A.G. Schneiderman Announces Landmark Initiative To Address Wrongful Convictions In New York

Conviction Review Bureau Will Promote Partnerships With District Attorneys To Address Claims Of Innocence
 
A.G. Will Also Conduct Top-To-Bottom Review Of His Office's Investigatory & Prosecutorial Procedures For Reliability, And Make Improvements As Needed
 
Sweeping Initiative Also Includes Committee To Efficiently Resolve Claims Against The State For Unjust Conviction

NEW YORK- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the establishment of a Conviction Review Bureau in the New York Office of Attorney General (OAG), a first-of-its-kind statewide initiative to address issues related to wrongful convictions across New York State. Partnering with law enforcement across the state, Schneiderman said the bureau will work to ensure that New York's justice system maximizes its ability to convict the real perpetrators of crimes, while preventing innocent people from being penalized for crimes they did not commit.

"There is only one person who wins when the wrong person is convicted of a crime: the real perpetrator, who remains free to commit more crimes. For victims, their families, and any of us who could suffer the nightmare of being wrongly accused, it is imperative that we do everything possible to maximize accuracy, justice, and reliability in our justice system," Attorney General Schneiderman said. "As a result, my office will be working with District Attorneys across the state to address compelling claims of innocence, and I will conduct a top-to-bottom review of my office's investigatory and prosecutorial procedures, and adapt them as needed to ensure reliability."

Schneiderman emphasized that there are numerous examples of District Attorneys successfully reviewing and reinvestigating cases, perhaps most famously the Central Park jogger case in New York County. However, there may be instances in which it is helpful for an independent and specialized entity to enter the process. To address this criminal justice imperative, Attorney General Schneiderman today announced that his Conviction Review Bureau will:

1)  Review Potential Wrongful Conviction Cases. The Conviction Review Bureau will work with D.A.’s offices to identify cases where the involvement of the Conviction Review Bureau may be of use. The OAG will be available for referrals from District Attorneys as resources allow, and on referral will investigate in anticipation of potential litigation. These might include cases where a D.A.’s office lacks the additional staff required to conduct a review, or a conflict might exist. It is anticipated that these cases will be serious felonies and ones in which the claimant's other options are exhausted (eg, an Article 440 motion has not succeeded). In addition, the OAG will continue to address claims of actual innocence in its own cases.

2)Conduct Top-to-Bottom Review of OAG’s Investigatory and Prosecutorial Procedures. The Bureau will conduct an internal review of the OAG's investigative procedures (e.g., identification procedures, the recording of confessions). After intensive study, the Bureau will adopt best practices for the office's investigative division with the goal of maximizing reliability. In addition to addressing the efficacy of investigations, the Bureau will also devise guidelines for best prosecutorial practices to be applied by OAG attorneys, to help ensure the fair administration of justice .

3) Efficiently Resolve Unjust Conviction Torts. A subcommittee of the Bureau willmeet to resolve unjust conviction torts filed against the state. This will enable those found by the courts to have been unjustly convicted, and meeting the requirements for compensation under state law, to receive it in an efficient, streamlined manner.

In making his announcement, Attorney General Schneiderman expressed gratitude to the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) led by Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore, as well as to the New York State Justice Task Force, commissioned by Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman, both of which have been exploring improvements to law enforcement procedures to make them as fair and reliable as possible.

The new bureau will be led by Chief Thomas Schellhammer, an Assistant Attorney General and former homicide prosecutor in the New York County District Attorney Office, and Director Blake Zeff, who serves as senior advisor to the Attorney General.

 “I look forward to continuing to partner with leaders in law enforcement in New York State, so that together we will lead the way for the nation, when it comes to criminal justice reforms,” Attorney General Schneiderman said.

Schneiderman’s announcement today was hailed by bipartisan leaders in the criminal justice and law enforcement communities.

Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York, said, "Attorney General Schneiderman is to be commended for his landmark effort to curb the nightmare of wrongful convictions. One wrongfully convicted person is one too many, and I believe the reforms announced today will help pave the way toward reducing such injustices."

Janet DiFiore, Westchester County District Attorney and President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, said, “The integrity of the criminal justice system in New York State hinges on ensuring that the guilty are held accountable and the innocent are protected. The District Attorneys Association continues in its efforts in this regard and appreciates Attorney General Schneiderman's leadership in seeking to partner with us in this effort, by allocating resources and the expertise of his office.”

Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, said, “We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for taking on the problem of wrongful convictions in New York. As we’ve learned through DNA exonerations, wrongful convictions give you an opportunity to see where the system failed and how it can be made more just. We hope that district attorneys throughout the state will take advantage of this initiative, because all New Yorkers are hurt when the wrong person is convicted of a crime and the real perpetrator is free to commit more crimes.”

 Kathleen B. Hogan, Warren County District Attorney, said, “District Attorneys have always appreciated the seriousness of post-conviction review. Many offices have limited resources, with 40 D.A. offices in the state having ten or fewer attorneys to handle their entire caseload. That's why I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman and welcome his assistance in providing experienced attorneys who will work collaboratively with D.A. offices to review cases in the post-conviction context.”

Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of the New York State NAACP, said, “The NAACP New York State Conference believes this is a step in the right direction because we need more effective measures to prevent ‘wrongful convictions.’ The NAACP NYS Conference commends the AG's office for the creation of the CRB and we look forward to following its progress and results.”

Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Manhattan District Attorney, said, “I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his innovative initiative to curb wrongful convictions. My office has instituted a program to ensure the integrity of our convictions, and I am delighted to partner with the Attorney General in achieving justice for New Yorkers and preserving the public's confidence in law enforcement.”

Vincent E. Doyle III, President of the New York State Bar Association, said, “Attorney General Schneiderman has long demonstrated a commitment to addressing the serious issue of wrongful convictions. The Association was proud to work with then-state Senator Schneiderman on legislation addressing the root causes of wrongful convictions, which we hope will be enacted in the near future. We commend the Attorney General for making the resources of his office available to help address this ongoing problem.”

William J. Fitzpatrick, Onondaga County District Attorney, said,"As prosecutors, we should always be vigilant of preventing wrongful convictions. That starts with establishing and implementing practices and procedures to ensure the right person is arrested and tried. It also requires careful examination of legitimate claims of innocence that warrant review after conviction. In recent years, the District Attorney's Association of the State of New York has established standing committees to address these issues, such as the Committee on the Fair and Ethical Administration of Justice, the Best Practices Committee and the Ethics Committee. To have Attorney General Schneiderman, offer assistance to district attorneys' offices and partner with state prosecutors to ensure that the guilty are convicted and that the innocent are exonerated is a testament to his leadership, vision and cooperation. As one of the 62 elected district attorneys in the state, I along with my fellow prosecutors, applaud his efforts."

Lonnie Soury, President of Falseconfessions.org, said, “Eric Schneiderman kept his word by fulfilling his commitment to address this urgent criminal justice imperative. He fought to pass legislation to limit wrongful convictions while a State Senator and now, in his role of Attorney General, he is instituting a program that will hopefully be a model for developing best practices on those factors that lead to wrongful convictions such as false confessions and witness misidentification. This program will help prevent innocent people from going to prison, contribute to apprehending the guilty, and give hope to those currently wrongfully imprisoned.”

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