New Conviction Integrity Unit Gives Inmates Second Chance At Justice

Dec 2, 2020, 8:49 PM | Updated: Dec 6, 2022, 11:05 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Wrongfully accused inmates have a new chance at justice with a recently-formulated Conviction Integrity Unit through the Salt Lake District Attorney’s Office.

The Conviction Integrity Unit is another way, separate from the appellate process, to ensure justice is properly served and opens the door for those who feel wrongfully accused.

“It’s not a question about looking bad, it is about doing right,” said Sim Gill, the District Attorney for Salt Lake County.

The district attorney said he sees the new Conviction Integrity Unit as an enhancement to the judicial process.

“It is not about covering up mistakes, it’s about recognizing and having a meaningful process by which we can correct those mistakes,” he said. “If we discover something wrong, then we believe that it is our affirmative obligation to correct that, own that, and make sure justice is done.”

The Unit allows convicts a chance at having their cases reviewed by an independent advisory board made up of two judges; former Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Justice Christine Durham, retired Third District Judge Judith Atherton; former prosecutor and Utah Assistant Attorney General, David Schwendiman; Criminal Defense Attorney D. Gilbert Athay; and community representative, Michelle Love-Day.

“The goal here is to give access to anyone who feels that the verdict was unjust, or the procedure was flawed, or there was somebody who engaged in a way that had a bearing in an unjust way,” said Gill.

The panel operates as a volunteer committee, according to Gill’s office, which means they are not paid.

On Wednesday, the unit released the results of its first case involving 41-year-old Ryan David Burke who was convicted of sexually assaulting two victims, one of them a child.

“They looked at transcript evidence, the appellate record,” said the district attorney. “They looked at the witness statements and they gave a very thorough examination of that.”

The board ultimately upheld the original conviction and published a detailed, unedited summary of their findings.

Had the board found an error in the original conviction, and if Gill’s office agreed, he said they “would move to vacate that conviction and correct that wrong.”

The effort, Gill said, is to create trust and transparency in our legal system and communities.

“It is about our inherent responsibility as public prosecutors,” he said.

If Gill were to disagree with the Conviction Integrity Unit’s findings, then he said his office would also need to provide written justification for their position.

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New Conviction Integrity Unit Gives Inmates Second Chance At Justice