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U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. Creates Unit to Investigate Flawed Convictions

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia has set up the first federal unit nationwide unit to internally identify, investigate, and possible wrongful convictions, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. said.  “This new unit will work to uncover historical injustices and to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to prevent such tragedies in the future,” he said.

The formation of the new unit comes in the wake of the vacating of five wrongful convictions resulting from faulty evidence testing or exonerations based upon new DNA evidence.  A four-year review was recently concluded of more than 2,000 FBI evidence files that used now-discredited hair or fiber evidence to establish guilt.

Exonerations of the wrongfully convicted defendants are still wending their way through the criminal justice system, a recent story by the Washington Post indicated. Donald Gates was one of those who were erroneously convicted.  He was found guilty of a 1982 rape and murder based upon hair evidence, but proven innocent in 2009 on the basis of DNA testing.

Prisoner rights advocates such as Shawn Ambrust of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, cautiously welcomed the development, but expressed reservations about the project’s transparency if it was “just prosecutors reviewing prosecutors…It is an important cultural step for the office to officially recognize that there are wrongful convictions in the District of Columbia, and there may be enough of them to necessitate the formation of this unit.”

Sources:, September 12, 2014; “D.C. prosecutors create unit to find wrongful convictions,” by Spencer Hsu,, September 11, 2014.


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