CONVICTION REVIEW UNIT (CRU)
The Conviction Review Unit (CRU) will begin operations January 4, 2021, as a part of the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office-Birmingham Division. The protocols developed by this office for the establishment and operation of the CRU are as follows:
A prosecutor “is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer.” Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).
It is the prosecutor’s duty to protect the innocent before, during and after trial. The prosecutor is to seek truth and justice, not merely obtain convictions.
To promote best practices, the Office of the District Attorney-Birmingham Division has established a Conviction Review Unit (CRU).
- The conviction must have occurred in Jefferson County-Birmingham Division.
- The convicted defendant must be living. The CRU will not review convictions of a person who is deceased.
- The conviction must be for a felony offense.
- The convicted defendant must be currently incarcerated.
- The conviction must not be based on a plea agreement entered into with the State.
- The application must be based on new, credible, and verifiable evidence of actual innocence. Actual innocence means the convicted defendant bore no criminal responsibility for the offense. New evidence means evidence that was not known to the judge and/or jury at the time of the conviction.
- The CRU will not attempt to act as a thirteenth juror and reweigh evidence.
- The CRU will not consider requests for review while any appeal, petition, or writ is pending in court. If during CRU review an appeal, writ, or petition is filed, the conviction review process will be halted until the Court makes a determination on the new filing.
- A person may only seek review after a final judgment of conviction has been entered and asentence imposed.
The CRU retains the discretion to review any case if it is in the interest of justice to do so.
Any request coming from a convicted defendant or one from someone on behalf of a convicted defendant must have the convicted defendant’s approval and must complete a Conviction Review Request Questionnaire Form provided by the CRU which is attached.
In order for the CRU to consider a request for review, the convicted defendant must agree on the following cooperation:
- The convicted defendant will waive privilege and share anything relating to guilt or innocence in this case.
- The convicted defendant and the CRU must both consent to disclosure of material not already in the public record before any disclosure to any third party.
- The Office of the District Attorney retains the right not to disclose the following:
- Information that would compromise an investigation of an alternate suspect;
- Information that would endanger the life of a witness: or
- Information that is prohibited by law from being released.
Advice of Rights
This application is not intended to convey legal advice. Any person who submits an application to the CRU should understand that the convicted individual has the right not to provide information to a government agency, including the District Attorney’s Office CRU. However, failure to provide full and open disclosure regarding the convicted defendant’s guilt or innocence can cause his/her application to be denied. By submitting an application to the CRU, the convicted defendant is acknowledging that any information is given freely and voluntarily.
The CRU may have need to speak with the attorney who represented the convicted defendant during the process leading to conviction. As a result, the CRU will request a waiver of the attorney-client privilege from the convicted defendant.
Conviction Review Unit Procedure
Once a case is referred to the CRU, the procedure is as follows:
- At initial contact, the Deputy District Attorney(s) assigned to evaluate conviction review applications will review the request and either:
- Request additional information and proceed to Step 2 after receipt of information;
- Determine that further review is needed and proceed to Step 3; or
- Decline review if no new evidence of actual innocence is present. If review is declined, the convicted defendant will be informed of the reason(s) and will be given an opportunity to respond.
- Review additional information and either:
- Determine that further action is needed and proceed to Step 3; or
- Determine that no further action is needed.
- The Deputy District Attorney(s) will report to the Chief Deputy District Attorney to receive approval to proceed with a full investigation. The CRU Deputy District Attorney(s) will work with a District Attorney’s Office Criminal Investigator to complete the new investigation.
- The original file, the new investigation and recommendation of the CRU Deputy District Attorney(s) will be forwarded to the Chief Deputy District Attorney and the District Attorney.
- The District Attorney will make a decision after considering the recommendations of the CRU Deputy District Attorney(s) and the Chief Deputy District Attorney and will base that decision on all available facts.
If the CRU decides to proceed with a full investigation, the Office of the District Attorney will notify the victim(s) of the case pursuant to the Alabama Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights.
Conviction Review Report and Recommendation
If the CRU conducts a full investigation, the CRU Deputy District Attorney(s) will prepare a report summarizing the case facts, the issues presented by the application, and any investigative findings. The report will contain the CRU’s recommendation and be presented to the Chief Deputy District Attorney and the District Attorney. The decision to recommend or not recommend that the convictions be vacated rests with the District Attorney. A recommendation to vacate a conviction will be made to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office if the District Attorney no longer has confidence in the conviction because of clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence.
Standard for Decision to Recommend Vacating Conviction
The standard to be used by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office – Birmingham Division is “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant was convicted in our jurisdiction of an offense the defendant did not commit.
A recommendation to vacate a conviction will be made if the District Attorney no longer has confidence in the conviction because of clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence.
Notification to Convicted Defendant
The convicted defendant will be notified in writing of the District Attorney’s final decision.
The CRU will maintain records of cases reviewed and the decisions resulting from those reviews in a CRU case management system. The CRU will present an annual report to the District Attorney.
Root Cause Analysis (RCA)
Understanding that all human systems are fallible and that risks in a system can be minimized, the Office of the District Attorney strives to be a high reliability organization, which engages in self-monitoring and self-improving by incorporating established practices. The Office of the District Attorney shall create and maintain protocols around the conduct of RCA to reduce non-conforming work or departures from policies and procedures revealed during the conviction review process.
Office Training Resulting from RCA
The CRU will assist with training programs to promote best practices and to reduce non-conforming work or departures from policies and procedures.
Notification of Other Agencies of Needed Changes Revealed by RCA
Criminal justice agencies providing non-conforming work or departing from policies or procedures which is revealed by RCA will be notified. The Office of the District Attorney will offer to provide training for those criminal justice agencies.
As a general policy, the CRU will not investigate, in the absence of other compelling justification, claims where the convicted defendant knew or should have known the basis of his or her current claim at the time of the conviction, or where the defendant now disavows his or her trial testimony and offers a different theory of innocence. Additionally, absent a compelling showing that a guilty or no contest plea was entered to avoid a more significant sanction, the convicted defendant must have continually maintained his or her innocence in order to merit review.
It is also the policy of the District Attorney’s Office and the CRU to preclude any member of this office that participated in the prosecution of a case that is being reviewed from the decision-making process for that case.