For Immediate Release 11/6/17
Baltimore—The Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City (SAO) won a two-year grant in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) and the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic (UBIPC) from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to further the efforts of the SAO’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU).
Combined, the partners received $219,366 to increase the identification and investigation of wrongful conviction claims in Baltimore City and provide quality representation to those who may have been wrongfully convicted through increased collaboration and communication between the attorneys litigating the case (MAIP and UBIPC) and the prosecutors considering their requests (SAO).
The grant funds provide for the following:
- 1 full-time investigator employed by the SAO;
- 1 part-time paralegal shared by MAIP and UBIPC; and
- Equipment, travel and document expenses for the project.
"When innocence organizations can collaborate with prosecutors, [the accused] can be freed more quickly,” said Shawn Armbrust, Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project. “We've seen how well that can work with the SAO, and we're thrilled that we'll be able to formalize those successful efforts through this grant."
The addition of the new grant-funded staff to the partner agencies will increase the number of cases the partners are able to investigate and litigate, leading to earlier detection and remedying of wrongful convictions.
“I am pleased that the United States Department of Justice has recognized the importance of collaborative efforts undertaken by advocates for the wrongly convicted and prosecutors to identify and correct mistakes that have resulted in the conviction of innocent people,” UBIPC Director Michele Nethercott said. “I commend The Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City for creating the first and only Conviction Integrity Unit in Maryland and I look forward to working with that office as we implement this grant program. Working together our offices can deliver justice to the wrongly convicted much more quickly and provide all of us with an opportunity to learn from one another.”
In 2016, the SAO worked with UBIPC to exonerate Malcolm Bryant, who spent 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. And this year, the SAO partnered with MAIP to exonerate Lamar Johnson—a man who spent 13 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
“In the first year of my administration, I expanded the Conviction Integrity Unit, tasking the unit with investigating and prosecuting wrongful conviction cases,” said State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. “It is the first and only unit of its kind in Maryland that is operating according to national conviction integrity best practices.”
Within the CIU, there is one full-time ASA and a dedicated Law Clerk who focus solely on reviewing and investigating claims of actual innocence. The grant-funded investigator will join the ASA and Law Clerk in an effort to bolster the investigations of these claims.
The SAO is actively investigating more than 30 potential wrongful convictions. Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Lipscomb, the Chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit, believes her unit is on the cutting edge of criminal justice reform.
“Wrongful convictions represent justice lost and, as prosecutors, such outcomes go against our very foundation,” said Chief Lipscomb. “ Winning this grant from the Department of Justice in furtherance of our collaboration with MAIP and UBIPC is extraordinary and responsive to our demonstrated commitment to unearth those instances of wrongful conviction in our continuing obligation to achieve justice.”
Under the Mosby administration, conviction integrity is a priority for the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City.
Last month, State’s Attorney Mosby, Deputy State’s Attorney of Criminal Intelligence Janice Bledsoe and Chief Lipscomb joined their counterparts from across the country for the Fair and Just Prosecution’s (FJP) Convening on Accountability and Integrity. The day-long conversation centered on the growing movement committed to bringing greater accountability and transparency to prosecutors’ offices, and included discussions on common patterns and lessons learned from actual innocence cases and wrongful convictions; as well as, strategies for implementing front-end policies to prevent wrongful convictions and best practices for creating conviction integrity units.
Last week, both the State’s Attorney and Chief Lipscomb served as presenters during the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys’ (APA) 4th Innovation in Prosecution Summit, which brought together a multi-disciplinary audience of criminal justice leaders to discuss initiatives which are creating more efficiency and effectiveness in the criminal justice system through innovative programs; as well as, discussing emerging issues facing prosecutors’ offices across the country.
During the summit, State’s Attorney Mosby discussed prosecutors’ role in criminal justice reform alongside Karen Friedman Agnifilo of the New York County District Attorney’s Office where she serves as the Chief Assistant District Attorney under the leadership of District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. Chief Lipscomb joined her colleagues from Brooklyn, NY and Philadelphia, PA; along with Shawn Armbrust of MAIP to present on best practices of Conviction Review Units.
Both, the FJP Convening and APA Summit, were hosted by the Quattrone Center for Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia, PA.
“While we are laser-focused on targeting the worst of the worst by securing convictions and obtaining lengthy sentences in crimes of violence often committed by violent repeat offenders, we also recognize that this imperfect system requires us to dedicate the time and resources to reviewing and investigating claims of actual innocence,” said State’s Attorney Mosby. “After exonerating two men who involuntarily surrendered nearly 30 years of their lives collectively for crimes neither of them committed, as chief prosecutor, I feel obligated to make sure that we got it right.”