Minnesota has been awarded a federal grant to review legal cases for people believed to be innocent.
Attorney General Keith Ellison and the Innocence Project of Minnesota announced Thursday that the Innocence Project has received the $300,000 two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The grant will fund the formation of Minnesota's first-ever Conviction Review Unit, a partnership between the project and Ellison's office that will allow the state to review legal cases for people believed to be innocent.
"Prosecutors are ministers of justice. We have a duty to ensure those convicted of crimes are in fact guilty of those crimes," Ellison said in a news release.
Minnesota's Conviction Review Unit will be the fourth in the country operating through a state attorney general's office. Across the country, such units have helped initiate the exoneration of 444 people.
The units help identify, remedy and prevent wrongful decisions. Each case accepted for review will have a strong indication that the person imprisoned could be innocent.
The program will also develop policy proposals to address the most common causes of wrongful convictions and seek to identify the person or people who actually committed the crime.
Sara Jones, executive director of the Innocence Project of Minnesota, said the program is a major development in the organization's mission to seek justice for all Minnesotans.
"Every criminal case carries with it the specter of a mistake, oversight or even misconduct by law enforcement or lawyers," she said in the news release. "A Conviction Review Unit provides a powerful additional tool in the toolbox of justice for wrongfully convicted people."
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman submitted letters of support and will work cooperatively with the unit in cases that might arise from their counties.
Information about the structure and functioning of the unit will be announced in early 2021.
Zoë Jackson covers young and new voters at the Star Tribune through the Report For America program, supported by the Minneapolis Foundation.