by Melissa G. Hernandez
San Francisco — The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously called on District Attorney Brooke Jenkins to preserve the independent Innocence Commission established in 2020 under former District Attorney Chesa Boudin. The Board’s approval comes days after Jenkins fired the District Attorney’s former liaison to the Innocence Commission, Arcelia Hurtado, and various other Post-Conviction Unit attorneys.
In April of this year, the Innocence Commission helped exonerate Joaquin Ciria, who was imprisoned for over 30 years for a murder he did not commit. Before the formation of the Innocence Commission in September 2020, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office had an internal Conviction Integrity Unit whose purpose was to review potential wrongful conviction cases. That unit operated for several years but did not exonerate a single person throughout its existence.
“After the District Attorney set up the commission in 2020, they looked at every piece of evidence in my case. I had prayed so long for this to happen,” stated Ciria. “All I wanted was for my name to be cleared, to see my son and my family members again outside of prison, and to take back my life.”
The Innocence Commission helped exonerate Joaquin Ciria, who was imprisoned for over 30 years for a murder he did not commit.
“Regardless of politics, if we truly believe in justice, we have to include justice for people who are wrongfully convicted or imprisoned by our system,” stated District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston. “The Innocence Commission has proven that it can fairly and efficiently do the difficult work to address harms perpetrated against individuals on behalf of the People, and we should be doing everything in our power to make sure it can continue its crucial work.”
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Innocence Commission currently operates in partnership with the University of San Francisco (USF) School of Law’s Racial Justice Clinic. The independent commission also has its own charter, a diverse membership, and a mandate to seek truth and vindicate justice by reinvestigating colorable claims of wrongful conviction and making written recommendations to the District Attorney. Under the current charter, the District Attorney gives great weight to the Innocence Commission’s recommendations but retains final discretion on all cases.
“On behalf of the Commission, we want to express our deepest appreciation to the Board of Supervisors for recognizing the crucial importance of our work – work that is painstaking, complicated and offered pro bono in service of the District Attorney’s duty to see that justice is done,” said Professor Lara Bazelon, the Innocence Commission’s Chair. “It is an honor for us to serve on the Commission and that’s what we want to continue to do because there are more wrongfully convicted people whose claims need to be heard by independent and fair-minded experts.”
Melissa G. Hernandez, an aide in the office of District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.