Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $500,000)
The Great North Innocence Project (GN-IP) seeks to continue funding for the Minnesota Conviction Review Unit (“CRU”), which was developed and established with the support of an Upholding the Rule of Law and Preventing Wrongful Convictions Program (URLPWCP) grant awarded in 2020 (Grant #2020-FA-BX-0005).
The purpose of the CRU is to improve overall justice in the State of Minnesota through (1) identifying and remedying wrongful convictions (i.e., where the person convicted did not commit the crime); (2) collecting case data to identify the most common causes of wrongful convictions; and (3) proposing criminal justice reforms that would prevent wrongful convictions from occurring in the future. The CRU is designed to provide an avenue for relief in cases of actual innocence where legal or procedural barriers might otherwise bar a judicial remedy. In cases where the person convicted did not commit the crime, the CRU also seeks to secure justice for victims and uphold the rule of law through identification (leading to prosecution) of the actual perpetrator.
Now that the CRU has been established and staffed, and the necessary databases, forms and procedures have been created, the CRU’s primary activities consist of (1) soliciting and screening applications from Minnesota prisoners who claim to have been wrongfully convicted; (2) conducting investigations into colorable claims of actual innocence; and (3) where appropriate, recommending that the Attorney General’s Office seek relief from the conviction. The CRU also maintains a database designed to track factors present in wrongful convictions, and relies on the data obtained to identify systemic problems and to formulate recommendations for criminal justice reforms. Other activities include public outreach and education, as well as crime victim outreach.
The expected outcomes are the remedying and prevention of future wrongful convictions in Minnesota, increased trust in the criminal justice system through transparence and accountability, and an evolution in prosecutorial culture statewide, with prosecutors embracing their primary duty as being to seek justice within the bounds of the law, not merely to convict.
The CRU’s service area includes the entire State of Minnesota.
The intended beneficiaries include wrongfully convicted prisoners in Minnesota, Minnesota residents at risk of future wrongful convictions, crime victims, and the general public.
The Office of The Minnesota Attorney General is a sub-recipient on the original grant and would continue to be a sub-recipient on any continuation funding.