News 02.06.14

New Brooklyn District Attorney Tasked with Responding to Wrongful Convictions

It’s been just over a month since Kenneth P. Thompson took office as the new Brooklyn District Attorney in New York, but, already, defense attorneys are eager for him to live up to the commitments he made during his campaign — to reform the justice system, starting with the borough’s Conviction Integrity Unit, created by his predecessor, Charles Joe Hynes.

 

Hynes may have been applauded for establishing the unit, an effort to address convictions that were later overturned and dozens more that were questioned in recent years, but the New York Times reports that he was also criticized for defending prosecutors who were accused of misconduct and for disregarding evidence of wrongful convictions. Thompson is now tasked with not only appointing a leader for the integrity unit, but, overall, addressing the areas in which not simply the unit, but the DA’s office, are perceived to have failed.

 

Barry C. Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project told the

New York Times

, “This is what Ken campaigned on. He said, ‘I don’t think Hynes put enough resources into it,’ so, he’s got to do that. . . . And I expect that he will.” But, he emphasized that the new defense attorney deserves patience because “it’s important to get it right.”

 

Thompson will now be responsible for overseeing the review, inherited from Hynes, of more than 50 murder cases that were investigated by former detective Louis Scarcella and resulted in guilty verdicts that may have been based on fabricated confessions.

 

Legal Aid — representing 20 clients with cases involving Scarcella — along with the Innocence Project, other legal advocacy groups and several defense lawyers want to meet with Thompson to help determine how to maximize the unit’s capacity. The group would look at similar task forces that have dealt with an onslaught of exonerations. Among the most celebrated and accomplished is the Dallas County District Attorney’s unit, which has helped uncover injustice in a number of cases.

 

Scheck reported to the

New York Times

that his key recommendation is for the unit to implement an information-sharing agreement between defense teams and the unit’s investigators that will allow them to argue constructively before a judge regardless of their differing opinions about a case’s evidence.

 


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