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October 20, 2021

No one wants a person to be sent to prison for a crime that person did not commit. But when someone is found to be innocent or wrongfully convicted and freed, people treat the original conviction as a random error, a fluke, or the result of the actions of a bad apple in the system. Wrongful convictions, however, are not random errors or flukes, but the accepted by-product of a criminal legal system functioning as intended.

The reality is that wrongful convictions are actually a critical warning sign of systemic disfunction. The first step on the journey to fixing that disfunction and to real change is to realize that systemic problems require systemic solutions. And realizing that requires to look at the criminal legal system in a new way.

David Lewis is an Assistant District Attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston, Massachusetts. He was hired by District Attorney Rachael Rollins in December, 2019 to be the first Chief of her newly-created Integrity Review Bureau. In the two years he has been Chief of the unit, the IRB has provided relief to ten people who were wrongfully convicted or convicted unjustly and who had been incarcerated for a combined total of 321 years. Not having to pay for these men to be incarcerated has already conservatively saved the Commonwealth in excess of $1,000,000.

Prior to joining the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, David was an appellate attorney for over twenty years whose practice focused on civil and criminal appeals in state and federal court. During his career, he litigated over 150 appeals with published opinions in 26 cases. He has chaired and presented at multiple appellate CLE seminars and is the author of several surveys and articles on appellate advocacy. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at ted.com/tedx

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