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February 12, 2017

Philly D.A. introduces enhanced effort to review claims of innocence

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has overhauled this week an investigative unit to review claims of innocence from convicted individuals.

District Attorney Seth Williams announced Wednesday that the enhanced Conviction Review Unit is necessary to bolster the office's commitment "to ensure the right result in every case.”

"The justice system is at times imperfect. Wrongful convictions undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system,” Williams said. “I have the utmost belief that the men and women of this new unit will help increase the public’s faith in our justice system."

The independent four-person team will report directly to Williams' chief of staff, Kathleen Martin, using protocols outlined by experts in the field of wrongful convictions.

The CRU will only review "credible claims of actual innocence" for individuals who are currently incarcerated. To qualify, a conviction must have occurred in Philly's Court of Common Pleas and evidence must exist to prove innocence. The unit will not consider cases where a legal issue contributed to a conviction.

Under the direction of Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Graham-Rubin, the unit boasts more than 70 years of legal and investigative experience. Graham-Rubin joined the Philly D.A.'s office in 1990 and served on the Post-Conviction Review Unit for the last ten years.

The announcement of the unit was quickly overshadowed. Williams fielded questions about his failure to disclose gifts and source of income totaling more $160,000 between 2010 and 2015. The city's Board of Ethics levied its largest penalty, $62,000 in civil monetary fines, against Williams in January.

Acknowledging the distraction, Williams announced Friday he would not to run for re-election as the city's top prosecutor. He intends to finish his second term, which expires next January.

Meanwhile, the CRU is currently accepting submissions.