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Record Number of Exonerations Prompts Michigan AG to Create Conviction Integrity Unit

by Douglas Ankney

Few nightmares can equate with being an innocent person wrongly convicted and incarcerated.

Since innocence projects began appearing in the 1990s, dozens of prisoners in Michigan have been exonerated. In 2017 a record number—14—were exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. This prompted Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to announce the creation of a Conviction Integrity Unit (“CIU”). “We have a duty to ensure those convicted of state crimes by county prosecutors and our office are in fact guilty of those crimes,” Nessel said in a written statement.

Most of the exonerations came from Wayne County in cases involving Detroit police. The wrongful convictions were the result of systemic problems so entrenched in the Detroit police department in the 1990s and early 2000s that the federal government entered into a consent judgment/settlement with the city to avoid lawsuits alleging mistreatment of citizens and excessive use of force. Wayne County has its own CIU, and the newly created CIU will take cases from all the other counties.

Nessel named longtime criminal defense attorney Robyn B. Frankel as the head of the CIU. Frankel’s appointment is to ensure the thoroughness of the CIU when reviewing cases that had been handled by the attorney general’s office and local prosecutors. Modeled after the unit in Wayne County, Nessel’s CIU will include reviewing court records and any newly discovered post-trial evidence submitted by defendants. If further review is needed, officials will interview county prosecutors, law enforcement, defense attorneys, and witnesses in addition to taking another look at old and new evidence. 



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