The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office is in search of a Director to lead the department

Atlanta—Today, Fulton County District Attorney, Paul L. Howard, Jr., is pleased to announce the creation of a CONVICTION INTEGRITY UNIT. Currently, the District Attorney’s Office is searching for a qualified candidate to serve as the Director of this critical unit which will be the first of its kind in the State of Georgia.

DESCRIPTION OF CIU:

 Across the country, District Attorney’s Offices are increasingly creating Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs) to re-examine questionable convictions and to guard against future conviction error. We believe prosecutors can and should be leading the charge to ensure the public has confidence in criminal convictions. The many proven cases of wrongful convictions and their known causes demonstrate that more needs to be done to guard against such errors. Conviction Integrity Units must investigate and remedy wrongful convictions, and they must also establish policies and procedures to learn from the errors identified, so the criminal justice system is strengthened. As such, the Fulton County CONVICTION INTEGRITY UNIT will investigate claims of actual innocence to determine whether new evidence or facts give rise to a substantial probability that the convicted defendant was not the person who committed the offense for which they were convicted. The CIU will investigate claims of actual innocence or wrongful convictions by convicted defendants who have already been through their trial and appellate processes. The CIU will review cases in which there is new factual, physical, or forensic evidence. The unit will also review cases in which there is relevant evidence that went untested at the time of trial or some other new evidence that a person was convicted wrongfully. Cases must fall into at least one of these four categories to be considered for re-investigation.

  • Alleged Misconduct on Part of Prosecutor/Law Enforcement Officer
  • Forensic Testing of Relevant Evidence
  • Sentence Modifications Due to Nature of Offense/Defendant’s Lack of Criminal History
  • Cases Determined to Warrant Review in “Interest of Justice”

CASE EXAMPLE:

 It is imperative that the integrity of the convictions in Fulton County is maintained and that innocent individuals are not imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. There are specific examples of the value of a well-run, independent Conviction Integrity Unit including the case of Frederick Gant. Gant was convicted and sentenced to Life in Prison for the November 27, 2002 murders of Jonathan Wilder and Zerious Jordan based upon false witness testimony. At the time of the murders, no one came forward to police and the case went cold for 11 years. In 2013, a man from the neighborhood, Major Smith, called police and said he witnessed the crime. Smith identified Gant as the shooter and the case was indicted. Smith testified at trial and Gant was convicted of both murders. It was later discovered that Smith was in jail at the time of the shooting. The defense lawyer contacted the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office and DA Paul Howard consented to a new trial and implemented safeguards to vet future informants. The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office re-tried the case without Major Smith and Gant was acquitted. The DA’s Office indicted Smith, and he eventually agreed to a plea. Smith was sentenced to 10 years to serve 5 in prison. Following his plea, Smith said everyone knew Gant killed the two victims, but they were too afraid to come forward.

HOW IT WORKS:

 Submissions will be analyzed by the Conviction Integrity Unit and must meet the following criteria before the unit conducts an in-depth review.

  • The conviction must have been in the Fulton County Superior Court
  • There must be a claim of actual innocence or wrongful conviction, and the claim of actual innocence must be predicated on a factual matter, not a purely legal issue.
  • The claimant must provide new evidence of actual innocence capable of being investigated and potentially substantiated, not a legal argument.
  • Case records needed for re-investigation of the claim must exist and be available for review.
  • The claim must not be frivolous.
  • The claimant must agree to fully cooperate with the unit, including being interviewed by members of the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, and providing the State with any and all necessary documents or evidence that the claimant considers relevant and material.

