Justice Services encompasses a number of functions essential to securing justice to crime victims and the community. These include the Writs, Appeals and Training Unit and the Public Integrity Unit.
Justice Services is managed by the Special Assistant District Attorney, who serves as the Conviction Integrity deputy. The Special Assistant also prepares legal opinions on miscellaneous subjects, prepares and edits some of our office publications, handles special civil law matters, responds to Public Records Act requests and civil subpoenas, processes requests for U Visa certifications, analyzes misconduct issues under Brady v. Maryland, and enforces Brown Act open-meeting laws. The Special Assistant serves as liaison on the Brown Act and other civil law and municipal law matters to local government attorneys who are advising the county’s ten incorporated cities and its dozens of special districts.
As the United States Supreme Court recognized in Berger v. United States, the twofold aim of the prosecutor “is that guilt shall not escape nor innocence suffer.” While the trial and appellate process contain important safeguards for those accused of crime, we recognize that the criminal justice system is a human institution and cannot be perfect.
The Chief Deputy District Attorney, in their capacity as Conviction Integrity Deputy, reviews claims of factual innocence made by persons who have been convicted of a crime. The Conviction Integrity Deputy will conduct an initial inquiry to determine whether further review and/or investigation is necessary to evaluate the claim. Where appropriate, the review may include review of transcripts, evaluation of forensic evidence in light of new scientific knowledge, additional forensic tests, witness interviews, or other investigation. The Conviction Integrity process supplements the appellate process to avoid the possibility of an innocent person being punished for a crime they did not commit.
Defendants claiming that they are innocent of a crime of which they have been convicted have the initial burden to produce evidence of innocence. The request shall be made in writing to Chief Deputy District Attorney Rachelle Dean, at the District Attorney’s main office address listed here. The request must raise a meaningful claim of factual innocence and not be merely a request for re-sentencing, a re-weighing of conflicting evidence or for relief from immigration consequences. The fact that claims have been previously rejected by a trial court or appellate court will not necessarily preclude further inquiry. Whether a case should be dismissed after conviction based upon factual innocence will be carefully considered by a designated review committee.
Please click here to view a 27 minute recorded episode of a “LA Round Table” where guests including former Special Assistant District Attorney Michael Schwartz recently discussed conviction integrity issues.
To more humanely address the too-common crossover between mental health conditions and criminal behavior, the District Attorney’s Office created a Mental Health Unit in 2021. With two mental health unit attorney positions having been approved last year by the Board of Supervisors, the unit is currently comprised of four attorneys and one paralegal, who handle Mental Health Court, Mental Health Diversion, Veteran’s Treatment Court, and civil mental health commitments. These specialty courts focus on treatment of the underlying mental illness and successful completion of an approved treatment plan that can result in dismissal of their pending charges.
In addition, cases involving defendants who are severely mentally ill and dangerous, and need to be civilly committed, are handled by a dedicated prosecutor. Some of these offenders are found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) for crimes charged against them and receive treatment in locked psychiatric hospitals such as Patton State Hospital. They are not released into the public unless they are restored to competency and are deemed to no longer pose a danger to the community.
Other offenders that have been convicted of an underlying violent offense who are deemed severely mentally ill and dangerous at the end of their regular prison commitment may be ordered to remain in a locked facility.
Writs, Appeals and Training
The Writs, Appeals and Training Unit files and responds to writs and appeals in state courts, including the California Supreme Court, California Court of Appeal and Superior Court Appellate Division. The unit also responds to habeas corpus petitions in state and federal courts. The attorneys in the unit handle approximately 100 writs and appeals per year.
Responses to defense writs and appeals in completed felony cases are handled by the State Attorney General. The District Attorney’s Office responds to writs in felony cases that are still pending trial, writs in misdemeanor cases and misdemeanor appeals. The District Attorney’s Office also initiates and handles People’s appeals and People’s writs in misdemeanor and felony cases. The District Attorney’s Office ordinarily does not file briefs or participate in oral argument in traffic infraction cases.
The unit also coordinates the ongoing continuing education program for prosecutors, runs the training program for new prosecutors and contributes to training for District Attorney Investigators, other law enforcement agencies and at the Sheriff’s Academy.