Newly appointed District Attorney Brooke Jenkins says she will retain the San Francisco Innocence Commission created by recalled DA Chesa Boudin.
“I am committed to continuing and supporting the work of the Innocence Commission to ensure that we help free any innocent individuals who may have been wrongfully convicted,” Jenkins said.
Boudin created the commission, which is a post-conviction unit assisting in the resentencing of people who were incarcerated during times of severe sentencing policies or who were wrongfully arrested and convicted, the San Francisco Chronicle reported July 14.
San Francisco’s commission is different than the state’s standard model where each county’s post-conviction unit is managed by its respective DA’s Office. The pro bono panel is headed by a law professor at the University of San Francisco, Lara Bazelon, who remains a staunch supporter of Boudin.
Boudin believed the management of the post-conviction unit by the prosecutors’ office would run into conflict of interest when investigating the office’s own cases.
To avoid conflict, Bou-din established an independent panel of experts, which was not attached to the DA’s office. This group independently investigates cases that potentially uncover wrongful arrests and convictions in the city, the story noted.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, there are 93 conviction integrity units in the nation. Most units are managed within each prosecutor’s office. California Gov. Gavin Newsom allocated $30 million to his state’s prosecutors to develop similar units. Nine counties have participated.
Bazelon reported being swamped with inquiries about the future of the Innocence Commission. She told the Chronicle, “I tell them the truth, which is I don’t know.”
She also added, “I don’t want the commission to exist in name only.”
The story said a large number of prosecutor’s offices are accused of “running a so-called Conviction Unit in Name Only.” The story said most of the units in the country are underfunded or understaffed for the daunting responsibility of investigating anomalies created by district attorneys.
The National Registry of Exonerations reported that of the nation’s 93 conviction-integrity units, 41 have helped overturn wrongful convictions.
San Francisco’s Innocence Commission gained notoriety when it exonerated Joaquin Ciria after he spent 32 years in California’s prisons for a crime he did not commit. Ciria told the Chronicle that the commission’s neutral panel maintains its impartiality throughout any investigation and should remain a vital part of the county’s judicial system.
Ciria added, “They bring back the confidence to innocent people in prison.”
Jenkins, who left Bou-din’s office in protest, promises a more tough-on-crime approach.
Supervisor Dean Preston authored a resolution that will protect the independent post-conviction unit.
He told the Chronicle, “The Innocence Commission has proven that it can fairly and efficiently do the difficult work to address the harms perpetuated against individuals on behalf of the people. We should be doing everything in our power to make sure it can continue its crucial work.”