Orlando area Democratic state Senator Randolph Bracy has filed legislation that would create an agency to review misconduct by state prosecutors in Florida that can lead to wrongful convictions.
The proposal comes as more criminal justice reform advocates are focusing on prosecutors who yield enormous power, making decisions with little oversight on whether to prosecute individuals.
The proposal would create an 11-member agency within the Department of Legal Affairs that would provide recommendations and findings relating to prosecutorial misconduct.
The information would go to the Department of Lawyer Regulation within the Florida Bar and to the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
Any citizen would be allowed to file a complaint with the Department of Legal Affairs, and the agency would be charged with investigating any “credible reports” of prosecutorial misconduct.
The panel would consist of four state prosecutors, four public defenders, and three judges, one from a district court of appeal and two from local county or circuit courts.
The governor would have the power to name one prosecutor, one public defender and all three judges. The Speaker of the House would name two public defenders and one state attorney, while the Senate President would name two state attorneys and one public defender.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a similar proposal earlier this year. That legislation allows the panel the ability to subpoena witnesses and ask for relevant records to its investigation. The Bracy bill is silent on those provisions.
Bracy also introduced legislation on Wednesday to require that each state attorney’s office in Florida create a conviction integrity review unit and an independent review panel within the state attorney’s office.
State attorneys in Duval and Hillsborough counties have created such units in the past couple of years.
Melissa Nelson in Florida’s 4th Circuit in Duval County created the first conviction integrity unit in the state last year. That unit ultimately ended up finding “no credible evidence” to conclude that two men who had been incarcerated for over 40 years were guilty of murder, and the two were exonerated and released from prison earlier this year.