Promising "statewide leadership" in reviewing possible wrongful convictions, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced his office created a new legal team to supplement local prosecutors' similar efforts, the Los Angeles Times reports. The new Post-Conviction Justice Unit, the first of its kind at the state level, will “work to support integrity in the criminal legal system and seek to remedy cases where there have been miscarriages of justice,” Bonta’s office said. He said the goal of the office is to “ultimately support public safety” by ensuring public trust in the criminal justice system. Its work, he said during a news conference in Oakland, will be conducted with “an eye toward systemic racism” and other injustices that have undermined that system in the past.
Many local prosecutors’ offices already have such units, including the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Former DA Jackie Lacey launched that office’s unit in 2015, and current DA George Gascón renamed it — as the Conviction Integrity Unit — and has touted it as a critical component of his office.
The trend has in part been driven by independent groups — such as the California Innocence Project — finding repeated success in proving wrongful convictions and freeing people from prison. Such successes have uncovered missteps and even misdeeds by prosecutors in the past, calling their integrity and the integrity of the convictions they won into question. Prosecutors have launched their own review teams to take ownership of the process and at times own up to the mistakes of their own staffs in the past. Michael Semanchik, managing attorney for the California Innocence Project, said Friday that his group was “thrilled” with Bonta’s announcement. The new unit will not only put more eyes on the vast number of cases that deserve review in the state, but in some instances will be able to provide more impartial reviews than local prosecutors whose offices were involved in a case’s initial handling, he said.