ST. PAUL — Minnesota is one of just seven states in the country dedicating statewide resources to investigating claims of wrongful felony convictions, in hopes of restoring trust in the criminal justice system and freeing inmates who shouldn’t be behind bars.

On Tuesday, Aug. 3, the Office of Attorney General announced that it is now accepting applications from convicted people who say they’re innocent. The recently formed Conviction Review Unit, which is under the AG Office’s purview, will look into claims of wrongful convictions, potentially releasing and exonerating those found to be innocent.

“The prosecutor’s job is not to exact the greatest possible punishment. It’s not to win at all costs,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said at a Tuesday news conference in the state Capitol. “The prosecutor’s job is to be a minister of justice.”

He went on to say that the Conviction Review Unit’s success “will not be measured in terms of numbers alone or cell doors being unlocked or records being erased,” but instead “by improving community trust in the integrity of the criminal justice system.”

Carrie Sperling, who is serving as the unit’s director, said Tuesday that success will be “when the people in Minnesota feel like their voice is heard, that their case will be considered and looked at and that we will ensure that if there are wrongs in the system, we’re looking for them.”

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“I think some would say we’re at a crisis point with faith in our criminal justice system,” she said. “A lot of people have lost faith that we can actually deliver justice and that we can uncover injustices and correct them…. It’s on us to gain the trust of the public.”

The Conviction Review Unit is made possible through a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and a partnership between the AG’s Office and the Great North Innocence Project. In the realm of state programs, representatives of the unit said Tuesday that $300,000 is not that much money.

But as former Minneapolis NAACP President Leslie Redmond noted, “You know what’s less than $300,000? No money.”

Ellison added that he sees the grant as a jumping off point, and he didn’t want to wait any longer before getting started. He said he also hopes that the unit’s scope can eventually broaden to investigating whether criminal sentences are fair.

Elizer Darris, who is the co-executive director of the Minnesota Freedom Fund, spoke directly to convicted Minnesotans “currently detained behind bars right now, trying to make a decision of whether or not to put their case forward: I will tell you to do it.”

“I am imploring you, I am begging you, to make sure that your case is heard by us,” he said. “We will take a close and a very diligent look. We will have great scrutiny as we look at these cases.”

Contact the Conviction Review Unit

Those who want their cases reviewed can request an application from the AG’s office by one of these methods:

  • EMAIL: CRUinfo@ag.state.mn.us
  • PHONE: 651-296-3353
  • MAIL: The Office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Attn.: Conviction Review Unit, 445 Minnesota St., Suite 1400, St. Paul, MN 55101.

Applications will also be available at all Minnesota Department of Corrections facilities. Inmates can request an application through the Transitions Resource Center, library or case manager.

Friends and family members can help complete the application, but the applicant has to review and sign it themselves. Those who believe an applicant cannot complete an application themselves should contact the CRU to arrange assistance.