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The New Conviction Integrity Unit: Meet the Co-Directors - Criminal Justice News

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Criminal Justice News

Posted on: Jun 3, 2021

By Joseph Cermak, Marion County Prosecutor's Office

Previously, I’ve discussed one case of wrongful conviction and the creation of the conviction integrity unit at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. The co-directors of this new unit are Kelly Bauder and Jessica Cicchini. I contacted them to ask a few questions about this new opportunity to help right the wrongs of the past and prevent these types of injustices from happening again.

For more information about the Conviction Integrity Unit and to see frequently asked questions, go here.

Kelly Bauder spent most of her legal career at the Marion County Public Defender Agency representing clients charged with various criminal charges. She handled hundreds of cases from misdemeanors to major felony cases, including murder. Prior to starting with the Prosecutor’s Office, Kelly investigated and litigated cases for the Indiana Department of Education involving teacher misconduct. She is committed to upholding the integrity of the criminal justice system and ensuring all defendants are afforded due process throughout the entire process. Kelly grew up in Marion County and attended Pike High School. She obtained a bachelor's degree in social work from Ball State University and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

Jessica Cicchini has spent her entire career defending indigent clients charged criminally, in Marion County. Prior to joining the Conviction Integrity Unit, she was a Major Felony Assistant Division Chief at the Marion County Public Defender Agency, where she primarily defended people charged with homicides. Throughout her career as a defender, she has strived to follow her personal theory of criminal defense – always try to put a criminal defendant in a better position than they were when you first encountered them. She looks forward to doing just that in her new role, yet now it will be seeking justice for the wrongfully convicted. Jessica graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.A. from Eastern Michigan University and Magda Cum Laude from the University of Minnesota Law School. 

What made you want to join this new unit?

  • Bauder: The opportunity to investigate cases and determine if there have been wrongful convictions.  We were particularly interested given this is Indiana's first CIU and the challenge of setting a model for other counties across the state.
  • Cicchini: We have always been passionate about criminal law and saw this as an opportunity to continue to positively impact the lives our citizens. Being the first CIU in the state of Indiana is incredible and as defense attorneys, trained to pick apart a case, we feel we are a good fit. A prosecutor's job truly is to ensure that justice is served and that job does not stop at the conviction. More than 2,700 people have been exonerated in the U.S. to date. Our work will be integral to ensuring public safety, because if a wrongfully convicted person is in prison, then the actual perpetrator is out and could be committing other crimes.

What are you hoping to achieve in your new position?

  • Bauder: Find cases that merit and exonerate wrongfully convicted defendants. We are also hoping to establish training to prevent future wrongful convictions.
  • Cicchini: First, exonerating wrongfully convicted people. Second, hopefully, training prosecutors and police regarding the patterns we have seen and how wrongful convictions can be avoided in the future. Lastly, making systematic change by educating those in and out of the criminal justice system and truly helping Marion County continue to and expand on a culture of just prosecution. The goal should always be justice, not conviction.

Are you planning on conducting any trainings for current deputy prosecutors? If so, why is that important?

  • Bauder: Yes, we see training as in integral part of our role with the MCPO so that all prosecutors and MCPO staff clearly understand the role they play in the criminal justice process.
  • Cicchini: Literature has documented that there are common patterns in wrongful convictions and it's important for prosecutors to be educated on evaluating their witnesses, evidence and cases with those patterns in mind. It is of the utmost importance to make sure that there is not a miscarriage of justice. Many of the patterns are the result of human error or other patterns and we want prosecutors and the criminal justice community to act with this knowledge in mind. Not all wrongful convictions are the result of malice, misconduct or intentional wrong doing on behalf of prosecutors, police, and witnesses. In fact, I'd venture to say most aren't. However, the almost 3000 cases of exoneration show, that it is fundamental for us to recognize this problem and work to address it. When a person is wrongfully convicted, neither the victim nor the community gets justice.

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