Dauphin County Creates New Model for Conviction Integrity Units

By Chloe Clifford, Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of unsplash.com

Since 1989, over 3,249 people have been exonerated with more than 27,200 years lost.[1] In Pennsylvania alone, over 100 people have been exonerated since 1992.[2] Many of those who were exonerated had served more than 15-30 years of their sentence.[3] In recent years, wrongful convictions have become more publicized and well documented. In 2014, International Wrongful Conviction Day was created—it is now recognized worldwide on October 2nd.[4]

Many agencies have been created to help those who have been wrongfully convicted. Founded in 2005, the Innocence Network has over 71 affiliate organizations and has helped to exonerate 717 individuals.[5] While the Innocence Network may be one of the largest organizations working to correct wrongful convictions, there are also other organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative, The Center on Wrongful Convictions, and many others. [6]

In addition to the organizations that focus on wrongful convictions, District Attorney’s Offices are beginning to take an internal look at their offices’ convictions. Since 2002, over 90 conviction integrity units have been created by District Attorney and Attorney General’s offices.[7] These units are created to re-examine questionable convictions and prevent future errors.[8] Organizations, like the Innocence Project, have released recommendations and best practices, to help those offices wanting to create conviction integrity unit.[9]

Pennsylvania has five such conviction integrity units. Philadelphia County has its own formal unit while Center County and Chester County have created informal units within their offices.[10] The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office created a unit in 2020 to examine cases for counties who do not have their own conviction integrity units.[11] In the two years since being created, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s unit has received over 1,073 applications for review.[12] In order for cases to be eligible for review, all other methods of appeal must have been exhausted and there must be a claim of factual innocence. The units are not designed to help with cases dealing with technicalities or mistakes in a case where the defendant is factually guilty.[13]

Dauphin County is looking at a new way to review problematic past convictions.[14] Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo is possibly the first to create a conviction integrity unit that will operate outside where the prosecutors work.[15] The Dauphin County Conviction Integrity Unit will be headed by Joshua Lock, a longtime defense attorney, and his law firm.

Lock will be paid a flat fee of $50,000 per year, instead of receiving an hourly rate, since he wishes to be diligent and give each case the time and attention that it deserves, without running a large tab for the county as he understands that each application could be an incarcerated person’s final chance to be proven innocent.[16]

The cases will come from applications sent to the Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, with 66 people convicted in Dauphin County having already filed applications for review.[17] Chardo has already assigned Lock two cases to review. Lock plans to respond to each application that with a detailed report which outlines his work and whether he believes a wrongful conviction may have occurred. [18]

Out of the applications that the Attorney General’s Office has received, Dauphin County’s 66 applications is the second most, behind Allegheny County’s 90, not including Philadelphia County which receives its own applications.[19]

[1]  https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/Conviction-Integrity-Units.aspx


[3] Id.


[5] https://innocencenetwork.org/directory

[6] https://ncrj.org/if-you-seek-our-help/


[8] https://www.innocenceproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Conviction-Integrity-Unit.pdf

[9] Id.

[10] https://www.pennlive.com/news/2022/09/dauphin-county-prosecutors-office-hires-longtime-defense-attorney-to-find-wrongful-convictions.html

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] https://www.pennlive.com/news/2022/09/dauphin-county-prosecutors-office-hires-longtime-defense-attorney-to-find-wrongful-convictions.html

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

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