District attorney responds on conviction integrity unit issue

Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree today sent a letter responding to the Unified Government Commissioners on the conviction integrity unit (CIU) proposal.

In his letter, which is printed in full at the end of this story, the district attorney noted that he had received requests for review of about 200 cases from persons who said they were wrongfully convicted, and of those, about 19 cases warranted potential further review.

The UG Commission on Monday night reached a consensus to advance the funding for the conviction integrity unit. At the same time, the Kansas City, Kansas, police chief on Monday sent a letter, also signed by the Wyandotte County sheriff, to the state attorney general asking for a review of the CIU program.

The chief and sheriff also asked for an independent review by the attorney general’s office of any case that proceeds through the CIU. The chief’s letter said the program could be expensive and that there were already provisions in state law to take care of those who were wrongfully convicted, without adding a new program.

“Without oversight or open access to procedures used in investigating these cases, Mr. Dupree’s CIU holds unchecked authority in determining the fate of convictions handed down from negotiated pleas and guilty verdicts from a jury,” the chief’s letter stated.

Although the funding for the CIU was placed in the UG’s budget, it would not immediately be placed under the district attorney’s portion of the budget, according to UG officials at the Monday night budget meeting, but instead would be placed in a separate fund under the administrator’s control, in order to wait for a response from the attorney general. The final budget is scheduled to be approved on Thursday, Aug. 2.

Unified Government Commissioner Tom Burroughs said today that he is a big supporter of law enforcement, and he said the police chief, sheriff and district attorney just need to sit down and talk things out. He also said that they all probably have the same goals.

Today District Attorney Dupree sent a response that addressed some of the concerns in the chief’s and sheriff’s letter.

One of Dupree’s points was that the mechanism in the same state law quoted by the chief’s letter would be used by the CIU in reviewing cases. The conviction integrity unit would use law students as interns, who are supervised by lawyers. Some of those law students already are provisionally approved to practice law, according to the district attorney’s letter.

District Attorney Dupree’s letter:

“To the Unified Government Board of County Commissioners:

“Following our Commission Meeting yesterday when members of the Community Liaison Board spoke about the need for the Conviction Integrity Unit, I was provided a copy of the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department’s letter regarding the funding of this Unit, written to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. I also observed the conversation via television, wherein funding of the Unit was approved, but concerns due to this letter were raised.

“First, I am deeply appreciative of this Commission’s clear commitment to fund the Conviction Integrity Unit. It is likewise heartwarming to see that the two largest Law Enforcement Agencies, along with their Fraternal Orders of Police, support efforts to review and correct wrongful convictions. I want to address some of the concerns expressed in both the letter and the Commission Meeting:

“1. After winning the Primary Election, but prior to being sworn in as District Attorney, I began to receive letters from incarcerated individuals and their families, claiming the inmate had been wrongfully convicted. In my 18 months as District Attorney, I have received requests for review on approximately 200 cases. Of those, a cursory review of the circumstances surrounding the investigation and conviction showed that only 19 warranted potential further review.

“2. Concerning the Lamonte McIntyre case: through a period of seven months spent reviewing the circumstances of his case, my office spoke with witnesses alleged by his counsel to be recanting prior testimony, or who had additional information. A portion of that process included speaking directly with members of the victims’ families, many of whom joined Mr. McIntyre’s request for a finding of manifest injustice.

“a. Based on that review, my office joined Mr. McIntyre’s request for a finding of manifest injustice. The Court made a finding of manifest injustice, which caused his conviction to be overturned. It is only upon an order of the court that any conviction can be overturned.

“3. The formalization and funding of the Conviction Integrity Unit would serve to ensure a routine process is used when reviewing these cases. The letter correctly asserts that K.S.A. 60-1507 is the mechanism by which these cases are reviewed. It was precisely that mechanism that was utilized in Mr. McIntyre’s case, and it is the same legal mechanism that will be used by the CIU moving forward.

“a. That process includes joining with the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Relief from the University of Kansas School of Law, as well as the Innocence Project Clinic from the University of Missouri – Kansas City; organizations that have been performing this work for decades. Those programs utilize law students as interns, supervised by a team of lawyers. Some of those interns, like the interns that work inside my office, are provisionally approved to practice law by the state Supreme Court prior to their graduation.

“b. Those 19 cases, and others as they arise, would be reviewed by those Innocence Projects, who are equipped to screen and gather additional information as necessary. Of those 19, those that warrant a more in-depth review would be forwarded to the CIU.

“c. Working in partnership with these organizations allowed my office to be in the position to request only the $162,000 funded by the Commission. Both organizations are funded independently.

“4. When the District Attorney’s Office has requested assistance, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office has always been a tremendous resource for this community. I am grateful that K.S.A. 75-704 grants a District Attorney the ability to request advice or counsel when needed.

“5. Finally, while the possibility exists that an individual whose conviction is overturned by the Court may receive compensation under HB 2579, our commitment to ensuring justice for the citizens of Wyandotte County through the CIU must be paramount.”

To see previous stories on this topic, visit http://wyandottedaily.com/da-wont-be-able-to-spend-funds-for-new-conviction-and-integrity-unit-yet/

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