EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Friday, May 13, 2016

The New Show Conviction & Conviction Integrity Units

Yesterday, ABC ordered the TV show "Conviction" to series. According to "The Hollywood Reporter,"

Conviction tells the story of Carter Morrison ([Hayley] Atwell), the brilliant but ne'er-do-well daughter of a former president, who is blackmailed into taking a job as the head of Los Angeles' newly created Conviction Integrity Unit. She, along with her team of lawyers, investigators and forensic experts, work together to examine cases where there's credible suspicion that the wrong person may have been convicted of a crime. Eddie Cahill, Shawn Ashmore and Emily Kinney co-star.


The show was co-created by Liz Friedlander, a veteran tv and music video director, and Liz Friedman ("Jessica Jones;" "House"), and my hope is that it will fill the void created by the end of "The Good Wife." Interestingly, before producing "The Good Wife," Michelle and Robert King created "In Justice," with Kyle MacLachlan as the head of the National Justice Project, which "undoubtedly had as its model the Innocence Project or Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions."

A Conviction Integrity Unit, however, is a different ball of wax from the Innocence Project, as is made clear from this description of Kinney's character:

Kinney will play Tess Thompson, the CIU’s bright-but-naive paralegal who hides an underlying dark sadness. A former employee of the Innocence Project, Tess is a true believer in the cause of wrongful convictions and thinks she can make a bigger impact working more cases from inside the system

As this description makes clear, Innocence Projects work outside the system while conviction integrity units are part of the system.

A Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) is a division of a prosecutorial office that works to prevent, identify and correct false convictions....

The number of CIU’s has grown rapidly in the past six years. There were 24 CIUs in the United States in 2015, double the number in 2013 and quadruple the number in 2011.

One of these CIUs is the actual CIU in Los Angeles County that was created about a year ago, "citing a rise in wrongful-conviction claims by inmates." Since opening its doors,

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s new wrongful conviction unit has been bombarded with cases in the first nine months as 730 people convicted in Los Angeles have come forward to claim they're innocent


As of this March, 213 cases are ready for review, 42 claims have been rejected, 13 have been assigned to staff for followup, and a couple are under a much more thorough investigation

It will be interesting to see how the CIU is portrayed on the show because

there is no uniformity in how these units are structured and operate. For example, while the Dallas CIU—which is headed by a highly regarded former defense attorney—works in collaboration with defense attorneys, local innocence projects and law students, the Manhattan CIU, with a prosecutor at its helm, conducts all of its post-conviction reviews internally.

Understandably, these differences in protocol have led to differences in results. While Samuel Gross attributed the record number exonerations to the increase in CIUs, he noted that "at least half of such units nationally generated no exonerations in 2015."

I'm guessing that the Los Angeles CIU on the show will most closely resemble the Harris County, Texas CIU, which is responsible for almost half of the 151 CIU exonerations produced since 2003. And that's fine, as long as the show does a good job of showing viewers the myriad of reasons why we have so many wrongful convictions in this country.


*My Undisclosed interview with Karen Daniel, the director of Northwestern's Center on Wrongful Convictions, will air next Monday.



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tv, sometimes I wonder. Why would she have to blackmailed to do this job?

Posted by: Linnette Garber | May 14, 2016 6:05:21 AM

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