the National Registry of Exonerations reported that 87 people wrongly convicted of crimes were exonerated in 2013. About one third of exonerations were initiated by police or prosecutors or included law enforcement cooperation, according to the registry, a joint program of the law schools at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan.