First Federal Unit to Identify Wrongful Convictions

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington D.C. is the first federal office to set up a unit to identify anyone wrongfully convicted of a crime.  The Conviction Integrity Unit will review cases where defendants offer new evidence that was not available at the original trial, such as DNA evidence, to prove their innocence.  Ronald Machen, Jr., the U.S. Attorney of the Washington office said in a statement, “As prosecutors, our goal is not to win convictions, but to do justice.”  Machen further said, “This new unit will work to uncover historical injustices and to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to prevent such tragedies in the future.”

The Conviction Integrity Unit follows similar ones established in state offices.  The modus for the creation of a separate unit to review these cases arises from five convictions that were vacated by the court, including that of Donald Gates, who was convicted in 1982 of rape and murder based on hair evidence.  DNA testing made available in 2009 proved that he was innocent.

The office is working with defense lawyers and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, a non-profit organization which fights wrongful convictions.  Over the last four-years, more than 2,000 files involving hair or fiber evidence have been reviewed by the FBI.