Crime Watch 8

Marion County prosecutor enlists team to overturn wrongful convictions

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH ) — The Marion County prosecutor and a team of attorneys are committed to getting people who did not do the crime out of jail.

A new program through the prosecutor’s office, the conviction integrity unit, will look at people who may have been wrongly convicted of crimes in Marion County and, if they’re found not to be the culprit, work to overturn those convictions.

Prosecutor Ryan Mears said Friday his office has already received 40 letters from inmates who heard the program was in the works wanting their cases reviewed. Mears says the process was designed to help restore trust in the justice system. “Right now, we know that there is a fracture between the community and the criminal justice system.”

During spring 2020’s civil unrest in Indianapolis, Mears says, his office staff asked the community about their concerns. They repeatedly heard doubts regarding the integrity of the criminal justice system. The conviction integrity unit has two independent attorneys and support staff to review cases in Marion County.

“We don’t want innocent people in jail, and it might cost a little bit of money to figure out if we made a mistake, but that is a very worthwhile exercise because the only person that benefits from a wrongful conviction is the person who actually did it,” Mears said.

Mears says by using technology that was not available in the 1970s, ’80s, and 90s the conviction integrity unity will review cases to ensure the correct person was charged. He says that process can often take time.

“We are really gong to look into these cases. We are going to look at the prosecutor file, the detective file, the court file, and it might require retesting evidence,” Mears said.

In the past, Mears says, there have been officials who were unwilling to acknowledge mistakes or deny systemic issues. Mears says he is prepared to acknowledge that, and right the wrongs where they exist.

“There are going to be many times, I am sure, where we are going to validate convictions and say, ‘Yes we did get it right.’ But if there is a situation or a circumstance where we did have the wrong person, we are going to spend all of our energy and effort to make sure that we are able to get that person out of custody and then also what can we do to track down the person who actually committed the crime.” Mears.

Attorneys who spoke with News 8 on Friday say the process of overturning a wrongful conviction has a low success rate and very rarely happens.

Mears said, “When you have a prosecutor’s office that is cooperative and their only goal is to seek out justice and not just defend the conviction but make sure we have the right person, I think that spirit of cooperation goes a long way in terms of moving the ball forward in a way that treats everybody fairly.”

A person who has been wrongly convicted of a crime that happened in Marion County can write directly to the prosecutor’s office or a form can be filled out on the prosecutor’s website to submit a petition for review. Mears says there is no cost to people who are incarcerated to have their case reviewed. He promises to be transparent and share results from all of their investigations.

Send mailed requests for review to: Marion County Prosecutor’s Office / Attn: Conviction Integrity Unit / 251 East Ohio Street, Suite 160 / Indianapolis, IN  46204.