News 03.22.11

Prosecutors Invoke ‘Misconduct’ Law, Block Exoneree’s Compensation Request

Innocence Project client

Douglas Warney

was exonerated in 2006 after DNA tests proved his innocence in a New York fatal stabbing and linked another already incarcerated man to the crime. He is now seeking compensation for the nine years he wrongfully served.

The state, however, is trying to deny him compensation on the grounds of the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act, which bars compensation for those whose convictions are the result of their own conduct.

Warney, who suffers from AIDS and AIDS-related dementia, falsely confessed to the murder in 1997 during police interrogations. State prosecutors insist that Warney’s confession qualifies as misconduct, rendering him responsible for his own conviction and ineligible for compensation. A New York Times editorial published on March 20th points out that the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act was designed to “weed out deliberate misconduct to gain some tactical advantage, say a confession intended to conceal a loved one’s guilt.” Warney’s confession, the editorial reasons, does not fall under this category. It also argues that

charges of misconduct might be misdirected

:

If there was misconduct in Mr. Warney’s case, it was on the part of police officers, who fed him “held back” facts about the murder and then claimed those facts in his typed confession originated with him, providing reliable proof of his guilt. When the case was argued before the Court of Appeals in February, several judges seemed troubled by these circumstances.

An article in yesterday’s Huffington Post by retired federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin briefly looked at

Warney’s and other cases across the country

, concluding that “[t]he same vigor that goes into convicting the guilty should be exerted in exonerating the innocent.”

False confessions factor into roughly 25% of wrongful convictions. Mental illness and diminished capacity are two leading causes of false confessions and admissions. Find out more about why people falsely confess to crimes they didn’t commit

here

.

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