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Utah County announces new effort to review claims of wrongful convictions

Photo: Getty Images

PROVO, Utah – The Utah County Attorney is launching a new effort to take a closer look at convictions coming out of his office. He’s calling on people who feel they were wrongly convicted to have the county take another look at their case.

Before he was the Utah County Attorney, David Leavitt was the Juab County Attorney. He remembers a time when a civilian paid for DNA testing for Utah State Prison inmates who were convicted for crimes that happened in Juab County before his tenure. The testing revealed two of those convicted Utah County felons were actually both wrongful convictions.

“I understood, through difficult and hard experiences, that the government often is wrong,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt reported one of those wrongly convicted people had already served four years of a five-year sentence.

He said, “It was a life-changing experience to stand on the steps of the 4th District Court in Provo, which is where we conducted the hearing, and apologize on behalf of the state of Utah to the defendants and their families.”

Leavitt announced the Conviction Integrity Unit, which allows people to apply to have their cases looked over. The county attorney’s website specifies which cases qualify, saying they have to be felony or misdemeanor crimes committed in Utah County and the applications have to be based on credible and verifiable evidence of innocence.

“The Conviction Integrity Unit, with the blessing of the Utah County Commission, will have independent investigatory authority,” Leavitt said.

The Utah County Commission considered making its own conviction review board but decided against it because of “problems with the process.” However, Commissioner Bill Lee believes they feel the county attorney’s office can help the process move in a more appropriate way.