The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is creating a unit dedicated to examining wrongful-conviction claims, joining a small but growing number of prosecutorial agencies around the country that are devoting resources to identify innocent prisoners.
Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey is asking county supervisors for nearly $1 million to fund the new team, which would include three prosecutors, an investigator and a paralegal.
In seeking the funds, Lacey’s office said it wanted to keep up with an increasing number of wrongful-conviction claims that have followed the advent of similar units around the country as well as a growing number of innocence projects and increased publicity of innocence claims, said county spokesman Dave Sommers.
“This is exactly what should happen in every district attorney’s office in America,” said Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law in San Diego. “We all have the same goal: to make sure the right people are in prison.”
While such units are still rare, Los Angeles would join more than 15 district attorney offices around the country that have adopted similar teams, including Santa Clara County, Dallas County, Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C.
Los Angeles’ proposal remained largely under wraps until last week, when Lacey addressed a group of attorneys and students at Loyola Law School on Friday and mentioned she had been promised funding for a conviction review unit. She gave no details and did not return calls for comment.
A district attorney’s spokeswoman declined to discuss the plan until after the Board of Supervisors formally approves the funding in the coming weeks. The county’s recommended budget includes money for the unit for the next fiscal year, which starts in July.