Conviction Review Protocol
MISSION & PURPOSE:
The principal responsibility of a prosecutor is not to convict people — it is to do justice.
The purpose of the Conviction Review Protocol (CRP) is to identify wrongs and right them. It provides a process through which people who have been wrongfully convicted can petition the District Attorney’s Office to review their cases to determine whether they were wrongfully convicted.
Formal conviction review protocols provide an avenue to review and remedy claims of actual innocence and foster a culture of integrity within a district attorney’s office which can reduce the likelihood of future wrongful convictions.
This document will set forth the process and procedures for the case-by-case review of convictions from the Tompkins County criminal justice system.
- Sources of Requests: Conviction review may be requested by incarcerated individuals or their families, innocence organizations, defense counsel, prosecutors serving within the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office, investigative reporters and others. Requests for review must be submitted in writing using the CRP Application Form
- Criteria for Acceptance: Claims may be accepted for review if they contain a credible claim of innocence or when there is a claim involving clear evidence of injustice. Pertinent questions include, but are not limited to:
- Has the applicant presented an actual claim of innocence?
- Is there newly discovered evidence, or evidence that was insufficiently investigated in the past?
- Is the claim of innocence inconsistent with earlier defenses presented at trial?
- Was the claim known at the time of plea or trial?
- Types of Cases Accepted: Priority will be given to cases involving incarcerated individuals, violent felonies and trial cases. Other cases may be accepted but priority will be given to incarcerated individuals.
- Conviction Review Team: The investigative team will be composed of the following individuals, none of whom will have been involved in the original prosecution, to be designated by the District Attorney on a case-by-case basis:
- One Assistant District Attorney from the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office;
- One confidential investigator from the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office;
- One attorney from the Tompkins County bar, to serve pro bono;
- One member (non-lawyer) of the Tompkins County community.
- Conduct of the Investigation: Conviction review is “extrajudicial” and “fact-based” which is to say that it is not constrained by procedural bars. The primary goal is to assess whether an innocent person was convicted.
- Role of the original prosecutor(s): The prosecutor or prosecutors who handled the underlying trial or plea will not be involved in the conviction review process except that they may be consulted on a limited case-by-case basis to provide background information that is unavailable from any other source. The original prosecutor(s) will not be involved in the actual review or decision-making process.
- Reinvestigation: In order to gain a holistic picture of a case, the investigative team may approach the review as if it were investigating from scratch. By re-examining every aspect of a case in this manner, the reviewers free themselves from any assumptions underlying the original investigation. A conviction review investigation is a search for the truth and takes into account items that may have been excluded from the earlier investigation or trial for various reasons, including improper search and seizure, unavailability of a witness or new forensic techniques.
- Determination whether any evidence should be re-tested. In some instances, particularly those in which forensic science techniques have improved since the time of the conviction or in which no testing was originally done, the testing or re-testing of probative evidence can be a fruitful avenue of reinvestigation.
- The investigative team may address any ethical concerns or wrongdoing committed by any actor in the original case, in writing in the final case report.
- The investigative team may identify any potential systemic issues for proactive review.
- Conclusion of Investigation and Remedial Action: The investigative team will report its determination to the District Attorney. The report shall indicate whether the members of the investigative team were unanimous in their recommendation or whether there were dissenting opinions. The District Attorney will make a final determination taking the recommendation of the investigative team into account.