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JACO INTERVIEW: County prosecutor is encouraged by new right to review old cases

ST. LOUIS COUNTY – Prosecutors usually try to prove the guilt of someone who has been charged, but the flip side of that duty is to rectify a wrong conviction.

A provision in Missouri Senate Bill 53 asserts that a prosecuting or circuit attorney may file a motion to vacate or set aside the judgment at any time if he or she has information that the convicted person may be innocent or may have been erroneously convicted.

MetroSTL.com interviewed St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell about the new role spelled out in the bill.

Bell pointed out that the top priority for a prosecutor was public safety, thus the need to put criminals in jail. But, he acknowledged, “If we’re going to take away people’s liberty, then we have to have safeguards in place so that if we get it wrong, that we can right that.”

He noted the importance of looking at evidence with fresh eyes.

Previously, the Attorney General had the right to bring cases back to the court, and some think politics overshadowed the decision whether to do so. The right of individual prosecutors to have convictions reviewed was unclear, Bell said. Now, that right has been made explicit.

Bell stressed that violent criminals should be held accountable and kept in prison. But he argued that many people in the criminal justice system don’t need to be there.

“There’s a whole bag of individuals, the majority of individuals, who come through the criminal justice system, who just need help,” Bell said.

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