“The District Attorney’s Office is committed to public service, fairness and justice for all. Our focus is on protecting vulnerable victims from violent crimes and to make sure victims have the best lawyer in the courtroom. Our mission is to make Nashville a safe place to raise a family and grow a business.
Establishing a CRU serves the goal of implementing best practices in the criminal justice system. The Nashville community deserves a prosecutor’s office that will seriously and conscientiously consider claims of actual innocence where newly discovered evidence exists.
This office is committed to supporting victims by vigorous prosecution, while at the same time ensuring that the actual perpetrator is prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced.”
–Glenn R. Funk, District Attorney
OUR MISSION IS TO DO JUSTICE ALWAYS
The Conviction Review Unit of the District Attorney’s Office is charged with identifying and investigating past convictions for credible claims of actual innocence.
In doing so, this unit strives to increase transparency, integrity and trust in the criminal justice system by admitting error and holding publicly accountable those who have abused their positions of authority.
In accordance with our ethical and moral responsibilities, when a CRU investigation results in the discovery of clear and convincing new evidence of actual innocence, we will notify the court and seek to vacate those convictions.
CONVICTION REVIEW UNIT: NASHVILLE’S HISTORY
Wrongful convictions, while rare, occur. Sometimes, they occur because of inaccurate or evolving science, new evidence that was not available at the time of prosecution, various forms of bias, human error and a myriad of other reasons that may also include misconduct.
The result can mean imprisoning innocent people for years while allowing guilty parties to go free, preventing justice for victims and further endangering our community.
In the last few years, as the culture of prosecution has evolved, District Attorney offices around the country began recognizing this work cannot be left solely to the defense bar and Innocence Projects. District Attorneys started to set up dedicated units known as either Conviction Review or Conviction Integrity units.
When District Attorney Glenn Funk took office, he committed to changing the culture of prosecution in the Nashville office, and in keeping that promise he formed the only Conviction Review Unit in the state of Tennessee. At the time the Nashville CRU was formed, there were only 25 units nationwide.
District Attorney Glenn Funk firmly believes the inherent duty of prosecutors is to seek truth and to do justice. This means not just securing convictions but identifying and seeking to remedy past wrongs. We owe this to victims, to the community and to those facing our justice system.
In 2017, members of the District Attorney’s office senior leadership traveled to several DA’s offices nationwide with standard-setting Conviction Integrity/Review Units to learn their best practices and implementation processes. Former Shelby County Chief Public Defender, Robert Jones, took charge of the formation effort and was the first leader of the Nashville Conviction Review Unit.
In 2020, District Attorney Funk recruited Sunny Eaton, a former criminal defense attorney, to the position of Director of the Conviction Review Unit, further demonstrating this Office’s clear commitment to unit independence, transparency and holding former prosecutors and law enforcement officials accountable. During this same time period, armed with the experience and knowledge gained from the first years of the unit’s work, revisions were made to unit policies and workflow practices. This has resulted in swift actions to exonerate 5 wrongfully convicted persons within the last year and 6 since the unit’s inception.
Future goals for the Conviction Review Unit include sentencing review and addressing sentencing inequities.
CONVICTION REVIEW UNIT: OUR APPROACH
Cases come to the Conviction Review Unit by means including application, referral or upon the occurrence of a sentinel event. Examples of sentinel events may include the discovery of a pattern of misconduct from a person in an investigative or prosecutorial role or a change in science that significantly changes our understanding of critical evidence.
To prevent bias or the appearance of impropriety, Conviction Review Unit attorneys do not prosecute cases in the Criminal Court nor do they review any cases where they had a prosecutorial or supervisory role in a case or if they engaged in prior representation of the applicant or critical witnesses. The Conviction Review Unit also declines to review cases where the elected Nashville District Attorney has a prior relationship to the case or applicant.
In order to avoid bias or influence, except for the purpose of seeking specific facts necessary for the investigation and until the completion of an investigation and final recommendation, CRU attorneys do not inform nor consult the law enforcement officers or prosecutors who handled the original case.
As a general matter, the Conviction Review Unit will not review cases where there are matters pending in Federal Court. This is the default guideline for cases with matters pending in State court as well, however, in the sole discretion of the CRU Director, cases with matters pending in state court will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The Nashville Conviction Review Unit does not decline to review cases solely because a plea of guilt was entered by the applicant. These cases will be evaluated in the same manner as all other applications containing new evidence of actual innocence.
