Innocence Project Urges New York Lawmakers to Follow China’s Lead and Require Mandatory Recording of Interrogations
(New York, NY – March 9, 2012) – In response to a report in today’s New York Times announcing that China will videotape interrogations, the Innocence Project is calling on New York lawmakers to enact similar protections, as recommended by criminal justice stakeholders from across the state. The demand comes as the Assembly takes up a bill that recently passed the state Senate that would expand the DNA database to include DNA samples from people who commit low level crimes.
“It’s shameful that China is more concerned about false confessions than New York, especially given the state’s disgraceful history of false confessions ,” said Stephen Saloom, Policy Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “We’ve been working for more than six years to get lawmakers to do something about the false confessions and eyewitness misidentifications that have given New York the unfortunate distinction of having the third most DNA exonerations in the country. Rather than focusing on legislation that would both protect the innocent and improve public safety, Albany is rushing to expand the DNA database (which already includes the DNA of all felons and many who commit misdemeanors) to include the lowest level crimes – a move that will disproportionally affect communities of color. If China can recognize the dangers of false confessions, isn’t it time New York did the same?”
Law Enforcement officials from throughout the state have been championing the Senate bill to expand the database, disingenuously pushing the move as a wrongful conviction reform by claiming that the database led to New York’s 27 DNA exonerations. According to the Innocence Project, these exonerations occurred because the DNA of the wrongly convicted didn’t match DNA of crime scene evidence. The database was helpful in identifying the real perpetrator in only 2 of the 27 exonerations. If the reforms sought by the Innocence Project had been in place, it is likely that at least one, if not both, of these miscarriages of justice could have been prevented.
Innocence Project data on the 27 exonerations shows that false confessions and misidentification are serious problems in the state that could be stemmed by reforms. Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of New York’s 27 DNA exonerations, contributing to 56% of the wrongful convictions. False confessions contribute to 44% of the DNA exonerations.
“Expanding the database isn’t going to do a thing to prevent wrongful convictions, and as the bill is currently written, it doesn’t even guarantee defendants access to the database to help prove their innocence,” said Saloom. “Reforms that improve police interrogation and identification techniques, however, will apply to a much larger number of crimes and will help ensure the right person is arrested. That protects the innocent and the public, because when the wrong person is arrested the real perpetrator is left free to commit other crimes.”
According to the Innocence Project, out of New York’s 27 DNA exonerations, 7 real perpetrators were ultimately identified. While the wrong person was incarcerated, 5 of them went on to commit 6 murders, 2 attempted murders and 3 rapes.
Chief Justice Jonathan Lipmann’s Justice Task Force and the New York State Bar Association – both composed of stakeholders from across the criminal justice system and across the state – recommend mandatory recording of interrogations and requiring lineup procedures be conducted double blind. Mandatory recording of interrogations creates a record so that the jury can evaluate the reliability of the confession. Studies have shown that requiring that line ups be conducted double blind (meaning that the officer who conducts the lineup is unaware of the identity of the suspect and the victim is told that the officer is unaware) greatly reduces misidentifications while maintaining the same number of positive identifications.
Though it is a leader in wrongful convictions, New York lags behind Connecticut, Ohio, North Carolina, New Jersey and Texas in enacting proven reforms that reduce wrongful convictions and improve public safety.