ABOVE PHOTO: Attorney General Josh Shapiro
HARRISBURG–On February 12, via video announcement, AG Shapiro launched Pennsylvania’s first statewide Conviction Integrity Unit, a new division under the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General. CIU’s mission is to review and reevaluate past convictions to ensure justice, working in partnership with the Commonwealth’s District Attorneys, law enforcement, and victims.
“This unit provides a mechanism for the review of cases to make sure justice was served, and if not, to right the wrongs of our imperfect system,” Attorney Gen. Shapiro said. “This is critically important work and our focus will be to collaborate with Pennsylvania counties lacking the necessary resources to properly revisit and analyze past convictions.”
Shapiro named Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser, a former public defender and, most recently, Somerset County District Attorney, to spearhead this new initiative.
“Lisa has a unique perspective when revisiting cases, having argued throughout her career from both sides of the courtroom,” said AG Shapiro.
“I’m proud to join the Office of Attorney General as the new Chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit. Those of us in law enforcement are working hard to keep communities safe and ensure that the system is working fairly,” said Lazzari-Strasiser. “Having been the former public defender for Cambria County and the former District Attorney for Somerset County, I can tell you it is the responsibility of prosecutors to pursue justice and correct past mistakes, even when those mistakes are made by law enforcement.”
“No justice system can be successful without the trust of the public,” said Kristine Hamann, Executive Director and Founder of Prosecutors’ Center for Excellence. “The willingness of Pennsylvania prosecutors to conduct a fearless, critical review of past convictions underscores their commitment to the pursuit of justice — both proactive and retrospective. The people of Pennsylvania are well served by this initiative.”
“Factors leading to wrongful convictions do not respect state or county boundaries,” said Marissa Bluestine, Assistant Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “While nationwide more and more exonerations are possible because of the hard work of conviction integrity units within prosecutors’ offices looking into claims of actual innocence, those efforts come largely from large jurisdictions. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s commitment to creating a unit within the Office of the Attorney General to review cases from around the state allows smaller counties the ability to revisit convictions that may lack integrity. This is a critical development for incarcerated individuals and their families. No prosecutor wants an innocent person in prison. This unit offers county prosecutors wanting to achieve justice the resources to review past convictions–an undertaking requiring many hours and devotion to looking behind a conviction.”