Minnesota awarded federal grant to review legal cases for people believed to be innocent

Attorney General’s Office to partner with Innocence Project of Minnesota on state’s first-ever Conviction Review Unit

October 8, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and the Innocence Project of Minnesota announced today that the Innocence Project has received a two-year, $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice that will fund the formation of Minnesota’s first-ever Conviction Review Unit (CRU). The CRU, which will operate as a partnership between the Attorney General’s Office and the Innocence Project of Minnesota, will allow the state to review legal cases for people believed to be innocent. While there are dozens of CRUs across the country, Minnesota’s will be just the fourth in the country that operates through an Attorney General’s Office. To date, CRUs have helped initiate the exoneration of 444 people in the U.S.  

“Prosecutors are ministers of justice. We have a duty to ensure those convicted of crimes are in fact guilty of those crimes,” said Attorney General Ellison. “We strive for perfection but know our system is imperfect. This grant will allow us to create a unit to fearlessly review cases to make sure justice was served, and if not, to right those wrongs.” 

“This is a momentous development in our continual mission to seek justice for all Minnesotans,” said Sara Jones, executive director of the Innocence Project of Minnesota. “Every criminal case carries with it the specter of a mistake, oversight or even misconduct by law enforcement or lawyers. A CRU provides a powerful additional tool in the toolbox of justice for wrongfully convicted people.” 

The purpose of a CRU is to identify, remedy, and prevent wrongful convictions. Each case the CRU accepts for review will have a strong indication that the person imprisoned could be innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. Minnesota’s CRU also will develop policy proposals to address the most frequently identified causes of wrongful convictions and, when possible, identify the person or people who actually committed the crime. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman submitted letters of support and have vowed to work cooperatively with the CRU in cases that might arise from their counties. 

The structure and functioning of the CRU will be announced in early 2021. 

“Justice is served when the person who committed a crime is held accountable and the innocent are free — and that is what a CRU will do for Minnesota,” said Julie Jonas, legal director of the Innocence Project of Minnesota. “We look forward to engaging with jurisdictions across the state to correct wrongful convictions and continue our meaningful search for truth.” 

Innocence Project of Minnesota 

The mission of the Innocence Project of Minnesota (IPMN) is to free the wrongfully convicted and prevent future wrongful convictions from occurring. Since its inception in 2001, IPMN has screened and investigated individuals’ credible claims of actual innocence and represented people who were wrongfully convicted or incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. IPMN also educates attorneys and other criminal-justice professionals on best practices and works to reform the criminal-justice system to prevent innocent people from going to prison.