Criminals who never got caught for past crimes in Santa Clara County should be looking over their shoulders, while persons wrongly convicted may have new hope under policies announced this week by Jeff Rosen, who became the county's new district attorney Monday.
Among Rosen's first acts Wednesday was to create an expanded Conviction Integrity Unit that will monitor procedures relating to arrests, prosecutions and convictions of persons accused of crimes to safeguard against wrongful convictions. On Wednesday, he announced that the unit will be headed by David Angel, a deputy district attorney with about 16 years experience in a variety of positions within the DA's office.
He also announced reinstatement of the Cold Case Unit, which will follow-up on unsolved serious crimes, primarily murder and rape cases, working with local police agencies, Rosen said in an interview with the Palo Alto Weekly. He said he is currently evaluating who would best head that unit.
Both units were disbanded by former District Attorney Dolores Carr, who cited budgetary reasons. But she lost a bid for re-election last November to Rosen, who mounted a strong challenge with support from retired District Attorney George Kennedy and others. Kennedy retired in 2007.
Rosen also announced the appointment of Ian Fitch as the new director of the county Crime Lab, replacing retiring Director Benny DelRe. Fitch was most recently the crime-lab director in Colorado Springs and formerly was a supervisor for the Santa Clara County lab.
Rosen said Fitch is "highly respected and is known as an expert in DNA," and that he was chosen from several "exceptionally well-qualified candidates" for the position.
Rosen said the Conviction Integrity Unit is based a so-called Innocence Project that Kennedy created a decade ago but was named after a similar unit in Dallas, Texas. Rosen said he felt "conviction integrity" was broader and better described the scope of what the unit will do which includes developing best-practices for police and prosecutors to minimize the chances of wrongful convictions.
Angel, a graduate of the Harvard Law School, pioneered the creation of Kennedy's project, which resulted in three exonerations, including someone who had been sentenced to life in prison, and two lesser cases. Angel resides in San Francisco with his wife, Jana Clark, a deputy city attorney there, and their three children.
Rosen said the integrity unit will work with defense attorneys and the Northern California Innocence Project, based at Santa Clara University.
He said Kennedy's creation of such a unit was "a very forward-looking, progressive move," and a model.
"What I'm creating here really builds and expands on what George Kennedy was doing before," Rosen said.
He said Angel will have supervisory authority over the office's law-and-motions team, "where many issues relating to prosecutorial misconduct or police misconduct come up." He said he will also be a liaison with police agencies in terms of helping with training and reviewing of how cases are handled.
Angel will report to Jay Boyarsky, recently announced as Rosen's chief assistant. Boyarsky formerly supervised the North County DA's office in Palo Alto.
Rosen also announced that he will be eliminating the office's public-information staff and shifting much of the responsibility for getting information out via the media to prosecuting attorneys.
"It's more efficient, and we have less kind of telephone tag," and the prosecutors know most about the cases, he said of the move. A weekly summary of significant cases will continue to be issued, he said.
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