The Conviction Integrity Unit (“CIU”) investigates claims of actual innocence and wrongful convictions by persons who have been convicted by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and do not have a pending post-conviction writ.
The purpose of the CIU’s investigation of claims of actual innocence is to determine if newly discovered or newly available evidence exists to establish that the convicted person is actually innocent by a clear and convincing standard of proof. “Newly discovered” or “newly available” evidence is evidence that was either not known to the claimant or could not be known to the claimant with the exercise of due diligence at the time of trial, plea, or post-trial motions. Consequently, factual questions that have already been decided by a judge or jury and evidence that has already been presented at trial or a post-conviction proceeding are not newly discovered or newly available evidence.
The CIU’s focus is to determine whether new evidence establishes that an innocent person has been wrongfully convicted and if so, work to obtain appropriate relief. The CIU does not make findings or determinations of actual innocence or wrongful conviction. It is incumbent upon the convicted person to file a writ of habeas corpus seeking a court finding or determination that the convicted person is actually innocent or was wrongfully convicted.
The answers to the questions below are general guidelines. It is recognized that each case is unique and may warrant a different approach depending upon the facts and circumstances.
Who may request CIU review?
A person convicted of a state offense by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, whether a felony or misdemeanor, or anyone authorized to act on behalf of such convicted person may request CIU to review a conviction. There is no requirement that the convicted person be in custody or reside in Harris County, Texas, to request CIU review.
While a family member, friend, or attorney may request CIU review, the convicted person must be the one asserting his or her innocence and must provide a detailed account of his or her claim.
How do I request CIU review?
All requests must be submitted in writing, either by written correspondence or email. Upon receipt of a request, the CIU may send an intake form to the convicted person or, if represented by counsel, his or her attorney requesting specific details which will enable the CIU to review the case. The CIU will initiate its review once it receives the intake form completed by the convicted person.
While the CIU does not require an intake form to be signed under penalty of perjury, all claimants should be aware that a record is kept of the claimant’s submission and that information is not considered privileged or confidential. The information provided by the claimant is available for review by other personnel in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
What cases are accepted for review?
The CIU reviews claims of actual innocence and wrongful conviction which can be proven by newly discovered or newly available evidence. Generally, the CIU review seeks to determine whether the claim can be supported by evidence that can be subjected to credible forensic analysis. The CIU will also review claims where there is clear and convincing proof that the conviction relied on false or unreliable evidence (e.g., witness misidentification, perjury, false confession, official misconduct, false or misleading forensic science).
What cases are not accepted for review?
The CIU will not consider requests for time cuts or sentence reductions.
The CIU will not consider claims of actual innocence or wrongful conviction based solely on ineffective assistance of counsel, the credibility of witnesses that cannot be supported by objectively verifiable evidence, mere assertions of wrongdoing, or speculation.
The CIU will not consider claims based solely on witness recantation without objective corroborating evidence (Example: Claimant is convicted of assault. The victim thereafter presents a sworn statement recanting the original accusation. In the absence of evidence to corroborate the recantation – e.g., records showing the victim or claimant were not at the scene of the assault at the same time; video recordings showing the assault did not occur as originally reported – the recantation is insufficient to justify an investigation).
The CIU will not consider claims where the newly discovered evidence supports an affirmative defense such as consent, self-defense, or lack of intent.
The CIU will not review capital murder death penalty cases. Those cases are handled by the Post-Conviction Writs Division, even if an application for a writ of habeas corpus is not pending. The dormant nature of the capital habeas litigation does not foreclose involvement by the Post-Conviction Writs Division because, by definition, death penalty cases are always on active post-conviction appeal.
The CIU will not review claims during the pendency of a writ. The CIU only reviews claims that are made before a writ of habeas corpus has been filed or after the disposition of a writ.
Will the CIU review cases where the convicted person confessed or pled guilty?
Yes. However, the convicted person must provide an explanation of the circumstances which caused him or her to confess or plead to the offense.
Must the convicted person waive his or her attorney-client privilege?
No. The CIU does not require the convicted person to waive his or her attorney-client privilege before investigating a claim of actual innocence or wrongful conviction. If the investigation reaches a point where it may be necessary or appropriate to obtain a waiver of the attorney-client privilege, the CIU reserves the right to request a waiver before proceeding further with its investigation.
Who will review the claim?
The CIU is staffed by full-time attorneys, a paralegal, and an investigator who are all independent of the Appellate and Post-Conviction Writs Divisions. The CIU personnel are not involved in the investigation or prosecution of any pending criminal cases. Additionally, any investigators and prosecutors who investigated and prosecuted the case under review would not collaborate with or influence the CIU in the review, evaluation, or investigation of the claim.
What happens once a claim is submitted for CIU review?
The CIU review process is a multi-step process that is dependent upon such factors as (1) the nature of the claim, (2) the details provided by the claimant supporting a claim of actual innocence or wrongful conviction, (3) analysis of the procedural history of the case, and (4) the availability of law enforcement reports, evidence, results of forensic analysis, case pleadings, and records of court proceedings.
The review process begins with an evaluation of whether the claim is eligible for review. Once satisfied that the claim is eligible for review, the CIU reviews available reports, evidence, results of forensic analysis, court records, and other relevant materials to determine whether the claim may be supported by newly discovered or newly available evidence. If the CIU review determines that the claimant’s allegations have sufficient evidentiary support to merit further investigation, then the CIU will refer the claimant to a district court for appointment of counsel to assist the claimant with the investigation in preparation for an application for a writ of habeas corpus. If a pre-writ claim of actual innocence or wrongful conviction does not merit further investigation, the CIU will send the claimant a letter informing the claimant of its decision and close the matter.
Does the CIU represent the claimant?
No. Legal and ethical standards constrain the CIU from providing legal representation to individuals who submit claims of actual innocence or wrongful convictions. There is no attorney-client relationship between the staff of the CIU and such claimants. The CIU’s role is to represent the State’s interests in avoiding the imposition of criminal sanctions on actually innocent persons.
Does the CIU grant relief?
No. The CIU does not make findings or determinations of actual innocence or wrongful conviction. It is incumbent upon the convicted person to file a writ of habeas corpus seeking a court finding or determination that the convicted person is actually innocent or was wrongfully convicted.
What if the claimant disagrees with the CIU’s decision?
The claimant does not have any legal right to have the CIU review his or her claim, and there is no legal right to appeal the CIU’s decision. A claimant may contact other innocence clinics and organizations if the claimant wishes to have another entity review his or her claim.