Forward By Christopher
In numerous states there are units at the level of the Office of the Attorney General which periodically examine the integrity of legal actions at the hands of investigators, prosecutors and judges. These ‘integrity’ units have come about within the past 15 years due to prosecutorial, investigative and judicial misconduct nationwide resulting in wrongful or improperly convicted persons.
On the surface these units provide checks and balances. Beneath the surface they reveal patterns of abuse that in some jurisdictions are endemic. In some instances the public learns of these abuses when high profile cases draw media attention, but most don’t rise to that level of scrutiny.
I know men and women who were innocent but wrongfully convicted due to intentional misconduct by prosecutors and then exonerated after investigations by integrity units prompted by organizations like The Innocence Project.
At my institution alone, I’ve witnessed the exoneration of 3 persons. Their releases were accompanied by much media fanfare, and in one of the cases the state of Ohio was sued for 20 years of wrongful imprisonment and paid out a million dollar sum. In my opinion, there is no amount of money that can make up for 20 years of pain and suffering you and your family endure while you are behind bars. Especially if innocent.
Once convicted of a crime it is nearly impossible to prove one’s innocence. This is especially true for the majority of the nation’s inmates for they come from low income or poor backgrounds. Even inmates whose families have resources are rarely successful without the assistance of a major national organization.
Ashley Smith is incarcerated in Michigan and her conviction has been flagged for review by Michigan’s Conviction Integrity Unit due to inconsistencies by prosecutors and investigators in her case. Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project is working together with state investigators.
Ashley is serving time for 2nd degree murder related to her still born child. She wrote about her experience in Generational Shame in October 2022 and is a regular contributor to this blog.
Ashleigh – The Irony In The Integrity Of Convictions
I don’t know how familiar any of you may be with the movement in recent years for counties and even states to set up “Conviction Integrity Units, sort of prosecutorial task force designed to do additional checks and balances on the integrity in which their office prosecutes cases. The only problem is that the cases they’re doing these checks and balances on the “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” party has been an involuntary guest to the state for 10, 15, hell 40 years. I guess the philosophy our justice system was built on, that it’s far better to let 10 guilty persons go free than to imprison one innocent, hasn’t been the standard for…well at least 40 years now.
I’m talking about this with you for a couple of reasons. 1) How is this not a way bigger movement to rectify wrongs done to citizens by the state? Is it because of ego? I think that being humble, especially against a “criminal” (although if there’s issues with the conviction we may be playing it a little fast and loose with the whole criminal label) would be extremely hard to overcome if I was in the prosecutors shoes. But so was law school, and so is prison, so that will only go so far. This is not a time to double down on the stubborn. Let’s try to use these CIU’s how they should be.
2) My other reason for talking about this is, after serving 14 1/2 years on an 18 year front I ironically find my case at the highest level CIU in the state, the Office of the Attorney General. Immediately flagged for “unreliable forensic issues”, the head of the CIU decided to have Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project work on it in tandem. I’m quite sure these unreliable forensic issues the Attorney General sniffed out upon discovery of two separate autopsy reports, each submitted 9 months apart from the other. That, along with the state’s forensic pathologist admitting in open court the only reason he “amended” his report 9 months later from an equivocal exam to a homicide (kinda a big deal) was because the detective and the prosecutor asked him to. Is that what they mean when they say integrity?
I wrote about my circumstance some in the post Generational Shame. After my main support system died (see my post The First Year Without My Dad ) I literally have nobody to be my voice to make sure I don’t get lost in the shuffle of other, louder, more advocated cases. Such a double edged sword.
Fourteen and a half years ago I had a lot of support, people ready to squad up and right this wrong. My family sat in horror and were traumatized while they watched as I was traumatized by the justice system. It’s one you likely only know about figuratively unless you or a loved one has been through it literally (my condolences). Now, there are barriers in place, protections from feeling that again, and I can’t blame anyone. I’ll take the hit. It’s my freedom on the line after all, and if prison does one thing to you it makes you strong. But it would be too much of me to ask the couple of people I still have to emotionally depend on at all to get re-violated.
So if you see a campaign or know of a worthy cause to right a wrongly convicted person, spread the word for a person who may not have people left to spread it for them. Do some good, Who knows how much you could change that person’s future?
*Lettersfromchristopher was created in 2019 to draw attention to the plight of America’s incarcerated. Please, submit a comment if your heart moves you. Your thoughts and words are refreshing wells of relief, and the writers of this blog express gratitude for your kindness.
Be sure to see the newly updated “About Christopher” page for bios of contributing writers to this blog.