Cuyahoga prosecutor’s handling of Conviction Integrity Unit undermines its goal of integrity: Timothy Young and Mark Godsey

Cuyahoga prosecutor’s handling of Conviction Integrity Unit undermines its goal of integrity: Timothy Young and Mark Godsey

The resignations of the Cuyahoga County Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) outside members and District Attorney O’Malley’s response underscore the real issues identified by the resigning members.

Mr. O’Malley’s response suggests that he sees the CIU as a gift, and those wrongly convicted should be grateful for every shred of justice he allows. He explained that “the defendants attempted to use deliberations of the External Review Panel as evidence of their entitlement to post-conviction exoneration. It’s not proof and that was never the intention of having an external review panel.”

Of course, defendants like Marcus Blalock and Octavius ​​Williams have attempted to use exculpatory evidence uncovered in CIU investigations. This should be the intention of a UCI and should be consistent with due process and the purposes of an orderly UCI.

Instead, Mr O’Malley’s office has fought attempts by defense attorneys to find information about the CIU’s case reviews. It has ignored defense attorneys’ requests and failed to fully respond to requests for public records. It has even sought to undermine the evidence it has gathered after panel members reviewed it and voted for discharge in order to justify Mr O’Malley’s decisions, which defied his own CIU’s recommendations and finding of innocence.

The basic job of a prosecutor is to seek justice, not convictions. Initially, the CIU worked with the defense to exonerate Evin King and Ru-El Sailor. But the days of collaboration seem to be over. Mr. O’Malley’s current indifference to wrongful convictions has been evidenced by his refusal to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court’s Task Force on Conviction Integrity and Post-Conviction Review.

In addition, Mr. O’Malley forced innocent men through unnecessary retrials after they were freed. Isaiah Andrews, Kenny Phillips and Michael Sutton all served significant prison sentences for crimes they did not commit. After her convictions were overturned, Mr. O’Malley conducted unnecessary retrials in hopes of sending her back to prison. All were acquitted and the jury expressed confusion as to why Mr O’Malley had chosen to try these innocent men again. That decision wasted taxpayers’ money, and as Justin Herdman, the former United States Attorney representing Sutton, said after the acquittals of Phillips and Sutton, O’Malley’s actions “pose serious questions, as do cases of wrongful convictions by the Cuyahoga prosecutor County to be treated.”

When a wrongly convicted person turns to the CIU, they trust that the very branch of the prosecutor who wrongly convicted them is fair and transparent. They are sacrificing some of their constitutional rights and privileges as required by the CIU.

They do this because they are innocent. When the goal is justice, this collaborative approach gives prosecutors access they might not otherwise have. Exonerating the innocent and identifying the guilty is a value to society.

However, when a Conviction Integrity Unit operates in secret and at the will of an individual who, after thorough scrutiny, overrides the recommendations of their own CIU bodies, it is not a genuine CIU. It’s just a tool used to the prosecutor’s political advantage.

The Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice Best Practices for CIUs states that CIUs should encourage “an open exchange of information and ideas” between parties. They emphasize transparency.

Mr. O’Malley seeks the public trust that comes with operating a CIU. But his actions show that he doesn’t want anyone to question or know about the unit’s inner workings, and that he wants exclusive control over the use of the evidence of innocence it collects.

He wants unbridled access to a wrongly convicted person while forbidding that person from knowing what he is uncovering – evidence proving their innocence.

Mr. O’Malley’s decision to “privatize” the CIU and further restrict consultation on his decision-making is neither transparent nor cooperative. That’s his prerogative, but he can no longer hide behind the facade that his Conviction Integrity Unit has integrity.

Timothy Young is Ohio’s public defender, has led poor defense reform efforts in Ohio and created the Ohio Wrongful Conviction Project. Mark Godsey is director of the Ohio Innocence Project and law professor at the University of Cincinnati.


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