Philadelphia DA Has Yet to Find Inmate Worthy of Exoneration

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The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, in its 2 1/2 years of existence,has yet to find a single inmate worthy of exonerating, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Exoneration is not the only measure of success for conviction review units, which typically are designed to investigate claims of innocence, sometimes in collaboration with defense attorneys. Those investigations can reach a range of conclusions, from overturning the case in the face of new evidence, to retrying it, to upholding the original conviction. Similar units in other cities have exonerated dozens of inmates. Those units also have more staff members than Philadelphia’s, more independence, and more investigations, regardless of outcome.

The Philadelphia office acknowledges that its unit needs improvement. Kathleen Martin, chief of staff to District Attorney Seth Williams, could not specify how many investigations the unit had considered or conducted, but is developing a plan to reform the unit that likely will call for more staff, a new structure, and protocols that can better track its progress. Martin said the goal was to reflect best practices of similar units across the U.S. “I haven’t seen any evidence that [the Conviction Review Unit] is doing meaningful investigations,” said Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project New York.

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