Westchester DA’s Report on Jeffrey Deskovic’s Wrongful Conviction
35-page report laying out systemic errors ‘shows how urgent the need for reform is – and what’s at stake,’ as Legislature is set to reconvene July 16
(WHITE PLAINS, NY; July 2, 2007) – A report on Jeffrey Deskovic’s wrongful conviction that was issued today by Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore underscores the need for the State Legislature to enact meaningful reform when it reconvenes on July 16, the Innocence Project said.
The 35-page report, commissioned by the DA’s office and conducted by outside experts, details the circumstances and systemic failings that led to Jeffery Deskovic’s 1990 conviction in a rape and murder in Peekskill. Represented by the Innocence Project, Deskovic was exonerated last year after DNA testing showed that he was innocent and that another man (who has since pled guilty) committed the crime. Deskovic was 16 years old when he was convicted, and he was 33 when he was finally exonerated.
The District Attorney’s report notes that many of the systemic factors that either led to Deskovic’s wrongful conviction or prevented him from proving his innocence sooner are still in place today. The report notes that defendants need to be able to ask for crime scene evidence to be run through forensic databases that can identify the true perpetrator, that the state needs an independent Innocence Commission to look into the 23 wrongful convictions statewide that have been overturned by DNA, that interrogations should be recorded to prevent false confessions, and that evidence should be properly collected and stored so that it can be used to determine guilt or innocence during appeals. Nine of New York State’s 23 post-conviction DNA exonerations have been in the last 17 months, according to the Innocence Project.
Over the last several months, the State Legislature has considered legislation that would address each of these areas – but the legislature adjourned earlier this month without passing the reforms. Today, the Innocence Project said the Westchester District Attorney’s report should further spur the legislature to pass the reforms when it reconvenes later this month.
Following is a statement from Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project:
“This report makes clear that the system has not been fixed to prevent other people from enduring the tragic injustice Jeffery Deskovic suffered. Virtually every factor that this report says led to Jeffrey Deskovic’s wrongful conviction is addressed in reforms that are pending in Albany. Until meaningful reform is enacted in New York State, more people will be convicted of crimes they did not commit, while the true perpetrators remain at large.
“This report is a mandate for action when the legislature reconvenes on July 16. The report shows how urgent the need for reform is – and what’s at stake.
“We know what went wrong in Jeffery Deskovic’s case and many of the 23 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA in New York State, and we know which reforms are proven to prevent and address these injustices – what we need is a legislature and a governor who are willing to make this a priority and pass meaningful reforms. We have already begun to share this report with state policymakers and urge them to act on July 16 so that the lessons of DNA exonerations can truly be learned and these tragedies can be prevented in the future.
“Janet DiFiore should be applauded for appointing an independent commission to identify what went wrong in Jeffrey Deskovic’s case – and also for advocating important reforms that can address and prevent wrongful convictions statewide. We hope legislators will pick up where she left off and create an independent commission and enact the other reforms outlined in this report.”
An independent, statewide Innocence Commission – which the legislature could create on July 16 and DiFiore advocates in the report – could look into such cases across the state, and would not rely on cooperative District Attorneys in a handful of counties to determine what led to wrongful convictions and how they can be prevented.
For more on the reforms that were introduced in the New York State Legislature this year, click here.