Monday, January 19, 2015

D.C. Prosecutors Name Legal Team to Review Wrongful Conviction Claims

Two lawyers serving as "independent consultants" will review wrongful conviction claims against the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, the office announced on Monday.

Jeffrey Robinson, a senior counsel at Lewis Baach and former associate director-counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Kristine Hamann, a visiting fellow with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, will work with the U.S. attorney’s office’s new conviction integrity unit.

The announcement came as federal prosecutors in Washington continued to grapple with fallout from a scandal involving FBI agent Matthew Lowry, who was accused of tampering with drug and firearm evidence. Prosecutors have already dismissed criminal cases that Lowry was involved in against more than two dozen defendants. Defense lawyers have questioned the reliability of the FBI’s policies for handling and safeguarding evidence and suggested the controversy could extend to a broader array of cases.

Over the past five years, judges in the District of Columbia granted certificates of innocence to a string of men who spent decades in jail for crimes they did not commit. Those cases exposed problems with FBI evidence analysis techniques and protocols and spurred an investigation by the U.S. attorney's office.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. announced the conviction integrity unit in September. The unit was tasked with reviewing violent felony cases in which defendants claimed to have new evidence of their innocence, including DNA evidence.

Machen said in a statement that his office "wanted to bring in outside counsel who would offer a fresh perspective to our review process in order to ensure that we were reaching the right conclusions when assessing these innocence claims."

Robinson and Hamann's positions are unpaid, according to a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office. In a phone interview on Monday, Hamann said she was still learning the details of the assignment. The two lawyers were making themselves available to the office as a "set of fresh eyes," Hamann said.

Hamann advises prosecutors across the country on best practices. She said she hadn't studied the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. and was going into the consultant position with "no preconceived notion" about how it handled innocence claims. "I’m honored that they asked me. I look forward to providing whatever insights I can provide," she said.

Robinson could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Robinson and Hamann will review innocence claims and make recommendations to prosecutors about how to proceed in individual cases. They’ll also advise the office on training, trial practices and policy changes along with Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.

Robinson came back to Lewis Baach in 2013 after spending four years at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. His work for the civil rights organization included leading efforts to reform California’s "three strikes" law and advocating on criminal justice reform issues in Congress. He represented former Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 election controversy.

Hamann works with prosecutors across the country to put together statewide best practices committees, according to the Justice Department. She previously served as a local prosecutor in New York and as the state’s inspector general.

Original report here

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