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New Summit County Program Can Take A Second Look At Convictions

If you have been handed a criminal sentence in a Summit County courtroom, you now have another option to challenge that conviction.     It's the newly established Conviction Integrity Unit.

Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said the program was authorized by the 2020 Utah Legislature.   She said it would allow an extra-judicial fact-based review of past convictions.  

“I think that it’s an important tool for confidence that the public has in the criminal justice system, also for access to the court, another thing that’s very important.”

She said similar programs exist in Salt Lake County and Utah County, and in other states such as Pennsylvania and California.  

“These units, as they have been working around the country since approximately 2014, 2015, have exonerated factually-innocent individuals, based on either newly-discovered evidence, advances in technology such as DNA testing, alibis that were never asserted, witnesses who later recant their testimony and they were material to the conviction.  Those are all things that we as prosecutors, if we care about protecting the rights of the innocent-- before, during and after a trial—are going to want to know about.”

Olson said an applicant must be someone who was prosecuted in Summit County, but the person doesn’t have to have an attorney.

She said they can go to the County Attorney’s website, link to “Policies and Procedures”, and learn how to submit an appeal, which can be online or by an e-mail.

The applications are being received by a volunteer seven-member panel.     The Chair is County Council member, and attorney, Roger Armstrong.    

Olson said Armstrong will review an application for completeness and validity, and if it passes those thresholds, will give it a more complete review.   

Applications will then be passed onto the panel, which can make use of an investigator and lab testing.   They will be under the supervision of Olson and Chief Prosecutor Patricia Cassell.

Olson said this program is not affecting a defendant’s traditional rights of judicial appeal on legal grounds.     

“This is something that exists completely off on a different track.  We do ask the question in the application whether or not all appeals have been exhausted, or if there’s any post-conviction collateral attack pending in any court.  But the two are not attached in any way.  This is a situation where if factual innocence is determined, then the County Attorney can make petition to the District Court, to the trial court, to vacate that conviction, to commute a sentence, etc, to ensure substantial justice.”

Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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