Colorado AG and Denver DA sued over post-conviction review records

From The Colorado Independent: Colorado’s Attorney General and Denver’s District Attorney are hiding records from a $2.6 million project to identify wrongful convictions, according to a lawsuit filed this morning.

The plaintiff’s concern: That prosecutors likely rejected cases that warrant DNA testing.

The Justice Review Project was a joint effort between the AG’s and Denver DA’s offices for which both voluntarily applied for federal Justice Department funding. Between 2010 and 2014, their staffs were supposed to carefully scrutinize the cases of prisoners convicted of certain violent crimes to determine if DNA tests might show some are actually innocent.

Out of about 5,000 cases eligible for review, prosecutors running the project deemed only one to be worthy of testing — and only after a privately funded DNA test already had shown that the defendant, Robert Dewey, was likely innocent of the murder for which he was convicted. The Colorado Independent has learned that if the Justice Review Project hadn’t made a special exception to consider Dewey’s case, its own criteria not to review cases in which DNA evidence already had been tested would have disqualified it for further testing.

That revelation raises questions about the thoroughness of the project and about how many other potential innocence cases the teams of prosecutors may have passed over. It also raises questions about the state’s assertion that having identified only one wrongful conviction out of about 5,000 convictions affirms the integrity of all those other cases and “is a validation that the Colorado criminal justice system is robust and serving the ends of justice.”

“The AG’s position is that taxpayers shouldn’t have access to the fruits of an investigation that cost millions of tax dollars, an investigation that sure seems to have been bungled,” said Boulder civil rights attorney Elizabeth Wang. “The claim that only a single case out of over 5,000 merited DNA testing — and that, therefore, the Colorado justice system is serving the ends of justice — is very difficult to believe, and the only way for taxpayers to know is to see the records.”

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