Six months after the Federal Bureau of Investigation acknowledged that flawed testimony about hair analysis may have caused innocent people to be convicted of crimes, the State Public Defender’s office has created a new Wrongful Conviction Division "to determine whether similar errors have occurred in Iowa cases" and to "pursue available legal remedies." I enclose below the press release announcing the new office, which will collaborate with Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Innocence Project of Iowa, and the Midwest Innocence Project. People seeking to have their cases reviewed can submit this 12-page intake questionnaire (pdf).
State Public Defender Adam Gregg deserves credit for making this happen less than a year after Governor Terry Branstad appointed him to the job. (A former legislative liaison for Branstad, Gregg ran unsuccessfully for Iowa attorney general in 2014.) The press release indicates that Gregg repurposed a vacant position in his office using existing appropriations. Taking that route allowed him to move more quickly than if he had lobbied state lawmakers for funding to create a Wrongful Conviction Division. Gregg also hired a serious person to run the new division in Audrey McGinn, who spent four years as a staff attorney for the California Innocence Project. Scroll to the end of this post for more background on McGinn’s work.
Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson reported from the October 26 press conference,
“What’s an acceptable error rate for our criminal justice system?” State Public Defender Adam Gregg asked this morning. “Even if we get it right 99 percent of the time and only get it wrong one percent of the time, that would mean there are over 80 innocent people currently incarcerated in Iowa prisons. And at what cost? To the state, it’s about $34,000 per year per inmate. But what about to their families, to their lives and to their sanity? And at what cost to public safety?”
Gregg said when the wrong person is convicted, that means the real criminal isn’t held accountable. The first batch of cases to be reviewed by this new division date back to the 1980s and early ’90s.
Criminal defense attorney Nick Sarcone commented to Bleeding Heartland, "I think this is an important step towards ensuring the integrity of our justice system. However, we need to spend more time, energy and money fixing the substantial issues which plague our system at the trial court level. We need to ensure this new unit is not investigating cases from 2015 in 2030."
UPDATE: Added below criminal defense attorney Joseph Glazebrook’s reaction to this news.