NJ Attorney general sets up new units to review wrongful convictions, cold cases

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Thursday he has set up a new unit within his office to review wrongful convictions, along with a network aimed at solving cold cases.

Grewal announced the new efforts at his Trenton office, alongside State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan, former state Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long and other officials.

“(The) announcements are based on a simple premise: that those who are innocent should not remain in prison, and those who are guilty should not remain on the streets,” Grewal said.

The news comes after he established a task force chaired by Long and former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman last year to review the possibility of creating a unit dedicated to reviewing convictions.

Officials did not say how much the units will cost or how they will be paid for.

The task force’s report estimated 1% to 5% of convictions nationwide are wrongful.

That’s roughly 15,000 people, but the report found that there were only 148 exonerations in 2018 and about 2,400 since 1989.

The report applied those statistics to New Jersey and estimated 200 people out of roughly 19,000 in prison could be innocent. Since 1989 there have been 37 exonerations in New Jersey, according to the report.

Grewal said the wrongful convictions unit will operate statewide and get started immediately. It will be led by Carolyn Murray, a state Superior Court judge in Essex County.

The task force’s report found that 31 jurisdictions across the country have so-called Conviction Review Units, though all but four of those cover just the county.

The unit will accept innocence claims only after the defendant has exhausted all appeals.

The cold case network will be based on a northern New Jersey task force involving Bergen, Essex and Passaic counties, Grewal said.

The task force’s report doesn’t estimate how many cold cases are outstanding, but said “there are a substantial number of such cases on the docket of every county prosecutor’s office.”

The network’s day-to-day operations will be run out of the state’s county prosecutors’ offices, with support from the attorney general’s office and state police.

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