After being in place for 18 months, Connecticut’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) hasn’t proven itself. In truth, it hasn’t proven anything at all.
For one, the hyperlink on the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office’s website that once connected an interested party to more information about the CIU is now removed, with no indication of whether it will be re-established.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget established the CIU and allocated $363,382 to pay the salaries of a paralegal, a prosecutor and a police inspector for the unit.
Former Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo, creator of the CIU, is out after retiring this year after Connecticut’s Criminal Justice Commission commenced an investigation into his hiring the daughter of former-Office of Policy and Management Deputy Secretary Konstantinos Diamantis as he was pressuring Diamantis to hike the salaries of his office’s employees.
As of May 12, 2022, Patrick J. Griffin is the Chief State’s Attorney and he hasn’t made one public statement about the CIU. An email sent to his office requesting comment or an interview wasn’t answered.
The only clues the public can glean about this unit come from publicly posted minutes of Chief State’s Attorney’s Office meetings.
On March 7, 2022, days before his retirement, former CSAO Colangelo announced to other prosecutors he had invited former Supreme Court Judge Peter Zarella and Public Defender Barry Butler and they had accepted his invitation to become part of the CIU’s Advisory Board.
No other members of the Advisory Board have ever been identified. Deputy Assistant State’s Attorney Thay Chhay said in an email that there are two other board members, state’s attorneys who serve in a rotating fashion.
But they’re not identified either.
While posting meeting minutes online is arguably a form of transparency, disclosure is clearly prioritized for prosecutors, not the public. The average Connecticut resident gets to peep through the keyhole of these meetings, an opening whose circumference is determined by the Chief State’s Attorney.
State’s Attorney Joseph Valdes identifies himself as part of the Conviction Integrity Unit but it’s not clear why he was appointed to this role and when. Valdes shared the protocols for reviewing convictions with other states’ attorneys at a meeting of prosecutors last December, according to minutes of the meeting posted online, but the protocols haven’t been posted publicly.
The CSAO hasn’t published the process of applying for relief from the office. It’s not clear how the aspiring exoneree even accesses the relief offered by the CIU.
Adrian “Pete” Acosta, who identifies himself as the Supervisory Police Inspector of the Conviction Integrity Unit in his email signature (Acosta’s LinkedIn profile doesn’t say he’s with the Conviction Integrity Unit, only with the Division of Criminal Justice – Chief State’s Attorney’s Office) supplied a copy of the protocols via email, but there’s no public announcement that Acosta is the person to contact to request this document.
The CIU could be hard at work clearing people right now. But the public should know that, at least according to the Institute for Fair and Just Prosecution, an organization that connects “prosecutive leaders” to research and best practices. Fair and Just Prosecution recommends CIU’s be as “open-facing as possible” and issue an annual report on the unit’s activities.
While it’s true that Griffin has been in his current position helming prosecution in the state for less than a year, his short tenure doesn’t excuse him in opening up this office to the public or providing a report. Colangelo should have issued an annual report last December. Instead, there are none. The public has no means to know the status of the unit’s existence, much less its work.
But if it was operating optimally, then the CIU would understand the need for transparency. Early CIU’s operated internally and with relative opacity. The way doesn’t create the preventive accountability that CIUs are designed to foster.
Even Colangelo’s vision of the CIU was fundamentally flawed. By Colangelo’s design, two former prosecutors and a judge would make the final determinations on actual innocence claims. This plan entrenched the power that prosecutors and judges already have within the system, a power Colangelo believed in. To wit, in his responses to a survey administered by the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union, Colangelo said he didn’t support the Connecticut General Assembly’s passing legislation creating the CIU; he was simply going to create one himself.
While on the surface that may look like a commitment to progressive justice, it was just another instance of prosecutors thinking that they have fiat power and unlimited discretion that should never be subject to oversight, the very problems that lead to so many wrongful convictions in the first place.
Besides what one chief state’s attorney giveth, another one can taketh away. That might be politically problematic, but as long as the unit isn’t statutorily created, it’s a possibility.
Yale Law School Professor Fiona Doherty told the Connecticut Examiner in 2021: “It can be worse to have a CIU that does not function properly than [to] not have a CIU at all.”
Doherty’s correct but Connecticut isn’t even in a position to make an assessment; very few people know if the CIU is functioning at all.
Bozelko served more than six years at the York Correctional Institution. While she was incarcerated for non-violent crimes that remain on appeal, Bozelko published a book of poetry entitled Up the River: An Anthology (Bleakhouse, 2013).