COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office said it is reinforcing its commitment to seeking justice, on Friday announcing the launch of the new Conviction Integrity Unit.
The unit — which has been in the works for a while and will be supported through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice — is designed to review claims of actual innocence to make sure the right person is convicted of a crime.
Franklin County Prosecutor Gary Tyack named Assistant Prosecutor Jocelyn Stefancin as the director of the unit.
Similar units are trending throughout criminal justice systems nationwide, Stefancin said. “I think this is an opportunity to rebuild trust in the criminal justice system,” she said.
Her work will start at the very beginning of a case. Stefancin will pore back over police reports and trial and appeals documents as well as interview witnesses again, she said, with the goal of making sure justice has prevailed.
“If someone is actually an innocent person, who has been wrongfully convicted, that goes against our rule to seek justice because what that means is that the guilty person hasn’t been held accountable,” Stefancin said.
The Conviction Integrity Unit will be the third unit of its kind in the state. Nationwide, there are 44 units with recorded exoneration.
Any case convicted in Franklin County is eligible to apply, but only those with the proper evidence will be considered for review, Stefancin said.
“If there are claims that support changes in a witness testimony, so perhaps somebody has now recanted prior testimony given, perhaps there are advances in DNA testing and other types of forensic science, then we would begin reviewing that process,” she said.
The final decision in all cases will be made by the elected prosecutor, she said.
Stefancin is currently working on building her team which will include an investigator and two interns to start. Applications will be available on the Franklin County Prosecutor’s website starting May 1.