LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Los Angeles County’s top prosecutor Monday unveiled a newly-formed unit of the District Attorney’s office to identify innocent people behind bars.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey met with reporters at the Hall of Justice in downtown L.A. to give details about the Conviction Review Unit, which will review “credible” innocence claims from those incarcerated for serious or violent crimes.
The unit will review claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence, Lacey said. Such claims may originate from inmates, attorneys or innocence projects, and requests will be made in writing to the District Attorney’s Office.
The process will not require the filing of any formal court documents, Lacey said.
Lacey asked county supervisors earlier this year for nearly $1 million to fund the new unit, which will include three prosecutors, an investigator and a paralegal.
The proposal would mean L.A. County joins Ventura, Santa Clara, and Yolo counties, which have all established similar units.
Lacey noted the District Attorney’s Office – the largest local prosecutorial agency in the nation – files more than 71,000 felony cases annually, the vast majority of which are upheld on appeal.
Former L.A. County prosecutor and legal analyst Steve Meister told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO it’s taken some time for the D.A.’s office to move forward with such a unit.
“Prosecutors, officers are suspicious of people who they think have been properly found guilty,” said Meister. “They figure everybody in prison says they’re innocent, everybody will do anything to get out, and so they’re especially leery of these claims.”
A series of high-profile wrongful convictions – perhaps most publicized in the Brian Banks case – has spurred city prosecutors to reconsider their opposition to a conviction review unit.
The L.A. County Conviction Review Unit will only accept written inquiries, Lacey said. Letters should be addressed to: District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, Attn: AHD Ken Lynch, 320 West Temple St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.