Minnesota conviction review unit ready to start work

Minnesota has begun taking applications from people who believe they were wrongfully convicted of felony offenses, Attorney General Keith Ellison said Tuesday.

Man in mask at microphone
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and members of the Conviction Review Advisory Board meet with with reporters Tuesday.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Ellison said the conviction review unit within his office will consider applications from people who are currently incarcerated for felony level criminal convictions.

"Every criminal case has room for error,” Ellison said. “Because the justice system is run by human beings and human beings make mistakes, do the wrong thing, and don't always get it right. It's important to understand when we do not hit the mark of justice and to correct those occasions when that happens."

Carrie Sperling, a law professor with experience overturning wrongful convictions in Wisconsin and Arizona, will oversee the unit with help from an advisory board previously appointed by Ellison that includes county attorneys from Hennepin, Ramsey and Winona counties.

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The unit springs from a $300,000 grant from the federal government received by the Great North Innocence Project — formerly known as the Innocence Project of Minnesota.

That funding is a start, Ellison said, and he hopes to raise more money and rely on volunteer help from lawyers. 

Part of the goal, he added, is to restore trust in the criminal justice system.

“The success of the conviction review unit will not be measured in terms of numbers alone, or of cell doors we unlocked or records we erase or injustice, or when injustice occurs, the sentences we reduce,” Ellison said. “The success will be measured by improving community trust in the integrity of the criminal justice system based on true improvement in the quality of justice and transparency."