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Conviction Integrity

As I talk with voters in every corner of Lake County, one topic comes up over and over again — wrongful convictions.

As I talk with voters in every corner of Lake County, one topic comes up over and over again — wrongful convictions. In the last 18 months, a series of prominent cases prosecuted by the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office have fallen apart amid charges of wrongful convictions. In many cases, DNA evidence has appeared to exonerate defendants, even at early stages of prosecution, yet has been ignored or downplayed.

These cases have massive consequences, not just for those who were imprisoned, but for all of us taxpayers facing multi-million dollar lawsuits, as well as for the safety of people inside and outside Lake County. It is not surprising that this is the biggest issue on voters’ minds.

What is surprising, however, is that no real steps have been taken to solve this problem. The Lake County State’s Attorney’s office has been occupied by one party for 32 years and clearly needs new solutions, an outsider’s perspective, and proven leadership to make sure the public is protected from the type of prosecutorial practices we see today.

On my first day as State’s Attorney, I will get to the heart of this problem by creating a Conviction Integrity Unit.  This Unit will correct and prevent wrongful convictions, while also preventing further crimes.

This is what the Unit would do:

  • Independently investigate and make recommendations on certain challenged convictions, with full authority to test evidence if necessary; the State’s Attorney should stop resisting testing and follow evidence wherever it leads;
  • Prosecute cold cases where evidence suggests different, or additional, perpetrators; and
  • Oversee ongoing cases, investigations, and training to ensure that evidence is properly collected, tested and evaluated at the earliest opportunity in every case. 

 

In addition to investigations initiated by the State’s Attorney, the Conviction Integrity Unit may also review claims made by or on behalf of a convicted defendant who presents a meaningful, substantive claim of actual innocence. The Unit will also review and oversee procedures and training of Assistant State’s Attorneys and investigators in the proper collection and testing of evidence, best practice interrogation techniques and recording protocols, case assessment, and disclosure obligations. A special focus of this training will be on preventing errors due to misidentification by eyewitnesses, false testimony by incentivized witnesses (i.e., “jailhouse snitches”), and false confessions.

The Conviction Integrity Unit would consist of a prosecutor without any ties to the original convictions, who would report directly to me and work with a senior investigator, who also has no ties to the cases. The Conviction Integrity Unit would additionally utilize the advice of an outside advisory board comprised of leading experts in criminal justice, including legal scholars and former prosecutors, who would voluntarily serve and advise on best practices. Unlike other ideas being floated, this advisory board would not make determinations or review specific cases. Potential conflicts of interest and other ethical and practical issues simply make that proposal unrealistic and ineffective.

Studies published in the past decade have shown how wrongful convictions can come about—and how prosecutors can help prevent them. We can and must do better. The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office should be a model for best practices, instead of an example of what can go wrong.

Only by honestly assessing the causes of these problems and confronting them head-on, can we prevent them from being repeated. I believe my Conviction Integrity Unit will drive systemic institutional reform and cultural change in the State’s Attorney’s office to embrace best practices in the prosecution of criminal cases—serious, smart improvements, which will raise the level of professionalism in the justice system, bolster public confidence in the prosecutor’s office and, ultimately, help increase public safety.

We need to move beyond the missteps of the past and become a model for fair justice.

Chris Kennedy is a Libertyville attorney and Democratic candidate for Lake County State's Attorney. For more information about Chris’s Blueprint for Justice, visit www.chriskennedy2012.com/issues.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Nightcrawler August 13, 2012 at 05:22 PM
It's funny how you tell me to man up but don't disagree that you made racially insensitive remarks. It tells me you did just that. Therefore, the last person I need to justify myself to is you, being provably bigoted and all against white people. I don't need to put anything on the record. I called Sully out yesterday for lying to people with a specific quote he had from October of 2011. Trust me, the last thing you want is my copying your racist quote and posting it here for all to see too Robert. You both are disgusting human beings. I'm done even adknowledging your existence. Take your hatred and lies elsewhere.
Nightcrawler August 13, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Despicable. Trying to link the Republican candidate to something he had zero to do with. Typical liberal lies.
GuitarMan August 13, 2012 at 06:03 PM
@ Steve Morgenson. Actually I did refute your claim that I made "racially insensitive remarks" in the original post I cautioned white folks not to take it the wrong way. Again, Joe, what specifically are the "racially insensitive remarks", or racist remarks in general made by me? Moreover, what is the problem with you "copying your racist quote and posting it here", the general line from the Tea Pots is they are only words. If as an lawyer you are unable to entertain the unfarnished comments, how in the word could you represent someone? Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. True when I was ten, and true today. And again, man up and put my racist quotes out there, I won't crumble in the effort to discuss what I have stated here.
GuitarMan August 13, 2012 at 06:07 PM
@ Steve Morgenson. "I don't need to put anything on the record. I called Sully out yesterday for lying to people with a specific quote he had from October of 2011." Really, some generalized claim about a comment in 2011 from Sully is very weak.
GuitarMan August 13, 2012 at 06:46 PM
@ Steve Morgenson. My statement in response to the Oak Creek Shooting as posted on the Patch. In summary, over time race animus from white people, toward people of color has lessened. Hence my use of "some" and the point of my original comment that commentary from political representatives can have consequences, and Oak Creek may well are an example. "robert myers 11:41 pm on Sunday, August 5, 2012 I hope this comment to white people is understood. Few white people know what a Sikh is, and… However, that is not my point. My point is this kind of shooting is inevitable given the ongoing paranoia toward Middle Eastern and Asian people embodied in rhetoric, for example, that our president is "Muslim" and not “born” here. Comments about our president are “above ground” comments, without merit but nonetheless a constant reminder of how white people dislike and are driven insane by people from other parts of the world. Below this “above ground” insanity exist the raw racist attitudes that I have witnessed for many years. Years ago open animosity toward people of color was common place, especially in rural America. Now,… slithered below the surface, and rise to the top after a few beers and some choice comments that “loosen” up what some white people feel about anyone of color. I’ve heard the candor about people of color from many, if you’re white like me, you to have, and if you haven’t well that’s special. Signed, older white guy."

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