The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) House of Delegates has approved a report from the Task Force on Wrongful Convictions that recommends the establishment of conviction integrity units (CIUs) in each of New York’s 62 counties, as well as a change to the current criminal law that would allow a new evidence claim after a guilty plea, and also calls for new legislation to improve the quality of forensic science admitted into evidence.
The current Task Force on Wrongful Convictions examined the critical issues that have arisen in the criminal justice community over the past decade: conviction integrity units; forensic issues; actual innocence; the implementation of new statewide legislation; and the use of jailhouse informants. A NYSBA task force on this issue formed in 2009 identified primary factors responsible for wrongful conviction in its report, released in 2009.
“Over the last decade, we have seen an increased awareness on the issue of wrongful convictions and the unreliability of forensic evidence. This task force’s recommendations, if implemented, will give wrongfully convicted persons additional recourse for exoneration and will make it less likely that some wrongful convictions will occur in the first place,” said NYSBA President Michael Miller. “The members of this task force and its co-chairs, former judges Barry Kamins and Robert S. Smith have made a great contribution on a profoundly important topic and are to be commended for their diligence in making recommendations.”
Conviction Integrity Units
The report includes the recommendation that each district attorney’s office in the state have a CIU or conviction review program that follows comprehensive best practices established by the task force. It also recommends the establishment of a statewide fund to support the creation of CIUs and review of individual cases, while also asking the Legislature to grant the judiciary the power to issue investigative subpoenas connected to any ongoing CIU review.
Citing a report from the Innocence Project which has found that “misapplication of forensic science is the second most common contributing factor to wrongful convictions, found in nearly half (45 percent) of DNA exoneration cases,” the task force recommends new legislation to improve the quality of forensic science admitted into evidence.
The new statute would only be applied in criminal cases and would require expert testimony to be the product of reliable principles and methods, based on sufficient facts or data and, when scientific evidence is offered, the experts’ method must be shown to be reproducible and accurate by empirical studies.
The task force report recommends adding a new section to New York Criminal Procedure Law that would permit a newly discovered evidence claim after a guilty plea.
The current section requires “probability that had such evidence been received at the trial the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant.” The task force recommends that where a defendant pled guilty, a newly discovered evidence requires “a substantial probability that the defendant was actually innocent of the offense of which he or she was convicted.”
Implementation of Statewide Legislation
The report recommends further collection of statewide data to better understand how the new laws regarding eyewitness identification and recording of interrogations to better determine if additional training or resources are needed and to determine if evidence is being collected in the way the ensures the intent of the law is being realized.
Use Jailhouse Informants
The report also recommends further study to determine whether additional protections to ensure informant safety are needed before implementing the model policy for the county-based tracking and disclosure of jailhouse information and testimony. Task force members determined that additional study is needed by the State Bar regarding the establishment of a statewide tracking system by an as- yet-to-be-determined centralized agency.
About New York State Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, the Association has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.
Contact: Brendan Kennedy