New York Leads Most States in Number of Wrongful Convictions, Must Enact Reforms to Prevent Them, Innocence Project Report Finds
Contact: Alana Salzberg; firstname.lastname@example.org; 212-364-983
(NEW YORK, NY; June 8, 2009) – A report released today by the Innocence Project shows that New York outpaces almost every other state in the number of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, and there is an urgent need to enact policy reforms to prevent wrongful convictions before the legislative session ends later this month.
The 124-page report, titled “Lessons Not Learned,” details 24 wrongful convictions in New York that have been overturned through DNA testing, analyzes each case to identify the causes of wrongful convictions and outlines reforms that can improve the state’s criminal justice system. Download the full report here.
“The causes of wrongful convictions in New York State are well known and thoroughly documented. What we need now is legislative action to adopt reforms that are proven to make the criminal justice system more fair, accurate and reliable,” said Stephen Saloom, Policy Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “This report outlines how New York’s criminal justice system has fallen short and how it can be fixed.”
Only two other states in the nation, Texas and Illinois, have seen more wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence than New York has. At the same time, many other states around the country have enacted reforms to prevent wrongful convictions, but New York has not.
“The DNA exonerations in New York reveal serious problems in the state’s criminal justice system – problems that profoundly impact individuals’ lives and entire communities, and demand serious solutions,” the report found. “Common-sense remedies that are proven to decrease the potential for wrongful convictions have been introduced in the New York Legislature repeatedly, but they have not passed.”
Leaders in the New York Legislature and Governor David Paterson’s office are engaged in serious discussions about which reforms to act on before the end of the month. The report issued today, which is an updated and revised edition of an Innocence Project report on New York’s criminal justice system that was issued two years ago, says that a series of reforms would protect innocent defendants while also helping law enforcement identify and apprehend actual perpetrators of crime.
Earlier this year, the New York State Bar Association’s Wrongful Conviction Task Force released a report on dozens of cases from around New York State in which defendants were convicted and later exonerated. It found that eyewitness identification procedures and government practices were the two leading causes of wrongful convictions in the state. This influential group also recommended changes to policy, procedure and legislation that would help prevent these miscarriages of justice. For the full report, go to: http://www.nysba.org/wrongfulconvictions
In part as a result of the high number of exonerations in New York, the chief judge on the state’s highest court announced earlier this year that he is creating a permanent task force to look into exoneration cases and develop reforms to prevent them. The Innocence Project said the task force is a significant step forward, but it does not supplant the need for legislative action. In fact, it further shows that the New York Legislature needs to adopt reforms that are proven to work, and the new task force can monitor the effectiveness of those reforms and continue to recommend improvements in the years ahead.
The findings in “Lessons Not Learned,” released today, include:
• In the last nine years, there has been a particularly high number of DNA exonerations in New York State. Since 2000, 18 wrongfully convicted people in New York have been exonerated with DNA evidence; eight of the 18 were wrongfully convicted of murder.
• In 10 of New York’s 24 DNA exonerations, the actual perpetrator was later identified.
• In nine of those 10 cases, the actual perpetrators of crimes for which innocent people were wrongfully convicted went on to commit additional crimes while an innocent person was in prison. According to law enforcement reports, five murders, seven rapes, two serious assaults and one robbery at gunpoint were committed by the actual perpetrators of crimes for which innocent people were committed – and each of those crimes was committed after the wrongful arrest or conviction, so they could have been prevented if wrongful convictions had not happened.
Eyewitness misidentification played a role in 13 of the 24 wrongful convictions in New York that were overturned with DNA testing.
• In 10 of the 24 cases in New York, innocent people falsely confessed or admitted to crimes that DNA later proved they did not commit.
• Unvalidated or improper forensic science played a role in 13 of the 24 wrongful convictions in New York that were overturned through DNA evidence.
• The report recommends that New York’s State Legislature enact several key reforms immediately, all of which are proven to reduce wrongful convictions and help law enforcement. They include:
• Improve eyewitness identification procedures.
• Remove barriers to DNA testing that can prove innocence.
• Make it easier to use DNA and fingerprint databases to identify real perpetrators.
• Provide better access to evidence that can prove innocence.
• Establish a task force to develop systems for preserving evidence.
• Ensure quality forensic science statewide.
• Provide adequate compensation for the wrongfully convicted.
• Record interrogations in felony cases.
The report also outlines how New York stacks up against other states in implementing reforms to address and prevent wrongful convictions:
• 7 states – but not New York – have taken legislative action to improve eyewitness identification procedures.
• 41 states – but not New York – have laws granting post-conviction DNA testing regardless of whether the defendant pled guilty (some people have pled guilty to crimes that DNA later proved they did not commit).
• 26 states – but not New York – have statutes mandating the preservation of crime scene evidence.
• Fourteen states – but not New York – require at least some interrogations to be recorded (either through state statute or ruling of the state high court). In addition, more than 500 local jurisdictions record at least some interrogations. Even though more people have been exonerated by DNA after falsely confessing to crimes in New York than in any other state, only 17 (11 police departments, 3 state police agencies and 3 county sheriff’s offices) of these 500 local jurisdictions are in New York State.
Read the executive summary here.