The Post-Conviction Justice Unit (PCJU) accepts for review all petitions which present claims, capable of investigation and review, which, if substantiated, would result in a finding of a wrongful conviction. Petitioners are not precluded even if they have completed a custodial sentence and/or a post-release sentence, or probation. PCJU will review convictions which were obtained in a jury trial, a bench (non-jury) trial or as a result of a knowing and voluntary guilty plea.
PCJU will initially screen petitions in a preliminary investigation to ascertain that the claims are capable of resolution by investigation and, if substantiated, probative of whether or not the conviction was wrongful. If the petition meets the foregoing criteria the case will be assigned to a Unit Assistant District Attorney who will conduct a full investigation.
PCJU investigations are not limited to the issues raised by the petition and will consider all relevant issues uncovered in the course of the investigation even if such issues were not raised during the initial prosecution of the petitioner.
PCJU will attempt to establish a cooperative investigation with a petitioner’s lawyers and/or investigators. If such a cooperation agreement is reached, all materials which are generated by PCJU and the petitioner will be shared so long as the information and/or material generated does not create a real (non-speculative) danger to any individual. The petitioner will be asked to execute a limited waiver of privilege in the interest of full disclosure and access to information pertinent to the investigation. Such cooperation and waiver are purely voluntary on the part of the petitioner and his/her representatives and, if refused, will not preclude a full and fair appraisal of the merits of the petition by PCJU.
At the conclusion of the investigation a report and recommendation will be generated by PCJU for submission to the Independent Review Panel (IRP) and the District Attorney. The petitioner is also solicited to submit a brief statement of analysis and opinion to be delivered to the IRP. The IRP will consider the submissions and may conduct such other investigation as it sees fit in reaching a recommendation for submission to the District Attorney. The District Attorney will consider all of the recommendations submitted to him and will have the sole discretion as to the disposition of the petition.
PCJU will recommend vacatur of a judgment of conviction when:
1. The investigation reveals the petitioner is Legally Innocent of the offenses for which he/she was convicted. A person is Legally Innocent when:
a. The investigation establishes the petitioner was, factually, actually innocent of the crime, or, no crime in actuality occurred.
b. The investigation establishes an insurmountable reasonable doubt, or doubts, of guilt, whether known at the time of prosecution and conviction, or discovered since the time of conviction, in an otherwise legally sufficient case.
In all cases in which there is a determination of Legal Innocence the underlying indictment will also be dismissed.
2. The investigation reveals facts, circumstances and/or events which so grossly corrupted the fact-finding process as to substantially deny the petitioner a fair trial, or, if the conviction was obtained by a guilty plea, prevented the petitioner from making a knowing decision to plead guilty. Such facts, circumstances and events include, but are not limited to: police investigative error or misconduct, prosecutorial error or misconduct, ineffective performance and assistance of trial counsel for petitioner, forensic art or science analytical error, juror misconduct, witness misconduct and witness error, whether occurring singly or in combination one with another. Such determination may be made with deference to, but notwithstanding previous adjudication(s) denying a petitioner’s claim of a due process violation based upon the same or similar facts, circumstances or events.
The PCJU is also charged with reviewing excessive sentencing.