Special to the Vanguard
San Francisco, CA – After being criticized for being slow to fill the vacancy created when she immediately fired previous DA Chesa Boudin’s appointee to the Innocence Commission, Jenkins on Monday announced the appointment of Julia Cervantes to the Innocence Commission.
The Innocence Commission is an external advisory body to the District Attorney that investigates cases of innocence and wrongful convictions. Cervantes’ appointment to the Innocence Commission is effective immediately.
“Those who have been wrongfully convicted should not be left to languish in prison for crimes they didn’t commit,” said District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. “Unfortunately, there are far too many cases of innocent people being behind bars when they shouldn’t be. My office is committed to ensuring the integrity and longevity of the Commission for years to come.”
The District Attorney appoints all members to the commission which must include an academic, a medical expert, a retired judge and representatives from an innocence project, the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.
“I am honored that District Attorney Jenkins has selected me to serve as the DA representative on the Commission, said Julia Cervantes,” Lead Attorney, Post-Conviction Review Unit. “As a prosecutor, I am always mindful of the rights of the accused and that the responsibility of the prosecutor is to seek justice and not merely to convict. I am committed to a successful Innocence Commission with an equitable and transparent referral process. I look forward to working with the other members of the Innocence Commission and doing this important work.”
Prior to serving as lead attorney of the Post-Conviction Review Unit, Cervantes served as a Deputy District Attorney in San Mateo County and an Assistant District Attorney in San Francisco from 2011-2021. In San Francisco she was the managing attorney for the general felonies unit and had previously been a senior attorney in the homicide unit and a designated Elder Abuse prosecutor. She began her prosecutorial career in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.
“On behalf of the Innocence Commission, we are excited to move forward and welcome Ms. Cervantes,” said Lara Bazelon, Innocence Commission Chair and Professor of Law and Director of the University of San Francisco Racial Justice Law Clinic. “We appreciate the District Attorney’s respect for our work and commitment to vindicating the rights of those who were wrongfully accused and convicted. Seeking justice by uncovering the truth is the core of the prosecutor’s job, and we are pleased that we can continue to offer our service to further that all-important mission.”
The District Attorney and Innocence Commission members will work to make appropriate amendments to the existing charter and to enhance and expand upon the referral process to increase the accessibility of the review process for those seeking relief.
To ensure the longevity of the Innocence Commission the District Attorney will explore how to codify the body’s existence, expressly allowing for investigative bodies like this to do their work without fear that a subsequent district attorney may disband the Commission.
The Innocence Commission is a six-member outside advisory body to the District Attorney that investigates matters where there is a claim of actual innocence and/or wrongful conviction. For a claim of actual innocence, the applicant must allege a plausible claim that they are actually innocent of the crime of conviction. For wrongful conviction claims the applicant alleges that an error in the trial rendered the conviction fundamentally unfair.
After evaluating all of the available evidence and conducting any necessary re-investigation the Commission will prepare a confidential finding of fact and conclusions of law memorandum for the District Attorney with their opinion on the matter. While the District Attorney will give the Commission’s findings and recommendations great weight, the final decision-making on whether to seek relief for an applicant in the interest of justice will rest exclusively with the District Attorney.
When the Commission selects a case to investigate, the District Attorney’s Office representative on the Innocence Commission provides the Innocence Commission with relevant files and materials for review. At the conclusion of the Innocence Commission’s investigation, if the District Attorney intends to take action, the motions work will be handled by the Post-Conviction Review Unit.
The Post-Conviction Review Unit handles a broad range of cases and litigates motions for resentencing brought by both the People and the Defense. While the Innocence Commission serves as a vehicle for investigations and recommendations to the District Attorney, the Post-Conviction Review Unit brings and argues the District Attorney’s position to the court.