During the hotly contested election for district attorney, the Davis Enterprise, in endorsing incumbent DA Jeff Reisig, wrote: “Despite efforts by those opposed to him to portray him as something that he is not, Reisig is, in fact, one of the most progressive district attorneys in the state.”
There was a lot of dispute over whether the programs that were cited by the local paper really rose to the level of progressivism.
His opponent ran on a platform of progressive reform similar to one put forward by insurgent DA reformer Larry Krasner, who was elected DA of Philadelphia.
There was a blurb a few days ago on the Wrongful Convictions blog that the reform-minded Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner has hired former Ohio Innocence Project attorney, Carrie Woods, to work on its Conviction Integrity Unit.
As many readers know, the Vanguard has been critical of the Yolo DA, who has created a Conviction Integrity Unit which has apparently only reviewed all of six cases over a four-year time period, according to a public records request from early this year.
The Vanguard has identified at least 14 cases in the last 12 years from Yolo County where we believe the defendant has been wrongfully convicted of a crime and is serving a considerable amount of time in prison.
In 2014, Yolo County followed the national pattern of creating a Conviction Integrity Unit. At the time, the Vanguard and other critics were skeptical that it would amount to anything and, to our knowledge, the Conviction Integrity Unit has never played any sort of a role in reversing a conviction.
At the time, DA Jeff Reisig stated in a press release: “A prosecutor’s role is to ensure that our system achieves justice which includes not only convicting the guilty but also guaranteeing the protection of the innocent. The creation of this Unit helps us to obtain both of these goals.”
As the office explained, “This unit will be headed by an Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney to review all claims of factual innocence made by persons who have been convicted of crimes.”
When we checked in on their progress earlier this year, we found they had reviewed only six cases, as noted, and forwarded none of those to a second-level review.
Experts like Ohio Innocence Project leader Mark Godsey told the Vanguard that most of the Conviction Integrity Units are “jokes.” He explained, “The one in Cleveland started as a joke and is now good. We can gradually shift.”
Once again, Larry Krasner is leading the way. Just imagine if this happened here.
The blog reports that they have brought in several high powered attorneys who specialize in wrongful convictions, including former Ohio Innocence Project attorney Carrie Wood.
The blog reports: “Wood’s move from the OIP to the district attorney’s staff isn’t as dramatic a change in direction as it sounds. She is an assistant district attorney, but her assignment is with the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit.
“The emergence of conviction integrity units (CIUs) is a response from within the justice system to the irrefutable evidence that has come forth through the Innocence Movement that the system is not infallible, and that sometimes those convicted and imprisoned are truly innocent.
“Wood has landed her new position in Philadelphia at a particularly interesting time. A new, reform-minded district attorney, Larry Krasner, won election to the office last November. Krasner’s career experience is as a civil rights attorney and public defender.”
Can you imagine what would happen in Yolo if Jeff Reisig made a similar move and hired a innocence project attorney to head up his conviction integrity unit?
This, of course, isn’t lip service by Mr. Krasner.
Ms. Wood is only part of the piece. She is working under CIU Director Patricia Cummings. Ms. Cummings has gained “a national reputation for the effectiveness of her previous work in Texas leading the Dallas County CIU.”
Larry Krasner is not just looking for wrongful convictions. He is also having the unit review sentences to ensure “that individuals are not serving terms that are egregiously disproportionate to the crime that was committed.”
As readers know, one of the Vanguard’s biggest complaints about Yolo County is not just about wrongful convictions – although with at least 14 potential cases, it’s not a small problem. Our bigger problem is overcharging.
While this sounds good, legal analysts question whether the office can find a legal basis by which to revisit the sentencing decision.
But the bigger point is this: the addition of people like Patricia Cummings and Carrie Wood, among others, demonstrates a commitment by Mr. Krasner to heavily scrutinize and change the system.
Ms. Wood explained, “One of the things that attracted me to this job was the broader policy changes being looked at under the new district attorney. It was clear that the issue of looking at the larger problem of over-criminalization and mass incarceration was going to be taken seriously.”
But, even under the leadership of Larry Krasner, this will be challenging.
The blog points out, “Gaining access to case information may be easier for Wood, now working within the system as opposed to her previous roles with OIP and three different public defender offices. But the challenges to find remedies in cases of injustice will continue to be as difficult as ever.”
“Carrie was passionate and tireless in her pursuit of justice at OIP. So we are thrilled that she’ll be able to continue this work at the next level,” says Mark Godsey, co-founder and director of the OIP. “Carrie’s position truly is the next frontier of innocence work.”
The hope for reformers in places like Yolo County is that the work done in Philadelphia will help to put pressure on DAs in places like Yolo County, who want to retain the appearance of reform. We now have a clear boilerplate to move forward on conviction integrity. The question is whether we will attempt to follow suit or continue with more window dressing.
—David M. Greenwald reporting