Washington U.S. attorney sets up first unit to ID wrongful convictions

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 12, 2014 12:14 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington has set up the first federal unit in the nation to identify and investigate cases that ended in wrongful convictions, the office said on Friday.

The establishment of the Conviction Integrity Unit follows the vacating of five convictions from the 1980s after federal prosecutors in Washington reviewed evidence in the cases, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.

The unit will review cases in which defendants convicted of violent felonies can offer new evidence, such as DNA testing, that may establish innocence.

"This new unit will work to uncover historical injustices and to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to prevent such tragedies in the future,” U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. said in the statement.

The Washington unit is a first for U.S. Attorney's Offices nationwide. A number of prosecutors’ offices have established similar units in recent years, including the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office in Texas.

The new Washington unit follows a four-year review of more than 2,000 files involving FBI analysis of hair or fiber evidence, the statement said.

The review was done after the exoneration of Donald Gates, a Washington, D.C., man who was convicted in 1982 of a rape and murder in part on hair evidence. DNA testing, which was not available at the time of Gates’s trial, proved in 2009 that he was innocent.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is sharing its results with defense lawyers and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, a nonprofit at George Washington University Law School in Washington which fights wrongful convictions.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Bill Trott)