Ellison launches new effort to free prisoners

Incarcerated individuals can already begin applying for reviews.

Ellison speaks at the University of Minnesota in 2016. (Lorie Shaull/Flickr)

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Twin Cities-based prosecutors began a new crusade Tuesday to review potentially wrongful convictions through a partnership with the Great North Innocence Project.

The first-of-its-kind Conviction Review Unit will review the cases of those in the Gopher State imprisoned for crimes they may not have committed. It will be funded by a two-year, $300,000 grant from the Justice Department.

According to Ellison’s office, there are dozens of similar units across the country, but Minnesota’s will be just the fourth to operate on a statewide basis through an attorney general’s office.

“The prosecutor’s job is not to exact the greatest possible punishment. It is not to win at all costs. The prosecutor’s job is to be a minister of justice,” Ellison said of the initiative. “We strive for perfection but know our system is imperfect. We will fearlessly review cases to make sure justice was served, and if not, to right those wrongs. Prosecutions where justice is not served hurt everyone and benefit no one except the true perpetrator.”

Incarcerated individuals can already begin applying for reviews and the Minnesota Department of Corrections is making applications available at all of its facilities. Ellison’s office notes that people can apply if they “believe they are wrongfully convicted or face an unjust sentence.”

The Great North Innocence Project, formerly known as the Innocence Project of Minnesota, says its mission is to “give freedom back to people in prison for crimes they did not commit.”

According to its website, the group has freed seven innocent men who spent a combined 84 years in prison.

The group has apparently been in talks with Ellison’s office since 2019 about forming the Conviction Review Unit. Ellison’s office says the CRU will accept cases for review if they “have a strong indication that the person imprisoned could be innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.”

“Are the feds giving money to the states to look into possible cases or are the feds looking for states to divert money from prosecuting current cases? With so much lawlessness and failures to prosecute, it would be crazy to pull resources away from active, current criminal cases,” a Twin Cities-based attorney told Alpha News Tuesday.

“I suspect it is just one part of the no bail, let them walk, don’t prosecute, let them out, and let them vote effort of the left. If it, instead, is limited, one-time money for a specified period of additional resources, or just an effort to provide resources to outside private groups to review and the have Legal Aid Services or some other private entity bring appeals, then that’s certainly more palatable.”