April 30, 2019
Contact: Chesa Boudin for San Francisco District Attorney

Wrongful Convictions Unit

Wrongful convictions are a significant problem in the United States.  California is no exception.  According to the National Registry of Exonerations, more than 2,400 people have been freed from prison for crimes they did not commit.  Last year, there were 151 exonerations nationwide and six in California.  Wrongful convictions destroy lives and undermine the integrity of the justice system. One wrongful conviction is too many.  In California, there have been more than 200.

As San Francisco District Attorney, Chesa Boudin will:

  • Establish a Wrongful Conviction Unit (WCU)
  • Establish an Innocence Commission of Experts to Pre-Screen Cases for the WCU
  • Authorize the WCU to report directly to the DA
  • Empower the WCU to review past convictions and make policy recommendations to avoid future wrongful convictions

We need a well-resourced, independent unit within the DA’s office to review past cases to uncover these errors.  By exposing and correcting past wrongful convictions, we not only restore the public trust’s in the justice system, we can also implement reforms to prevent innocent people from going to prison in the future.

There are many causes of wrongful convictions, including official misconduct, faulty forensic evidence, mistaken eyewitness identification, perjury, and false confessions.  These systemic defects and others have cost innocent people in California to lose a total of 1,692 years of their lives. These same wrongful convictions have cost taxpayers an estimated $137 million while the real criminals avoided consequences for their actions. These are real cases with real lives at stake.

In San Francisco, for example, Jamal Trulove was wrongfully prosecuted and convicted of murder and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.  After his conviction was reversed for prosecutorial misconduct, the new District Attorney decided to re-prosecute him.  Trulove was acquitted and later sued the city, winning a $13.1 million settlement after a unanimous jury found that he was innocent and that the police framed him. 

The case against Trulove never should have been brought much less re-prosecuted – as a result of the narrow focus on winning at all costs rather than justice, Trulove, like countless others, was locked away while the real perpetrator remains at large.  This outcome is unacceptable for those wrongfully convicted, for the victims of crimes, and for taxpayers who foot the bill. San Francisco District Attorney candidate Chesa Boudin has a plan to rectify these kinds of injustices and prevent future catastrophic mistakes from occurring in our jurisdiction.  He will establish an independent Wrongful Conviction Unit within the District Attorney’s Office staffed by seasoned, impartial attorneys with both prosecutorial and defense experience.

Crucially, Chesa Boudin’s Wrongful Conviction Unit will investigate credible claims of innocence in cases pre-screened by an Innocence Commission composed of a retired judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, a forensic scientist, and an academic.  A majority vote of this five-member commission will be sufficient to send a case to the WCU.

While the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office currently has a unit to examine wrongful convictions, it is under-staffed and overwhelmed because the same lawyers must also investigate all claims of police misconduct and officer-involved shootings.  The unit has failed to exonerate anyone since it was established three years ago.

Chesa Boudin understands that wrongful convictions cause concentric circles of harm: to the wrongfully convicted, to the crime victims who were told a false story and re-traumatized, to the jurors who unwittingly participated in the injustice, and to the integrity of the system as a whole.  Chesa Boudin’s Wrongful Convictions Unit, working cooperatively with lawyers representing those seeking exoneration, will take a hard look at these cases and where necessary, correct mistakes and take steps to make sure that the actual perpetrator is caught and punished.