The Boulder District Attorney's Office and local defense attorneys have created a set of criteria and an application process for the newly-created conviction integrity unit as it gets ready to review possible wrongful conviction cases.
Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty created the unit in March and since then attorneys have been meeting to decide what types of cases it will re-examine.
"I'm excited about how much progress we've made to get this up and running," Dougherty said.
Boulder Deputy District Attorney Mark Rimaldi, who is part of the unit, said the unit will look at cases out of Boulder County in which the person has credible evidence they did not commit the crime for which they were convicted.
"There must be a claim of actual innocence," Rimaldi said. "Not that there was some issue with the legal process, or something didn't go the way they planned."
Rimaldi said there will not be a limit on the types of charges that will be considered by the unit.
"We certainly had a discussion about a limit, but we determined that different people can be affected by crimes of any level," Rimaldi said. "We thought it would be fair to review all cases based on merit."
Josh Maximon, the co-chair of the Boulder chapter of the Colorado Defense Bar, said that cases in which the defendant is incarcerated will take priority, but it is important they look at all types of cases.
"A lot of innocence projects tend to be related to really serious cases, like murder or rape, but this unit is going to be looking at claims of innocence on every single level of alleged crime," Maximon said. "For job applications, graduate school, housing requirements, Section 8 housing, having a conviction on your record is something that is really an impediment. So even though we're giving a priority to incarceration cases, the collateral consequences of having a conviction are really significant in this society, so it's excellent we're able to look at those cases as well."
Dougherty also said that the unit will consider guilty pleas, not just trial convictions as long as there is still a claim of actual innocence.
"We recognize defendants may plead guilty when they are not in fact guilty, possibly because they are worried about the consequences of going to trial," Dougherty said.
As a defense attorney, allowing plea cases was something Maximon said he was excited about.
"There is quite a bit of pressure put on defendants to take deals, even in disputed cases," he said. "So the fact that there is an avenue for them to still be able to assert their innocence is unique and really welcomed by the legal community, specifically the defense."
Dougherty said that he is not sure how many cases the unit will handle at a time, but said it will partly depend on the circumstances of each defendant.
"A case where DNA is involved might be different than a case of mistaken identity where we have to re-interview witnesses," Dougherty said. "But I'm confident we can keep up with the cases."
Dougherty said he hopes to have the application up on the DA's website within the next two weeks. He said he has already heard from a lot of defendants who think their cases might apply, as well as from members of the community supporting the idea.
"The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, and I think that speaks to the desire that people have to make sure there is transparency in their government," Dougherty said.
While it is the only such unit in the state at the moment, Maximon added that a representative from the Denver DA's Office attended a recent meeting.
"It seems like the work that we're doing in Boulder might be a model for other units like this all over the state," Maximon said. "We worked really hard to try to develop criteria and standards to this process with a really dedicated aim from all areas of the criminal justice system. From the defense perspective and the prosecution's perspective, every single person there is committed to finding a potential positive result for someone who has an actual innocence claim."
Mitchell Byars: 303-473-1329, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/mitchellbyars
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