Davis County forms Conviction Integrity Unit to review factual innocence claims
MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner
FARMINGTON — A new Conviction Integrity Unit that will investigate claims of factual innocence in criminal cases “is another tool in the arsenal to ensure that justice happens in Davis County,” the county attorney, Troy Rawlings, said Monday.
Rawlings and retired 2nd District Judge Glen R. Dawson, the group’s chairman, announced the CIU’s formation at a news conference in the county commission chambers.
Dawson, who was on the bench for 24 years, said he’s convinced that people in every level of the local justice system work in good faith to ensure fairness and see that no innocent person is convicted. “But in the end, we have to acknowledge that despite every safeguard and precaution, an innocent person may be convicted,” Dawson said.
Rawlings said he and his office began working on forming a CIU soon after the Utah Legislature in 2020 passed a law allowing such bodies. He said the first person he called was Dawson because during the judge’s career, when a big case was coming up, “both defense attorneys and prosecutors wanted this guy.”
A claim of factual innocence presented to the CIU “must be based on credible and verifiable evidence of innocence, or new technologies that exist to test or retest remaining relevant evidence,” according to guidelines posted on the CIU website. Court appeals must be exhausted before the CIU will look into a case.
MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner
Dawson said he presided over the case of David Valken Leduc, one of two men convicted in the 1996 robbery/murder of a Motel 6 clerk in Woods Cross. More than a dozen years after the conviction, Rawlings reviewed the case with a defense attorney and concluded Leduc was convicted unfairly. He petitioned Dawson to overturn the conviction. “He did the right thing,” Dawson said of Rawlings.
While appeals courts focus on case procedures, a CIU can “look at everything,” including evidence issues or prosecutorial misconduct, Rawlings said.
While Rawlings said he thinks his prosecutors are the best in the state, “If we’ve done something wrong, we want to know. This is a check and balance. We want to get it right.”
The nine-member CIU also includes Steven L. Roth, a retired Utah Court of Appeals judge; retired Weber County prosecutor Chris Shaw; Marina Lowe, an American Civil Liberties Union of Utah attorney; University of Utah law professor Teneille Brown; former Davis County Sheriff Bud Cox; criminal defense attorney Ed Brass; Weber State University Assistant Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Adrienne Andrews; and Molly Davis, a criminal justice policy analyst for the Libertas Institute.
The CIU members are volunteers and receive no compensation for the duty, Rawlings said.
Rawlings said he and others wanted a CIU membership with professional expertise, diversity and varied life experiences. And he said he called a press conference, only the third in his 14 years as county attorney, to announce the program “because we want people to know this is available, and I want the residents of Davis County to know we take this seriously.”
The CIU does not provide legal advice to factual innocence applicants; it will review the cases and submit findings to the county attorney’s office. On its website, the CIU says applicants are free to hire their own attorneys or contact the Innocence Project, a group that works to overturn wrongful convictions.
Under the state law, a factual innocence panel’s findings go to the county attorney, who has the option of petitioning the court to dismiss the case. Rawlings said he pledges to accept the findings of a wrongful conviction and file the recommended court petition.
CIU findings will be made public, Rawlings said, but details of its deliberations, such as any dissenting votes, will not.