Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey is set to share details about the eminent launch of a departmental wrongful conviction unit.
In April, Lacey asked for $1 million from the Board of Supervisors to fund this unit, which will likely consist of three prosecutors, a paralegal, and a veteran investigator. The creation of this unit demonstrates a commitment to justice and could be an important regulatory force within the D.A.’s office.
The creation of the unit also signifies an effort to keep up with (and contribute to) the efforts of various innocence projects, which have received a lot of publicity recently. Activists are optimistic that this effort by the D.A.’s office will influence the creation of similar units across the state.
Some of also raised concerns about the long-term success and viability of the unit. Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, notes that the unit’s creation does not automatically influence change or prisoner releases because of the traditionally antagonistic relationship between defense and prosecution in criminal cases. For the unit to be successful, a restructuring of prosecution goals will be necessary. A former defense attorney was placed in charge of a comparable unit in Dallas, for example.
Los Angeles will join the ranks of over 15 other jurisdictions, including Dallas, Manhattan, and Washington, D.C. which have created similar units. The unit’s creation arrives after the D.A.’s office received scrutiny in the aftermath of several high profile wrongful conviction cases, including that of Obie Anthony, who was determined innocent and freed after a 17-year incarceration for a South L.A. killing and rewarded $8 million by the city.