In an op-ed in today’s
, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck called on New York legislators to make this the year that reforms are passed to strengthen the state’s criminal justice system and safeguard against wrongful convictions. Scheck writes:
With 29 exonerations since 1989, New York State has the third-largest number of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing in the country.
The state is also a leader in wrongful convictions proven by non-DNA evidence. In fact, there have been 10 New York exonerations in 2014. Just this month, three men were exonerated in Brooklyn, the unfortunate victims of retired Det. Louis Scarcella, a now-discredited police officer whom the Brooklyn district attorney’s office recognizes engaged in improper procedures that resulted in false confessions, unreliable eyewitness identifications and fabricated informant testimony. The lives of innocent defendants were wrecked, their families were torn asunder and victims were cruelly deceived. Even more troubling, there are reportedly more than 50 Scarcella cases among the 90 or so potential wrongful-conviction cases being considered by the new Brooklyn district attorney.
Scheck explains that despite legislative support of proven reforms that would prevent future injustices such as requiring
electronically recording interrogations
, there has been no consensus to make them law. According to Scheck:
The Innocence Project has pursued these reforms in New York State for nearly a decade. We have made progress, and at times felt as if we were close. Not surprisingly, resistance has largely come from law enforcement. But that resistance is diminishing in part due to the leadership of Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who leads the state’s District Attorneys Association. New York City’s decision to record interrogations in serious felony cases, a practice in Nassau and Suffolk, has also helped.
Every year the state delays these reforms, innocent people go to prison for crimes they didn’t commit while the real perpetrators remain free to commit more crimes. It’s time for leadership in Albany to get past gridlock and make 2014 the year New York finally commits to a more reliable, effective and just criminal justice system.