The members of the Innocence Commission outside City Hall. Photo by Christine Delianne, taken July 13, 2022.

Lara Bazelon, the chair of the body that investigates potential wrongful convictions throughout San Francisco, stood on the damp steps of City Hall Wednesday morning and urged the new District Attorney to preserve the commission.  

In 2020, former District Attorney Chesa Boudin assembled a six-member team of lawyers, a medical expert, a law professor, and a judge to identify and correct causes of wrongful convictions, independent of the District Attorney’s Office. The task force is overseen by Bazelon, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, who now worries about the future of the commission following Boudin’s recall from office.  

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, Boudin’s replacement, previously expressed support for the commission when she served as the assistant district attorney to Boudin (“I love this! … Thank you!!!!”). She later quit and helped to lead a campaign to recall her former boss.

With Jenkins in office, the new DA decides whether the commission survives the transition of power. Bazelon fears the project will be diluted to a nominal entity, or disappear completely. The law professor is calling for Jenkins to demonstrate good faith by allowing the commission to continue.

That’s because it works, Bazelon says. 

In April, Joaquin Ciria walked out of a San Francisco jail after spending 32 years in prison for a murder the commission concluded he did not commit. The board spent 18 months reviewing court transcripts, interviewing key witnesses, SFPD files, and trial records before recommending the District Attorney overturn the conviction. The DA office conducted its investigation and agreed. 

“Make no mistake, this is incredibly complicated, painstaking work,” said Bazelon. “And it is dedication and experience. It also requires the ear of the DA and a willingness to take seriously our findings and recommendations.”

Ciria expressed his support for the commission over the phone from his home in San Antonio, where he is now reunited with his wife and son.

“When I walked out of jail, I thanked God for bringing the right people into my life, and that includes the Innocence Commission,” Ciria said. “We have to understand that not every person in San Francisco gets this result; to pay for a good lawyer or to pay for a good team to fight injustice.”

In California alone, 276 people have been released after serving convictions for crimes they did not commit. Their imprisonment cost taxpayers more than $275 million and deprived those convicted of a collective 2,175 years of their lives, according to a 2016 report released by the National Registry of Exonerations. 

Yet another reason why the Innocence Commission needs to stay, according to Bazelon. 

“Were we to be disbanded or replaced, what would happen is that we’d go back to the old days and were assured that there was an internal unit that was hard at work. Those units exonerated no one,” she said. 

Our query to the office of the District Attorney has not yet been returned. 

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Christine Delianne

Christine flew across the country from Long Island to the Bay Area for college. She is a junior at Stanford University, where she served as the Managing Editor for the student newspaper. Before joining Mission, she covered breaking news as an intern at Bay City News and The Sacramento Bee.

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  1. I still don’t understand why people were hell-bent on getting Boudin recalled. . .

    I really hope the Innocence Commission is here to stay. If they take it away or diminish it, I definitely will not be supporting Breed or Jenkins in the next elections.

  2. If Brooke Jenkins has an ounce of smarts, concern for justice or compassion, she will strongly support and expand this valuable program, a program she on e lauded.

  3. The Innocence Commission is a good idea, even though it’s Boudin’s idea, and I hope Jenkins keeps it.

    However, let’s not lose focus that finding people guilty is her main job. Let’s get these career criminals off the streets. Diversion is for first-time offenders. Prison was designed to keep society safe from people whose only living is crime. Boudin couldn’t tell them apart. Let’s hope Jenkins can.

    1. “However, let’s not lose focus that finding people guilty is her main job.”

      No, her main job it to find criminals guilty, not innocent people who have been wrongly arrested and charged.

      Gascon had some attorneys working for him that were too eager to find everyone guilty, regardless if they were or not. This lead to his assistant district attorney being suspended by the State Bar.