For attorneys who prosecute criminal cases, conviction rates can represent the same thing batting averages do for baseball players. It’s a measure of success. The prosecutor who gains the most convictions is often considered among the best in the business.
But Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe, the man who leads the team that prosecutes local crimes, realizes there is a more important aspect to the work done by his office. “Our job as prosecutors is to seek justice, not mere convictions.’’
With that overlying objective in mind, Rowe, in conjunction with the county board and Chairman Andy Wheeler, announced this week that a conviction integrity unit is being formed here to better ensure justice is served in all instances.
Rowe admits the criminal justice system is not perfect, and the wrongful convictions of innocent people do occur. It was this very dilemma that prompted former governor and Kankakee resident George Ryan to ban the death penalty in Illinois as he left office in 2003.
To protect against it happening here in the future, Rowe has called for a “truly independent set of eyes’’ to examine the process, and those eyes belong to Dan Johnson, a former Kankakee County public defender and retired firefighter with public- and private-sector legal experience.
Rowe realizes Johnson could find examples of subpar work by the state’s attorney’s office as he goes about this task. Johnson’s work will place a microscope on the office and make it vulnerable to criticism, Rowe said.
But it could also lead to the reversal of an unjust conviction, and by doing so, not only reverse the course of fate for the wrongly accused, but also his or her family.
Justice will prevail, and for anyone committed to our cherished “innocent until proven guilty’’ system, this would be deemed a major victory. Rowe sees it this way, and although his office perhaps has something to lose in the process, we applaud the determination to get it right every time.