News 05.01.09

Chief Judge of NY High Court Creates Unprecedented Justice Task Force; Innocence Project Says Task Force is a ‘Huge Step Forward’ and a National Model

Contact: Alana Salzberg; asalzberg@innocenceproject.org; 212-364-5983

(ALBANY, NY; May 1, 2009) – New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman today announced that the state’s high court is creating a Justice Task Force. The task force will determine the causes of wrongful convictions and develop systemic remedies to make the state’s criminal justice system more effective. Importantly, the task force is permanent – and it will develop improvements in court procedures and rules, legislation, and training for attorneys, judges and police.

The Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, said the new task force in New York goes further than similar efforts in other states and is a model for how the judiciary branch in states can address and prevent wrongful convictions. Following is a statement from Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld:

“For years, New York has led the nation in wrongful convictions but lagged behind other states in implementing reforms that can prevent them. This task force is a huge step forward.

“We commend Chief Judge Lippman for creating a permanent state entity that will look seriously at these problems and develop systemic solutions to enhance public safety. This task force will be a national model for how the judiciary branch can improve the criminal justice system through court rules, legislation and training. As a permanent state entity, the task force will also be able to monitor how reforms are working and pursue further improvements.

“New York has been a leader on forensic DNA for decades. It was the first state to pass a law granting DNA testing to prisoners with claims of innocence; the first state to create a forensic science commission to ensure quality forensic evidence; and among the first states to exonerate innocent prisoners using DNA testing. Despite its history of leadership using forensic DNA, New York has not learned the lessons of DNA exonerations. While DNA testing is possible in just a small fraction of cases, DNA exonerations are a window into the criminal justice system’s failures. For too long, New York has fallen behind in improving the reliability of our criminal justice system – which resulted in innocent people being wrongfully convicted, while real perpetrators remain at large. This task force moves the state much closer to improving the quality and integrity of our criminal justice system.

“While this is a major step forward, it is one piece of the whole. There are major systemic weaknesses demanding immediate action, and we will continue working with the Governor, Attorney General and Legislature to advance critical reforms in this legislative session that can prevent wrongful convictions. The task force Judge Lippman is creating does not supplant other efforts – it complements them and makes them even more critical.”

Nationwide, 237 people have been exonerated with DNA testing, according to the Innocence Project. Twenty-four of them are in New York State. Only Texas and Illinois have seen more DNA exonerations.

In October 2007, the Innocence Project released “Lessons Not Learned,” a report showing that while New York outpaces almost every other state in the number of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, it lags behind most states in implementing policy reforms to prevent wrongful convictions. Following are key findings from that report (as updated in April 2009):

• Since 1991, 24 people have been exonerated with DNA testing in New York State. In the last nine years, there have 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 14 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 10 of the 24 wrongful convictions in New York that were overturned through DNA evidence.


Download the the full 118-page report here

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