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Politics / Issues

Hillsborough State Attorney To Seek Out Wrongful Convictions

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Steve Newborn
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WUSF Public Media
State Attorney Andrew Warren, at microphone, with retired Judge E.J. Salcines, right; Chris Alternbernd, left, and Teresa Hall

The Hillsborough State Attorney Tuesday announced its first-ever division that looks to overturn wrongful convictions.

State Attorney Andrew Warren has created a Conviction Review Unit. That means anyone who has been convicted of a felony in Hillsborough can ask to have their case reviewed and investigated to see if a mistake has been made. He says if an innocent person has been wrongly convicted, their case would then be dismissed.

"I've held the hands of victims in courtrooms, and I’ve listened to men and women on death row for crimes they did not commit. No one benefits from convicting an innocent person. No one," Warren said.

"To know that such problems exist in our criminal justice system is gut-wrenching, as a prosecutor and as an American. Wrongful convictions tear at the very foundations of our system, and everything that prosecutors and our law enforcement partners stand for - public safety, fairness and justice," he said.

Warren says this isn't aimed at pointing out that law enforcement sometimes makes bad arrests, but is making sure that innocent people aren't convicted.

He's assembled a group of veteran judges to look at the cases. This independent panel will be made up of Judges E.J. Salcines, Chris Alternbernd, and retiring state Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince.

Quince has served on the state Supreme Court since 1998. She was the first African-American woman to serve as a state appellate judge. Alternbernd served 27 years as an appellate judge on Florida's Second District Court of Appeal. Salcines has served in a variety of legal positions, most recently serving as an appellate judge. Warren called him the "patriarch" of the Tampa legal community.

"These three prestigious jurists form an extraordinary panel," Warren said. "I'm humbled by their partnership with this office, although I'm not surprised by their continued commitment to public service and the integrity of our criminal justice system."

The unit will be run by newly-appointed Assistant State Attorney Teresa Hall, a former criminal magistrate in Indiana and Tampa.

Warren says they're expecting an influx of cases beginning this week

This is the third such unit established in the state, following Jacksonville and Orlando. He says there are about 35 review units throughout the country.

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Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
From left, retired Judge Chris Alternbernd, Teresa Hall, State Attorney Andrew Warren and retired Judge E.J. Salcines