ASKED & ANSWERED: Robyn B. Frankel on newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit


By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel recently launched the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) within the department’s Criminal Appellate Division. The unit will investigate whether there is substantial evidence that shows that an individual was wrongfully accused and convicted. It will also develop strategies to rectify wrongful convictions. The attorney who will head the unit, Robyn B. Frankel, has more than 30 years of experience as a practicing attorney in trial and appellate court proceedings in state and federal courts. She has served as an adjunct professor at Oakland University’s Paralegal Program, University of Michigan Law School’s appellate clinic, and Detroit College of Law’s criminal trial practice clinic.

Thorpe: Can you give us some background on the need for this step?

Frankel: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is the state’s chief law enforcement officer and its top-ranking lawyer. She is responsible for the safety and welfare of the state’s residents on several levels.

The attorney general has an obligation to ensure justice. This means, on one hand, the office prosecutes those responsible for criminal acts and holds them accountable. But justice also requires that we take affirmative action when new evidence illustrates that a convicted person is actually innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.

In some cases, the new evidence may be the result of advancements in science and forensics, including DNA testing which was unavailable at the time of trial or the application of scientific investigative techniques developed in the years since a conviction was obtained. In other cases, the new evidence may involve facts that did not come to light until many years after an individual was imprisoned. In either scenario, it is the obligation of the attorney general to be certain that no innocent person suffers the indignity or punishment of a wrongful conviction.

Thorpe: Is there a timetable for getting the unit up and running?

Frankel: Our hope is to have the unit up and running by the end of the summer. We are currently developing an intake process and protocols so we can ensure everyone is treated fairly and equally. Our Conviction Integrity Unit is one of the first state-wide units in the country and we are consulting with others in order to create a reliable, efficient and successful system.

Thorpe: How does a person who thinks they’ve been wrongly accused contact your office? Does it have to be through an attorney?

Frankel: We will have an application that will be available both online and through the mail. Anyone will be able to make a request for investigation. An individual does not need to hire independent counsel in order to request our assistance.

Thorpe: Is there usually a working relationship between a CIU and the criminal defense bar or an innocence clinic?

Frankel: Our investigation will be completely independent. While we will accept cases that have been investigated by outside counsel or an innocence clinic, we will undertake our own investigation.

What remedial action might the attorney general take based on the findings of the unit?

Frankel: The attorney general will make all final decisions as it relates to a particular case. The remedy will be entirely dependent upon the specific facts of the case, our conclusions, and the input of the local prosecutor’s office.