Conviction Integrity Unit (formerly PCR)

In certain cases, there is a possible further step in criminal defense litigation after all appeals are exhausted, called a post-conviction relief (PCR) petition. New Jersey Court Rule 3:22 lays out the grounds for which a PCR petition  relief may be filed, as well as the parameters of this kind of litigation. Typically, these Petitions bring to the Court's attention allegations of trial and appellate level errors of constitutional dimension that were not and/or could not have been raised during the appellate process.  The most frequent ground for a petition is a claim that a defendant's criminal representation on the trial and/or appellate level was handled so poorly that it did not comply with the New Jersey and United States Constitutional rights to competent counsel.   These grounds can be raised on matters which were resolved by either a plea or a trial.  A PCR petition must be filed within five years of the entry of the judgment of conviction.

The NJOPD's Conviction Integrity Unit provides representation for indigent defendants who file a PCR petition.  Representation is usually not provided in second or subsequent PCRs that defendants may try to litigate. Most referrals to the Conviction Integrity Unit come from defendants who previously had been represented through the NJOPD trial and appellate regions.  However, direct applications for representation also are received and acted on from people not originally represented by the NJOPD at the trial and/or appellate level.

An individual seeking post-conviction relief must file the Petition with the Criminal Division Manager (CDM) in the county in which the conviction took place.  The OPD cannot file the Petition on behalf of the individual seeking PCR review, so the Petition should not be sent to the Conviction Integrity Unit without first being filed with the CDM of the county of conviction.

Upon request, the Conviction Integrity Unit will provide to an individual seeking PCR review the forms needed to file a Petition and to ask for Public Defender representation.  These should be completed as thoroughly as possible. 

The Conviction Integrity Unit reviews each referral to the Unit, and if it meets the criteria for providing representation, orders transcripts and files, and then assigns the case to a highly experienced criminal attorney.  Once an attorney is assigned to a PCR case, amendments can be made to the Petition as needed and in consultation with the client. The attorney reviews the transcripts of what happened in the trial (and appellate) courts, interviews the defendant in the case, conducts any additional investigation of the case if it is called for, conducts legal research aimed at substantiating the issues raised in the Petition, and files briefs and exhibits in support thereof.  When warranted, the Conviction Integrity Unit attorneys also appear on behalf of defendants at PCR Hearings or try to negotiate new resolutions of the original matters.

The current head of the NJOPD's Conviction Integrity Unit is Deputy Public Defender Kathryn Sylvester.

Conviction Integrity Unit
31 Clinton St.
P.O. Box 46003
Newark, NJ 07101
Phone: 973-877-1200
Fax: 973-877-1272