INDIANAPOLIS–The Marion County Prosecutor says he wants to get it right. Ryan Mears says the Conviction Integrity Unit of his office will begin looking into claims from people who say they were wrongly convicted.
The idea for a separate unit of the prosecutor’s office to look into wrongful convictions came partially from the case of Kendrick Morris, said Mears.
“That was an individual that was convicted of attempted murder and served 20 actual years in the Dept. of Correction,” said Mears. “As we went through that case and looked through that case, we had some significant concerns about that conviction, and we actually agreed to release him.”
LINK: Listen: Prosecutor Ryan Mears talks wrongful convictions
The idea also came from the community, and people who contacted his office with their concerns about wrongful convictions.
“Their concern basically was, we don’t think the criminal justice system always got it right and they were concerned that maybe there were some systematic issues that put people of color at a disadvantage,” he said. “Really what this unit is designed to do is to take a look backward and make sure that all convictions that come out of Marion County are righteous convictions.”
He says in the 80s and 90s DNA evidence and technology were not as advanced as they are now, and some people may have been convicted and even sent to prison because of that lack of understanding.
“If you look at how you prosecuted a case 20 to 30 years ago, most of the time you’re relying on eyewitness identification, and sometimes people get it wrong, not because they’re trying to be malicious, but because they made a mistake.”
If someone does present evidence that their conviction was faulty, a judge could vacate that conviction and toss it out, or the prosecutor could decide that another trial is warranted. Mears said that he believes the new unit could result in some convictions being upheld, but that catching a wrongful conviction is worth a new examination.
“It makes sense to make sure that we’re putting resources into it because the only person who benefits from a wrongful conviction is the person who actually did it,” he said.
The CIU will act as an independent section of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office comprised of two former defense attorneys, an investigator, and support staff, who will review each claim to determine whether the petitioner is entitled to the requested relief. In addition, an independent review panel composed of legal experts from outside the Prosecutor’s Office and community members will provide additional analysis and evaluation of cases under review.
To file a petition for conviction review, petitioners can begin the process by completing an inquiry form on the Prosecutor’s website at https://www.indy.gov/activity/conviction-integrity-unit.
If a petitioner does not have access to the website, a request for review can be mailed via USPS to:
Marion County Prosecutor’s Office
Attn: Conviction Integrity Unit
251 East Ohio Street, Suite 160
Indianapolis, IN 46204