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Innocence project critical of Clark County's DA plans to review past convictions

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson [KSNV]

An announcement by Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson that he intends to form a special unit to review past convictions is being criticized by an organization that works to free people wrongfully convicted.

Wolfson announced Friday that his proposed Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) has been identified and the creation of a three-staffer unit is moving forward.

On Monday, the Clark County Board of County Commissioners approved a budget for the next fiscal year which included three positions that will be assigned to the Conviction Integrity Unity: a chief deputy district attorney, a paralegal and an investigator.

The purpose of the CIU is to re-examine convictions where new evidence suggesting actual innocence has surfaced, and to guard against future error by adopting and implementing prosecution best practices. Several large jurisdictions across the country have established CIU's, but this will be the first of its kind in Nevada.

"I am looking forward to finally getting this team in place," Wolfson said in a news release. "Adding a Conviction Integrity Unit brings us in line with other major jurisdictions throughout the United States. It is essential to have a formal mechanism in place to allow cases to be reviewed when evidence of innocence surfaces. We stand by all of our convictions. But, if something is brought to our attention, we will look into it."

Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center says it is has doubts about Wolfson's approach to the issue, saying, "To ensure integrity, a CIU must be staffed with independent criminal law experts from outside the DA's office who have the authority and autonomy to fully review and investigate claims of innocence."

"We are very concerned that the Conviction Integrity Unit Mr. Wolfson has announced will be nothing short of a CRINO (conviction review in name only), a term coined in an extensive report issued by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice in April of this year on best practices in creating a conviction review unit," a statement issued by the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center states. "There are two widely respected CIU's in the nation, Dallas County, Texas, and Brooklyn, New York. Both of these units worked closely with local and national innocence projects, legal defenders associations and other key criminal justice professionals. Mr. Wolfson's office met with our organization once - at our request, and has not engaged the local defense experts or associations in a meaningful way.

"We are equally disturbed by the proclamation contained in Mr. Wolfson's statement that his office "stands by all of our convictions". Considering the fact there have been 1,791 exonerations in the United States as of today, the likelihood of human error and the known causes of wrongful convictions that plague our justice system, we are disappointed Mr. Wolfson believes there have been no wrongful convictions in Clark County."

The statement went on to say, "no system and no one person are free from flaw. Our justice system is made up of people, and people make mistakes. We know there are innocent people in prison in Nevada. A respected well thought out, and transparent CIU would acknowledge the possibility of human error and follow best practices when creating this important unit."

The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center says it has been working on post-conviction claims of innocence in Nevada for more than 15 years.

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