Minnesota's first statewide conviction review unit goes live

Wednesday,

On Aug. 3, members of the advisory board for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Conviction Review Unit gathered for a virtual and in-person press conference at the Capitol to announce its statewide rollout. One of the biggest updates was that applications will be accepted starting Aug. 4 when the Conviction Review Unit goes live. Individuals who do not have legal representation may also submitted applications.

Speaking at the press conference yesterday afternoon were multiple members of the advisory board, all of whom cited their enthusiasm for the formation and implementation of the Conviction Review Unit.

Attorney General Keith Ellison began the press conference, stating, “We will follow justice wherever it leads. A conviction review unit provides an additional tool in the toolbox and we will use this tool to fearlessly review cases and to make sure justice is served.”

A conviction review unit has long been discussed and on the minds of many people in the State. Back in early October 2020, the Great North Innocence Project, then the Innocence Project of Minnesota, received a federal grant from the Department of Justice which spurred a partnership with the Attorney General’s Office and helped create the State’s first Conviction Review Unit. 

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who sits on the advisory board for the Conviction Review Unit, was as an early advocate for such an entity. Freeman facilitated conversations with Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Attorney General Ellison about how prosecutor-led initiatives could help bring justice to the criminal justice system.

“From those discussions came the commission chaired by Keith [Ellison] and John Harrington on officer-involved shootings, from that came some reforms from prosecutors on expungement and on that also some bail reforms,” Freeman stated at the press conference, “… the help from Keith [Ellison] and John [Choi], we are holding 40% fewer people on felony bail today in Hennepin County than we did a year ago.

We talked a lot about convictions that needed to be reviewed. People are held in prison who should not be there … Some places have it done by a state, some by individual jurisdictions; and John [Choi] and I felt Keith [Ellison] and his leadership, it should be in the Attorney General’s Office. And with the help from the folks of the Innocence Project, getting some resources from the Department of Justice, we got a start.

I’m thankful for all of that leadership and I just want to say this is part of what we are trying to do as prosecutors to bring more justice to the system.”

A primary function of the Conviction Review Unit is to ensure those who have been wrongfully convicted can have their case reviewed, and receive justice they have been denied. Of cases submitted and accepted by the Conviction Review Unit for evaluation, those are ones in which there is a compelling reason to believe that the incarcerated individuals may be innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.

The Conviction Review Unit will also help establish future policies that make the criminal justice system more just and equitable for Minnesotans.

The Conviction Review Unit is a progressive model for which other prosecuting agencies in the United States will hopefully emulate in their commitment to fair convictions and the ultimate pursuit of justice.

A recording of the press conference can be accessed here.