Multnomah D.A. plans new unit to aid wrongfully convicted
Community trust in the courts and cops will be strengthened by a new team of prosecutors dedicated to investigating cases where the system has erred, county leaders say.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt is pushing to create a new Conviction Integrity Unit that will review pleas for clemency, attend parole hearings, expunge eligible records, forgive fees and fines — and probe cases where police or prosecutor misconduct produced a mockery of justice.
In a statement to the Portland Tribune, Schmidt said the proposal recognized the importance of having "a mechanism to scrutinize past cases when concerns arise regarding the integrity of a conviction."
"Prosecutors must be leaders in ensuring that convictions are the result of fair and transparent processes consistent with the pursuit of justice," he said.
The proposed pilot program has already won the support of county chair Deborah Kafoury, who included $525,000 for the unit in her draft executive budget. That would allow for staffing equivalent to two and a half full-time employees, though the spending plan hasn't been locked in yet.
"He's got a lot of new ideas and we want to be supportive of this one in particular," Kafoury said of Schmidt.
The Conviction Integrity Unit would also be tasked with handling Ramos cases — the legal term for the hundreds of guilty verdicts handed down by split juries in Oregon, until the U.S. Supreme court banned the custom last year.
Such non-unanimous jury decisions were already banned in all but one other state, though the practice had persisted in Oregon for decades. The Oregon Supreme Court recently ruled that defendants can still be acquitted by split juries, however, according to the Associated Press.
Around 45 other jurisdictions across the country have already established similar conviction integrity departments, per the Multnomah County District Attorney's office.
"The criminal legal system has disproportionately impacted communities of color. Establishing a unit that looks to repair harm will likely have a positive impact on those same communities," said MCDA spokesman Brent Weisberg. "This unit will work closely with defense attorneys and community groups to identify appropriate cases for this unit to consider."
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