At a press conference in Albany today, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III were joined by five exonerees who collectively spent more than 90 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, a Texas rape victim who mistakenly identified the wrong suspect, one of the three Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of rape in 2006, and a North Carolina police captain whose department has successfully adopted interrogation and eyewitness reforms.
Despite the fact that New York has the third highest number of wrongful convictions nationwide, the state Legislature has failed to take action to prevent future injustice. Simple reforms that would improve eyewitness identifications and help prevent false confessions — two of the leading causes of wrongful convictions — have been embraced by other states including New Jersey, Connecticut, Texas and North Carolina.
Underscoring the need for improved identification procedures, the Innocence Project released the results of a survey on whether police agencies around the state had formal identification procedure policies. Requests for information from 500 police agencies resulted in 349 responses. Of those, 112 provided formal written policies. None had written policies requiring double-blind police lineups, which have been proven to reduce the rate of misidentification. Two departments, however, do require that lineups be conducted double-blind whenever possible.
A recent editorial in the Buffalo News emphasized the need for New York to pass this legislation.
New York’s resistance to reform goes largely unexplained, though some critics believe it is because many voters would perceive such measures as being unfriendly to police and of benefit to criminals. But the opposite is true.
Convicting the right person not only avoids putting innocent people in prison, but ensures that the real criminal isn’t out creating more victims.
New York had a chance to act on this problem earlier this year when it expanded the state’s DNA database. It didn’t, to its shame. The Assembly has supported reforms but the Senate and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo remain strangely silent.
It is time for them to speak up. As Samuel Gross, editor of the newly opened National Registry of Exonerations, said: “We know there are many more that we haven’t found.”