Editor’s note: This post and headline has been updated to include more information on what the Wayne County Commission will fund to evaluate older cases.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding will allow Wayne County prosecutors to review cases with DNA and other forensic evidence, and zoning law changes will loosen restrictions on commercial districts, according to notes produced by Detroit Documenters.
Detroit Documenters is a program by 101.9 WDET, CitizenDetroit and Chicago’s City Bureau to pay local residents to attend city meetings and take notes on happenings that often go uncovered. These notes are publicly available on documenters.org, where you can also find upcoming public meetings in the city.
Here, WDET Civic Reporter Eleanore Catolico breaks down what you need to know. Scroll down for links to notes from the meetings.
Wayne County Commission Approves Grant to Review Hundreds of Cases
What happened: The Wayne County Commission approved hundreds of thousands in grant money for an agreement between the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School Innocence Project to review 300 cases of DNA and forensic cases involving claims of innocence during its Public Safety, Judiciary and Homeland Security committee meeting last Thursday. The office’s Conviction Integrity Unit will manage the project, and the approved funding will support DNA testing, expert consultation and the hiring of a Cooley lawyer to assist in the reviews.
Why this matters: The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office prosecutes over 52 percent of all felony cases in the state and has the tenth largest caseload in the US, according to the office’s website.
The CIU was created by county prosecutor Kym Worthy in 2017. The CIU’s function is described on the county website as follows: “It is a standalone unit that reviews claims of actual innocence based on new evidence; it does not function as a “13th” juror to review factual questions that have already been decided by a jury. Its mission is to determine whether new evidence shows that an innocent person has been wrongfully convicted of a crime, and to recommend steps to rectify such situations to Prosecutor Worthy. Only a court can actually set aside a conviction.”
So far this year, there were a total of six exonerations in Wayne County, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Many of these cases were marked as having inadequate legal defenses.
City Planning Commission Approves Two Amendments to the Zoning Ordinance
What happened: The City Planning Commission unanimously approved two amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance during a public hearing last Thursday, allotting more parking spaces to manufacturing employees and loosening restrictions on 22 miles of traditional main street overlay areas, or designated commercial districts where developers must adhere to higher standards of design. These changes would make it easier for entrepreneurs to open businesses in the area. The main street overlay amendment would also reduce parking standards for businesses and no longer require hearings for specific types of businesses to come in, such as jewelry stores, food caterers and cabarets.
Why this matters: Eight traditional main street overlays located on the north, southwest and east sides of the city were established in 2006 by the city and were developed through a series of community workshops held by local development associations. They were created to provide guidelines for developing these commercial districts that preserve and protect neighborhood character and make them safer, accessible and aesthetically pleasing.