On behalf of members of the Exonerated 5 and the Innocence Project, we extend our deepest support to Steven Lopez. No one should suffer such a grave injustice. We hope that the court’s decision serves as a catalyst for Mr. Lopez in his healing from this horrendous and protracted ordeal.
We commend Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his office’s Post-Conviction Justice Unit for pursuing truth and justice in this case by asking the court to vacate Mr. Lopez’s guilty plea and dismiss the indictment after all these years. D.A. Bragg acknowledged that “Mr. Lopez was charged and pleaded guilty in the face of false statements, unreliable forensic analysis and immense external pressure.”
If not for an incredibly forward thinking prosecutor like D.A. Bragg, Mr. Lopez might never have gotten relief. Currently, New York law makes it effectively impossible for innocent people who pleaded guilty and do not have the benefit of DNA evidence, to challenge their convictions in court. But we can’t rely on prosecutors alone to provide relief to every innocent person who pleads guilty to a crime they didn’t commit. Individual actors simply cannot solve this systemic problem. Each and every innocent person should have a pathway to proving their innocence.
Together, we have been working to remove the current obstacles that prevent wrongfully convicted New Yorkers from getting justice with The Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act, which would create a clear pathway to exoneration for people in New York with credible, new non-DNA evidence of wrongful conviction. In 2022, this critical legislation gained strong momentum from lawmakers and advocates alike, passing the State Assembly in May, but the Senate failed to act. In a state with the third highest number of wrongful convictions in the nation, this much-needed legislation must be prioritized by the legislature when it is filed in the 2023 legislative session.