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Politics & Government

Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office Asks Court To Overturn Two Decade-Old Convictions

A photo of Sim Gill speaking at a podium.
Emily Means
/
KUER
“The integrity of [the justice] system is based on the fact that we follow our own rules,” Gill said. “Systemic mistakes erode the integrity of the convictions that we have.”

Jose Barrera-Landa and Marlo Navarro were each 17 years old when they allegedly committed the crimes they pleaded guilty to.

Under Utah law, they should have been tried in juvenile court — but they weren’t. Instead, they were processed by a court that didn’t have jurisdiction over their cases.

Salt Lake County’s Conviction Integrity Unit has determined that makes those judgments invalid.

On Tuesday, District Attorney Sim Gill said his office has petitioned to overturn those rulings.

He said righting these wrongs is essential in proving the legitimacy of the justice system.

“When we don't follow the rules and we make mistakes, then we have an ethical, legal and moral duty to correct that as well,” Gill said.

As a result of their cases, Navarro and Barrera-Landa were deported.

Benji McMurray, the public defender now representing them, brought the request to Salt Lake County’s Conviction Integrity Unit to review their cases. He said his clients could now have a better chance of returning to the U.S. with their convictions vacated.

“They thought they were stuck with what the system gave them,” McMurray said. “So this is a very good thing for both of them.”

He said he’s grateful Gill and his team took up the cases and came to the conclusion they did.

But he said one of his biggest concerns is how many errors could be hidden throughout the system.

“The reality is that people make mistakes,” he said. “One of the things that has been alarming to me is how reluctant prosecutors and judges have been to open their minds and open their dockets to allegations from people who believe that they were punished wrongfully.”

The Utah Legislature passed a bill last year setting up a framework for conviction integrity units. McMurray said he hopes other counties in the state will use it to review past cases.

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