If you have ever watched The Innocence Files on Netflix and wondered whether there is a similar program for Hillsborough County, the answer is yes. Under the direction of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, the Conviction Review Unit (CRU) was established in 2018. Since its inception, it has received 237 requests and has reviewed 177 cases.
The purpose of the CRU is to identify, remedy and prevent wrongful convictions. The CRU is led by Attorney Teresa Hall. The conviction must have been for a felony and must have occurred in the 13th Circuit of Florida (Hillsborough County). If someone believes that they or someone they know has been wrongfully convicted of a felony by trial or plea agreement, they must submit a petition.
Hall explained that the petition, which can be found by visiting www.innocencefilestampa.com, was drafted so that a layperson can prepare it.
Hall stressed that if anyone has a question about whether they should submit a petition, “I welcome anyone to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 274-1954.”
The CRU cannot act as your attorney, but it will answer questions as best as it can. If you are represented by an attorney, the petition must be submitted by your attorney.
The claim must be supported by information or evidence not previously litigated before the original trier of fact (judge or jury).
Examples of grounds that would merit review would include information about an alibi witness or fact witness that was not called or not available and is now available.
A second example would be misidentification of the petitioner as the perpetrator. False confession is another example. This is especially true for a youth. If you were coerced into making a confession or someone in authority lied and made promises that were never kept, this would be an example of a coerced confession.
One more example would be if the conviction was based on junk science. At the time, an expert witness may have testified based on science that has since been shown to be unreliable. If that is the case, this would be an example of a reason why the CRU might agree to review the case.
The CRU consists of dedicated attorneys, investigators and support staff. An Independent Review Panel, composed of legal experts outside of the State Attorney’s Office, collaborates with the CRU to provide additional analysis and evaluation of cases under review.
If, following the review and investigation, the CRU identifies a wrongful conviction, the State Attorney’s Office will remedy the conviction, possibly by dismissing the underlying charges and convictions and will take appropriate measures to prevent similar wrongful convictions.
Reviews can take a very long time. The length depends on many factors, including the age and complexity of the case, the information available and the number of petitions to be processed.
This review is an extrajudicial process and there is no right of appeal from declination by the CRU. All decisions made by the CRU, including the decision to accept a petition regarding reopening a case investigation as well as how the claim will be investigated and resolved, are at the discretion of the 13th Circuit State Attorney’s Office.
Locally, the CRU is in the process of reviewing a case where a robbery occurred in Valrico. Both the victim and the defendant reside in Valrico.
Hall came to Hillsborough County from Indiana. She was a prosecutor in Indiana for eight years and served as a judge for three years. Hall initially went to work for the Hillsborough County Public Defender’s Office.
Hall explained, “When the CRU was created, I thought I would be a good fit for, given my experience.” Hall added, “This was Andrew Warren’s idea, but he has let me be creative. He is great to work for and is truly a leader in the state of Florida.”
For more information on the Conviction Review Unit, please visit www.innocencefilestampa.com.
If you believe that you or a family member have been wrongfully convicted of a felony, please contact the CRU by emailing email@example.com or call 274-1954.