FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. has announced creation of the state’s first Conviction Integrity Unit.
Conviction Integrity Units have been created across the county to re-examine questionable convictions. CIUs investigate and remedy wrongful convictions and help establish policies and procedures to prevent future conviction error.
The Fulton County CIU will investigate claims of innocence to determine whether new evidence or facts give rise to a substantial probability that the convicted defendant was not the person who committed the offense.
“Some within the criminal justice system here in Fulton County have said that my office is taking a significant risk by creating and forming a Conviction Integrity Unit,” Howard stated. “Some believe we are exposing ourselves to greater scrutiny and criticism by sanctioning an independent review of our cases. However, it is my belief that a conviction based upon truth and justice will withstand any scrutiny. It is my belief that the greatest risk is not allowing truth and justice to direct your decisions.”
The CIU will investigate claims of innocence by convicted individuals who have already been through their trial and appellate processes. The CIU will review cases in which there is new factual, physical or forensic evidence.
The unit will oversee cases previously tried in the Fulton County Superior Court. There must be a claim of actual innocence or wrongful conviction, predicated on a factual matter, not a purely legal issue.
There is no set timeframe by which claims presented to the CIU will be resolved, but the office said it will make every effort to expedite the resolution of each claim.
A panel made up of eight members including three assistant district attorneys from the Fulton County office, one attorney from the Georgia Innocence Project, one Fulton County minister, one attorney or administrator from a local college or law school and one attorney from the Georgia Chapter of the NAACP will review cases received by the office to determine whether or not they warrant re-investigation.
The panel will submit its recommendation to the director of the Conviction Integrity Unit who will report directly to Howard for a final decision.
“It is of foremost importance to ensure that each case is handled with its proper due diligence,” Atlanta NAACP Vice-President Gerald Griggs said. “The people of Fulton County must have confidence in the just outcome of each case; therefore, we applaud this step by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to review previous cases for possible wrongful convictions.”
According to a study by the University of Michigan Law School, there were 33 CIUs across the country in 2017. CIUs were involved in a total of 42 exonerations in 2017, according to the study.
Howard has already announced that the conviction of Wayne Williams in the Atlanta Child Murders case will be the first to undergo an in-depth review by the newly formed unit.
The office is currently searching for a director to serve as the leader of the CIU. Anyone interested in applying for this position is asked to do so through the Careers section of the Fulton County District Attorney’s website.