The Nashville Conviction Review Unit will only review cases that occurred in Davidson County. To this date, there are no other counties with Conviction Review Units in the State of Tennessee. If your case is within another county and is a claim of actual innocence, we recommend you contact the Tennessee Innocence Project.
CRU attorneys review cases for overlooked evidence, eyewitness misidentification, inaccurate or evolved science, false confessions, unreliable testimony, police or prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective counsel. We only review cases including claims of ineffective assistance of counsel or of constitutional violations where there is also new evidence of actual innocence. Central to any CRU review must be new evidence of actual innocence not previously presented to a jury.
A CRU investigation is thorough and can be an extremely lengthy process. These investigations may face challenges distinct from those in an original case presentation. Often, many years have passed, witnesses may be unavailable or have failing memories, and evidence may have been lost or destroyed.
Every case is evaluated for contributing government misconduct including a form of misconduct called a Brady violation – a situation where favorable information that supports a defendant’s case, including exculpatory evidence, is not provided to the defendant’s legal team at the time of trial.
In recognizing that inaccurate or evolving science sometimes contributes to wrongful convictions, CRU attorneys may consult experts to assist them in their quest to evaluate a prior conviction.
In cases where a person was wrongfully convicted, attorneys in this unit take corrective action as quickly as possible in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 3.8 Sections (g) and (h), which states:
When a prosecutor knows of new, credible and material evidence creating a reasonable likelihood that a convicted defendant did not commit an offense of which the defendant was convicted, the prosecutor shall:
- If the conviction was obtained outside the prosecutor’s jurisdiction, promptly disclose that evidence to an appropriate authority; or
- If the conviction was obtained in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction, undertake further investigation, or make reasonable efforts to cause an investigation, to determine whether the defendant was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit.
When a prosecutor knows of clear and convincing evidence establishing that a defendant was convicted in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction of an offense that the defendant did not commit, the prosecutor shall seek to remedy the conviction.
The Nashville Conviction Review Unit is currently developing more streamlined ways to submit requests for case review given the vast majority of current requests come from unrepresented individuals still serving prison sentences who have limited access to digital tools.
MEASURING OUR WORK
Since its inception, the Nashville Conviction Review Unit has sought exonerations in 6 cases. We currently have several active investigations and approximately 80 cases awaiting review. We receive an average of 5-10 applications per month and reviewed 83 cases in 2021. At the heart of our efforts is the belief that we must act with urgency. To that end, we are consistently striving to implement procedures and tools that will increase the efficiency of our investigations.
Maintaining the trust of the Nashville community through transparency, efficiency and improving practices will always remain a focus of the Nashville Conviction Review Unit. As a result, in 2021, The Nashville Scene named the Nashville District Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit Nashville’s “Best Promise Kept.”
Not only is the Conviction Review Unit reviewing cases to determine if a wrongful conviction has occurred, but we are also compiling data and working to identify patterns or factors leading to wrongful convictions. CRU Attorneys engage in regular continued legal education on issues of bias, evidence collection and analysis, investigation best practices and scientific advances.
With each case where we have taken remedial actions, we engage in information sharing with other Conviction Review/Conviction Integrity Units and provide case information to the National Registry of Exonerations to contribute to a broader understanding of how we may prevent these tragedies in the future.
HOW TO APPLY FOR REVIEW OF A CONVICTION
NOTICE: THERE IS NO LEGAL RIGHT TO A CONVICTION REVIEW UNIT (CRU) EVALUATION OF YOUR CASE.
THE CRU IS AN ARM OF THE NASHVILLE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE. NEITHER REVIEW OF YOUR CASE NOR RECEIPT OF YOUR APPLICATION CREATES AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.
A CRU REVIEW DOES NOT DELAY OR TOLL ANY APPLICABLE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS IN YOUR AVAILABLE LEGAL AVENUES.
A WE STRONGLY ENCOURAGE YOU TO SEEK THE ADVICE OF AN ATTORNEY TO ENSURE YOUR RIGHTS CONTINUE TO BE PROTECTED AND YOU HAVE EXPLORED ALL AVAILABLE LEGAL REMEDIES.
You may request an application by writing to:
Conviction Review Unit
222 2nd Avenue North
Washington Square Suite 500
Nashville, TN 37201
Or downloading here:
We currently in the process of developing an online submission form.
All communications with the Conviction Review Unit should be in writing. Please do not call requesting information as to the status of your application. CRU Attorneys will only communicate with applicants or applicants’ attorneys. Requests for updates by family members or other interested parties will not receive a response.
For general information, please contact CRU Director Sunny Eaton at NashvilleDACRU@jisnashville.gov