Decisions as to whether the CIU will re-open the case investigation, how the claim will be investigated, and how the claim will be resolved are made at the discretion of the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office and are not reviewable by any court. There is no timeframe by which claims presented to the CIU will be resolved, but the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office will make every effort to expedite the resolution of each claim. The State will not consent to the vacation of a conviction on grounds of actual innocence unless the reinvestigation of the case clearly and convincingly establishes the claimant’s actual innocence based on the existence of credible evidence. A panel made up of eight members including (3) Assistant District Attorneys from the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, who are solely assigned to the unit (1) outside defense attorney, (1) attorney from the Georgia Innocence Project, (1) Fulton County Minister, (1) attorney/administrator from a local college and/or law school, and (1) attorney from the Georgia Chapter of the NAACP will review cases received by the office to determine whether or not they warrant re-investigation. The panel will submit its recommendation to the Director of the Conviction Integrity Unit who will report directly to Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr. for a final decision. The Director of the CIU will also work directly with the District Attorney’s Office to proactively prevent convictions that could potentially require a later review by the unit.

OTHER CIUs:

According to a study by the University of Michigan Law School, University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science and Society, and the Michigan State University College of Law, there were 33 Conviction Integrity Units in 2017. The study shows rapid growth in the number of CIUs and CIU exonerations since 2007. CIUs were involved in a total of 42 exonerations in 2017, but in 2016, there was a record of 72, due to a series of guilty-plea drug exonerations in Harris County, Texas. Conviction Integrity Units have been involved in 269 exonerations through 2017, according to the study.

FIRST CASE AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT:

 Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr. has already announced that the Wayne Williams/Atlanta Child Murders case will be the first to undergo an in-depth review by the newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit.

“Some within the criminal justice system here in Fulton County have said that my office is taking a significant risk by creating and forming a Conviction Integrity Unit. Some believe we are exposing ourselves to greater scrutiny and criticism by sanctioning an independent review of our cases. However, it is my belief that a conviction based upon truth and justice will withstand any scrutiny. It is my belief that the greatest risk is not allowing truth and justice to direct your decisions.”

 Paul L. Howard, Jr.
Fulton County District Attorney

JOB POSTING/DESCRIPTION:

 The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office is currently searching for a Director to serve as the leader of the Conviction Integrity Unit. Anyone interested in applying for this position is asked to do so through the Careers section of the Fulton County District Attorney’s website. The job description for the Director of the Conviction Integrity Unit is listed below:

https://www.atlantafultoncountyda.org/careers/

Quotes Regarding the Creation of the Conviction Integrity Unit:

I am pleased to see that Georgia stands for justice. Justice is putting those who commit crimes behind bars and making sure the innocent remain free. Justice is not blind, and the creation of the Conviction Integrity Unit will make sure that any errors that cost an innocent person their freedom are remedied. I speak as not just a lawyer but as a board member of the
Southern Center for Human Rights.”

Attorney L. Chris Stewart

“As representatives of ‘the people,’ prosecutors have a responsibility to ensure that the guilty, and only the guilty, are convicted.  Included in that citizenry are both the victims of crime and those accused.  As every prosecutor is (or should be) taught, her primary responsibility is to seek justice.  Without an honest and ethical search for the truth, she cannot fulfill that obligation. This search for justice is nothing new to Mr. Howard, as he has been a leader in the efforts to increase transparency and confidence in the criminal justice system as far back as his formation of the first Public Integrity Unit in the state which was implemented just a few years after being first elected to office.  During my time as a prosecutor under his leadership, the phrase often heard in staff meetings was that we must “do the right thing.” The formation of the first Conviction Integrity Unit in the State is perfectly aligned with that mantra, and I am looking forward to working with its Director in taking this important step in safeguarding public trust in the work of the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.”

Melissa D. Redmon
Director, Prosecutorial Justice Program/UGA School of Law
Ms. Redmon will serve as the principal consultant for the FCDA in the formation of the
Conviction Integrity Unit

 “It is of foremost importance to ensure that each case is handled with its proper due diligence. The people of Fulton County must have confidence in the just outcome of each case; therefore, we applaud this step by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to review previous cases for possible wrongful convictions. Hopefully, this innovative measure will ensure the public’s belief that the Criminal Justice System can be fair for all citizens.”

 Attorney Gerald Griggs
First Vice-President, Atlanta NAACP