The Conviction Review Board, created by New York State attorney general Eric T. Schneidermann marks the first law enforcement effort at examining questionable convictions in the state. According to the NY Times, the new board will address possible wrongful convictions, working on the leads of several senior lawyers lead by one assistance attorney general.
The board comes at a time when many officials are calling for safeguards to ensure wrongful convictions are avoided at all costs. New eyewitness identification procedures and the videotaping of interrogations are just a few of the changes being called for.
Cases in need of review will be determined by working with district attorneys from across the state, a group that is notorious for questioning the validity of their own work. But, Schneidermann is said to be confident of the cooperation of the district attorneys, already receiving support from several prominent DA’s across the state.
“If a district attorney’s office chooses to refer the case to the attorney general, then the attorney general’s office will have jurisdiction to reinvestigate the case and handle the subsequent legal proceedings.” But, if the board requires these district attorneys to refer their own cases, the number and quality of cases turned over to the board could be minimal. Not many prosecutors will question their own (or fellow prosecutor’s) judgment in the prosecution of a crime.
The board won’t only be dealing with the criminal aspect of these cases, however; they will also decide how to handle the civil aspect, when offenders seek compensation after a wrongful conviction and period of incarceration.
This could present additional trouble as the very same attorney general’s office has been criticized for their reluctance to compensate those who have been wrongly convicted. In one case, they denied responsibility for a wrongful conviction because the offender ultimately confessed to a crime he didn’t commit, nevermind the confession likely came after lengthy interrogations and a potentially sweet sounding plea deal.
The Innocence Project estimates about 25% of DNA exoneration cases involved a confession or incriminating statements. Because it seems to be such a common factor in wrongful convictions, the board might be benefitted by looking at why the offender confessed. They would likely find an element, even if not deliberate, of coercion and pressure.
Taking steps to reduce the number of people wrongly convicted and to remedy those already serving sentences is commendable. But unless it’s done in the right manner, it seems to be little more than symbolic in nature.
Discussing your case with a criminal defense lawyer is crucial in ensuring you are treated fairly in court, by the prosecutor and everyone else present. If you are accused of a crime that you didn’t do, contact us today.