Steven Barnes’ release last week after nearly two decades in prison has prompted renewed calls for reforms in New York to help overturn wrongful convictions and free the innocent. For the last two years, lawmakers have introduced bills including several critical reforms supported by the Innocence Project, and the bills have gained increasing support but have not become law. An editorial in yesterday’s Buffalo News says 2009 is the time to make these reforms reality.
yesterday’s Buffalo News
It is not specifically the fault of state legislators that, at least 24 times in recent years, state criminal courts have convicted innocent people, including Anthony Capozzi and Lynn DeJac, both of Buffalo. But it is emphatically their fault that the state’s criminal justice system continues to operate in largely the same way as when it produced these wrongful convictions.
It doesn’t have to be that way. New York can reform witness identification procedures. It can require the video recording of custodial interrogations, thereby reducing the peculiar but nonetheless real phenomenon of false confessions. Instead, it has done nothing.
And Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck
told the Utica Observer-Dispatch
that Barnes’ case highlights the need for forensic standards nationwide:
Scheck said that vacating Barnes’ conviction righted what was one in “a long line of wrongful convictions based on improper or invalid forensic science.”
“Until there are clear national standards about what kind of forensic science can be allowed in court, more people like Steven Barnes will be wrongfully convicted while the actual perpetrators of violent crimes remain at large,” he said.