Campaign urges New York State to pass law requiring recording of interrogations, eyewitness identification reform to protect against misidentification, false confession
Members of the Central Park Five, who as teenagers were wrongfully convicted of a 1989 rape due to false confession, have launched the #EndNYWrongfulConviction with the Innocence Project in an effort to move long-stalled state legislation that would prevent the top contributors to wrongful conviction in New York State: false confession and misidentification. In a series of short videos produced by award-winning filmmaker Sarah Burns, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana, of the Central Park 5, call for the passage of a bill that would require police to record interrogations and implement eyewitness identification reform.
Salaam, Richardson and Santana cite their cases as proof of the need for these reforms; they were all subject to interrogations by NYPD detectives, lasting between 14 and 30 hours, and were threatened and pressured to confess to specific details of the crimes that were fed to them by police. Only after this abusive and debilitating interrogation process did the authorities video-record the false confessions that the then-teens would ultimately provide. These false confessions, which provided inconsistent versions of the events that night, resulted in the Central Park Five being wrongfully convicted and serving between 7 and 13 years in prison, while the real rapist, Matias Reyes, remained free to commit at least four additional sexual assaults and a murder.
“We spent precious years of our lives in prison. The public never got a chance to see how these false confessions started, they only saw the ending,” said Yusef Salaam, in the #EndNYWrongfulConviction video. “The time to act is now.”
“We want you to see the whole process – from beginning to end,” said Raymond Santana, in the #EndNYWrongfulConviction video. “If this bill would have been passed in ’89, I wouldn’t have lost seven years of my life.”
“I was deprived of my rights and interrogated behind closed doors,” said Kevin Richardson, in the #EndNYWrongfulConviction video.
“We urge Albany, after 10 long years, to finally pass this bill.”
#EndNYWrongfulConviction calls on the New York State legislature to pass a bill that will require police to electronically record the entirety of suspect interrogations and conduct photo lineups blindly, meaning that the police officer conducting the lineup is unaware of the suspect’s identity or cannot see which photo the eyewitness is viewing. Electronically recording interrogations provides an objective record and deters leading or abusive behavior by police, while also protecting against unjustified claims of coercion. The blind administration of photo lineups prevents an officer from providing any intentional or unintentional cues which could influence a selection. Both best practices are evidence-based deterrents to misidentification and false confession.
Despite the fact that New York has third highest number of wrongful convictions proven by DNA evidence in the nation (at 29), and that either false confession and misidentification played a role in all but one of these cases, this legislation has not passed, even though it has been introduced numerous times for nearly a decade. Last year, the Senate for the first time approved a version of this proposal, but it failed to pass the full legislature in the waning days of session. Earlier this year, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo included these reforms in his 2016 legislative agenda.
As Yusef said, the time to act is now – New York cannot afford to continue to be an outlier by not passing this important bill. Nearly half of the states in the nation require the recording of interrogations and 15 states now employ the blind administration of lineups. New York should follow suit and finally #EndNYWrongfulConviction.
“The Central Park Five – and, for that matter, nearly all of the DNA exonerees in New York – are living proof of the urgent need for police to be recording interrogations and using scientifically supported eyewitness identification practices. I hope that this is the year that Albany passes substantive reform aimed at preventing any future wrongful convictions,” said Sarah Burns, the award-winning filmmaker who produced the #EndNYWrongfulConviction videos and also co-created The Central Park Five documentary.
“No other New Yorker should ever have to endure the horror of wrongful conviction, as experienced by the Central Park Five and all of New York’s exonerees. These best practices are proven deterrents to the two most common contributors to wrongful conviction in New York State: false confession and misidentification. If implemented, they will protect against any future miscarriage of justice and ensure that the real perpetrator is brought to justice. New York can wait no longer for the passage of these reforms; we must #EndNYWrongfulConviction once and for all,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Founder of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.