Alvarez Creates New Unit To Probe Questionable Convictions

Updated 02/02/12 – 2:32 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — In what her office is calling a “shift in philosophy,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has announced the formation of a new unit that will actively review criminal cases involving questionable or wrongful convictions.

“My job’s not just about racking up convictions, it’s about always seeking justice; even if that measure of justice means that we must acknowledge mistakes of the past,” Alvarez said in a speech to the City Club of Chicago at a luncheon on Thursday. “My office is demonstrating our commitment, and our duty to bring our very best efforts to ensure that only guilty people are convicted here in Cook County.”

Alvarez said the new 6-person “conviction integrity unit” will look into criminal cases in which questions about the integrity of convictions have been raised.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

“Based on what we’ve been dealing with in these last couple of years, and also because of DNA and the fact that 30 years ago we could not do what we do today … we should be able to work up these cases and look at these cases and reevaluate them,” Alvarez said.

The unit will provide a more proactive approach to re-investigating cases where there might have been a wrongful conviction, according to the state’s attorney’s office.

Alvarez said it’s not unusual for prosecutors to, in effect, investigate their own prosecutions.

Aside from DNA evidence, Alvarez said police investigations have changed and include videotaping of interrogations in murder cases.

“We’re going to be looking at, number one, you know, particularly in cases where you have confessions; you can’t just have a statement, you must look at what other evidence corroborates what that offender is stating,” Alvarez said. “We’re looking at that, looking at DNA and the ability to work up pieces of evidence that 30 years ago could not be worked up.”

She said the state’s attorney’s office has about 35 cases that are getting a closer look.

The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University said that, in Cook County, there have been 25 documented cases involving false confessions that led to wrongful convictions.

More from Mike Krauser
  • tom sharp

    Given her track record, one would hope she’d spend some time looking into wrongful non-prosecutions and acquittals too!

    • Tim


  • Jim

    25 out of how many tens of thousands? It sounds like an extreme rarity to me!

  • Afro

    Sounds like a liberal occupy trying to justify freeing a bunch of criminals. I wonder which one she is trying to spring to keep from ratting on her and her daddy.

  • Marcus

    Alvarez is losing her credibility. First with Daley’s nephew and now this.

  • juju

    another waste of time. hello tax increase.

  • Susan Chandler

    There are @2,500 criminal convictions clouded by decades of use of the FBI’s now-discredited Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis – the FBI chose to notify prosecutors that their analysis was junk science, rather than the convicted. No prosecutors in turn notified the convicted, to my knowledge, even when CBLA was the only “evidence.”

    There are states where medical examiners don’t need any medical education at all, some recently stepped up their requirements to include a high school diploma.

    Texas DNA-discredited dog handler Keith Pikett participated in over 2,000 criminal investigations, and he’s far from the only DNA-discredited dog handler that sent men to prison or to their deaths.

    If you want to be angry about being ripped off, don’t be angry at a prosecutor willing to look at conviction integrity. Be angry at the FTC and DoJ Antitrust Division for allowing so many forensics laboratory mergers that definitive DNA tests cost under $32 per piece of evidence in 2004 now cost $2,250 per piece … for less definitive tests.

    One Ohio rapist was averaging four new victims a year during the time it took to test his DNA after it was first collected. It didn’t cost much to put him away in 2004.

    Your federal tax dollars were used to give out $88M in federal grants last year to clear up DNA backlogs. It won’t go very far at $2,250 per piece of evidence; not far enough to keep you safe.

  • Chris

    Everyone should be concerned a bout wrongful convictions.

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