The number of people who are wrongly convicted of a crime is tragically high. Within the last several months, three people were released after serving decades in prison. They have been exonerated, granted their freedom and are now working to re-build lives that never should have been taken from them in the first place.
Credit in these cases goes to a new program called the Conviction Integrity Unit, which is part of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. Thanks in part to Wayne County’s success with the concept, there is now a separate statewide unit run through the Michigan Attorney General. The Conviction Integrity Unit investigates convictions to decide whether there is good evidence that the person who wound up convicted was actually accused wrongly. Tragically, this Unit is long overdue, partly due to what I have seen over the last nearly 30 years as an unwillingness of many prosecutor’s to dismiss or decline to prosecute cases that, upon further investigation, would lead to significant doubts about an accused’s actual guilt.
The Unit has, for example, played a role in getting convictions reversed after discovering that a key state’s witness lied about important facts that prosecutors had used to convict a person. The goal of the Unit is to be sure the prosecutor’s office does not lose sight of its mission to pursue justice in the course of trying to look tough on crime. Holding prosecutors and police accountable is vital. Since its founding in 2018, the work of Wayne County’s Conviction Integrity Unit has led to the release of 27 people. Together, these individuals spent 415 years in jail for crimes they did not commit.
A good defense upfront is the best shield against a wrongful conviction
While it is certainly good that the Conviction Integrity Unit has managed to free innocent people from prison, it is unfortunate that these people had to go to jail in the first place. A robust criminal defense is the best way for an accused person to avoid conviction for a crime they did not commit. A skilled defense attorney will know how to challenge the state’s case and investigate the facts thoroughly.