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Innocence Project Applauds Gov. Cuomo for Approving Landmark Legislation to Combat Prosecutorial Misconduct

New York City landscape (Photo: Anthony Quintano)

New York Establishes Nation’s First State-Wide Commission to Investigate Allegations of Prosecutorial Misconduct, Creating a Model for Other States

(New York City – August 20, 2018) – Today Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law new legislation that would create the nation’s first state-wide commission to address prosecutorial misconduct. The law will serve as a model for other states on how to address the lack of accountability for prosecutorial misconduct that too often results in innocent people being wrongly convicted for crimes they didn’t commit.

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“We applaud Governor Cuomo for approving this groundbreaking legislation to address prosecutorial misconduct.”

“We applaud Governor Cuomo for approving this groundbreaking legislation to address prosecutorial misconduct,” said Rebecca Brown, Policy Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.  “While most prosecutors respect their ethical obligations, far too many innocent people have been wrongly convicted as a result of prosecutorial misconduct, and until today there was no effective means for holding those who commit bad acts accountable. We hope other states will follow New York’s lead and address this serious problem plaguing the criminal justice system.”

Related: New York Times Editorial Explains Why Prosecutors Require An Oversight Commission

The bill (S2412D/A5285C) that was signed by Governor Cuomo was modeled after the state’s successful Commission on Judicial Conduct.  The commission will be comprised of 11 members, four appointed by the governor, three by the Chief Judge of the state’s Court of Appeals and the remaining four by leaders of both parties in the legislature.  The commission will receive complaints and initiate its own investigations into possible instances of misconduct.  It will have the authority to compel prosecutors to testify or turn over documents.  It won’t have the power to directly punish prosecutors which it finds to have violated ethical obligations, but it can issue warnings, recommend sanctions and recommend that the governor remove those who commit intentional misconduct.  The bipartisan bill, which easily passed both the Assembly and the Senate, was championed by Senator John A. DeFrancisco and Assembly Member Nick Perry, as well as a broad coalition of individuals and organizations initiated by It Could Happen to You.

“We hope other states will follow New York’s lead and address this serious problem plaguing the criminal justice system.”

Prosecutors hold tremendous power, having wide discretion in whether or not to bring criminal charges against someone and what those charges should be. While they have constitutional obligations to ensure that those accused of a crime are given a fair trial, they are put in the difficult position of securing convictions while also ensuring compliance with these ethical obligations. While it is difficult to know the full extent of the problem, we know that some prosecutors prize winning over complying with their constitutional obligations, resulting in error and in some cases intentional misconduct. Yet there are no reliable systems for holding prosecutors accountable for their misdeeds. Under current U.S. Supreme Court law, prosecutors are almost entirely immune from civil lawsuits even when they intentionally violate the laws, making oversight by public agencies and the courts all the more critical. A survey conducted by the Innocence Project and the Veritas Initiative looked at five diverse states over a five-year period (2004-2008) and identified 660 cases in which courts found prosecutors committed misconduct.  Of these, only one prosecutor was disciplined. There were 148 court findings of misconduct in New York during this 5-year period and none of the prosecutors were disciplined.

Related: Coalition of Exonerees and State Lawmakers Urge Gov. Cuomo to Sign Bill that would Establish Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct

9 Comments

  1. Shawndesse Morales

    This is amazing! Where do I send complaints to?

  2. Wendy St. Aubinn

    I am a victim of professional and prosecutorial misconduct. Who do I speak with?

  3. Yvette Maez

    Does California have this law because my inmate case is truthfully innacent I know facts im victim that wrongfully accused Jose Enrquie Rodriguez got 44yrsPrison & man Robert Soto who attack me is walking Free hurasing me help us Yvette Maez Fresno CA 93727 (559)666-7429 Appael casa#F076635

  4. Barbara Dowd

    Oklahoma needs this law. My son is is in prison on a 4 life term on accusations where there was no proof and had his rights of defending himself taken from him by a Judge that is now facing charges by the Supreme Court Chief Justice Combs for gross neglect of duty, oppression in office, falsifying court documents and presenting misleading oral arguments and used his office to seek a deferred prosecution agreement for his son. My Son turned down a 4yr plea to prove his innocence. And the Judge went upon himself to go against the jury decision because he was upset. I am not giving up to free my son of this corrupt system. I pray .

  5. Greg Fischer

    I have been wrongfully prosecuted several times. I believe lying prosecutors should be prosecuted for perjury.

  6. Ben Brown

    New York is the only state? I thought AB 1909 in California was in effect.

    • Rebecca Brown

      California has a different statute (AB 1909) that seeks to address prosecutorial misconduct by allowing California prosecutors who knowingly withhold or falsify evidence to be charged with a felony. The NY effort creates the first independent commission to investigate allegations of prosecutorial conduct. It can sanction and admonish prosecutors and recommend removal from office.

  7. patricia richards

    Florida should follow system is broken its all about the money

  8. Charles Wilcox

    I have a story back in 1998 I was arrested for something I never did and here is proof Grace winterwood has my story please read it you will be surprised all that story but it’s true

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