Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $300,000)
Innocence organizations and prosecutors’ offices are often at odds in their pursuits of justice. The Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) and the Lake County State’s Attorney Office (LCSAO) in Waukegan, IL, as the subrecipient, propose a groundbreaking collaboration to establish a Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) within the LCSAO. This project expands IIP’s 2019 Wrongful Conviction grant award supporting IIP’s establishment of cooperative relationships with individual prosecutors by applying lessons learned to create systemic reform in one specific county known for its wrongful conviction problem: Lake County.
Excluding Cook County, where Chicago is located, Lake County has the highest per capita rate of wrongful convictions among Illinois’ most populous counties. The County is well known for ignoring science and refusing to admit wrongs. To date it has wrongfully convicted 10 men and paid out $54 million in civil settlements. The case of this project’s namesake, Juan Rivera, is one of Lake County’s most notorious.
IIP and the LCSAO will establish a CIU dedicated to transparency, science and ethical integrity as it analyzes the LCSAO’s past actions and collaborates with IIP to identify problematic cases, correct mistakes and instill reforms to prevent future mistakes.
IIP’s work under the 2019 Wrongful Conviction grant led to a new partnership with the LCSAO on a current case. The foundational relationship established by this collaborative work has resulted in both organizations committing to this proposed project. The LCSAO already has drafted a cooperative agreement to preserve attorney-client privilege for IIP and ensure full investigation of factual issues on CIU cases.
IIP and the LCSAO will create a CIU based on best practices, collaborating to: establish intake/review processes; identify cases for representation by IIP; create “Joint Review Plans” detailing agreed-upon reinvestigation actions; deliver training to CIU, IIP and LCSAO staff; make case recommendations to the State’s Attorney; issue public reports on reversed cases; and identify problematic issues/trends in CIU cases and search other LCSAO cases for the same.
IIP believes, as other innocence movement leaders do, that CIUs can play an important role in correcting injustices and preventing wrongful convictions. This is especially important in Illinois, which consistently places among the top four states for wrongful convictions. Lake County’s CIU will be just the third out of Illinois’ 102 counties. This new CIU will demonstrate that innocence organizations and prosecutors’ offices can – and should – work together to reach the truth on post-conviction claims of innocence.