Last year, a man was released from aTexasprison after serving 30 years for a rape and robbery he did not commit. Another inmate was released after 35 years in aFloridaprison for a kidnap and rape he did not commit. In both cases, and in a number of other cases throughout the country, DNA and other new evidence has exonerated defendants years after their convictions.
We are aware of no such cases inVenturaCounty. But the possibility of such a tragedy occurring here serves as an important reminder that we must remain vigilant to avoid the conviction of an innocent person. Accordingly, I have designated a Conviction Integrity Deputy to review claims of factual innocence and have formalized a process to review such claims. Similar programs have been created in other prosecutors’ offices throughout the country.
Several years ago, I was appointed by the President Pro Tem of the California Senate to serve on theCalifornia commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. The commission recognized that the criminal justice system is a human institution and cannot be perfect. This office has previously examined cases in which the defense has presented evidence of factual innocence, whether before or after conviction. We have now formalized that process by designating an experienced prosecutor to review meaningful claims of factual innocence and determine whether additional investigation is required. Evidence of factual innocence should be forwarded to Special Assistant District Attorney Michael Schwartz. The fact that claims have been previously rejected by a trial court or appellate court will not necessarily preclude further inquiry. Whether a case should be dismissed after conviction based upon factual innocence will be carefully considered by a designated review committee.
As the United States Supreme Court recognized in Berger v. United States, the twofold aim of the prosecutor “is that guilt shall not escape nor innocence suffer.” This program will help reach our goal that justice be done in every case. Gregory D. Totten is the District Attorney of Ventura County.