May 17, 2022
CONTACT:Nick Encalada-Malinowski, email@example.com, 347-259-4835
CHALLENGING WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS ACT PASSES KEY ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE, MOMENTUM GROWS FOR PASSAGE BY LEGISLATURE THIS SESSION
Advocates and Bill Sponsors Optimistic About Passage after Vote which Follows a New Poll That Shows Broad Bipartisan Support For The Bill Among New Yorkers
ALBANY, N.Y. – Formerly incarcerated organizers and activists, including people exonerated from wrongful convictions and those that are still fighting to clear their names, were in Albany on Tuesday to mark the passage of the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act through the crucial codes committee in the Assembly. The bill, which would reform CPL 440.10 to give people who were wrongfully convicted a legitimate chance to get back into court to clear their name based on new evidence not available to them at trial, now awaits action by legislative leaders to bring the bill to the floor in both houses for a full vote.
“I’m happy to see the bill voted through this committee, but now we need the whole Assembly to pass it and the Senate to take action to pass the bill as well. Once the legislature has passed the bill, we need the Governor to sign it,” said VOCAL-NY Leader Roger Clark.
“The profound harm of a wrongful conviction can never be undone but at the very least, the state has a responsibility to ensure a working pathway to exoneration exists,” said Assemblymember Dan Quart. “New Yorkers overwhelmingly support action to address the crisis of wrongful convictions. There is no time to lose – we must bring the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act to the floor for a vote before this legislative session ends.”
“Wrongful convictions are an affront to justice, and harm the cause of public safety. Our laws must make it easier for the innocent to challenge their convictions in court, and I’m proud to sponsor this legislation,” said Senator Zellnor Myrie.
“The new polling confirms what we already know: that wrongful convictions are the greatest stain on our criminal legal system. Democratic and Republican voters alike believe we must take immediate steps to address this crisis. In New York State, Criminal Procedure Law 440 is the only mechanism for exoneration. But the law as written is wildly out of step with the rest of the country and is impossible for people to successfully navigate without the assistance of an attorney. We are grateful to the Assembly Codes Committee for passing this crucial piece of legislation out of committee. We call on both the Senate and the Assembly to pass the bill in its entirety this session. New York can only begin to address the past harms of mass incarceration by taking these long overdue steps,” said Sergio De La Pava, Legal Director, New York County Defender Services.
“New York, which has one of the highest rates of wrongful convictions, has one of the most restrictive post-conviction legal frameworks in the nation. Despite the fact that one in five of the 3000 people exonerated in the US pled guilty to crimes they did not commit, New York prevents people who plead guilty but do not have the benefit of DNA evidence in their cases from presenting their claims in court. In addition to being out of step with the nation, this framework causes deep harm to the innocent, their loved ones and their communities. Albany must act now. Justice demands it,” said Rebecca Brown, Policy Director, Innocence Project.
“The passage of the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act through the Codes Committee is an enormous step forward in guaranteeing wrongfully convicted New Yorker’s their day in court and a meaningful chance to prove their innocence,” said Claudia S. Trupp, Director of the Justice First Project at the Center for Appellate Litigation.
Momentum is building to pass the bill during the final weeks of the legislative session, buoyed by new polling released by the groups Tuesday that shows the bill has broad bipartisan support among voters.
Currently most people are legally barred from relief even if they have evidence of their actual innocence and those that can petition are often rejected on technical grounds, rather than on the merits. A 2018 Court of Appeals case, People v. Tiger, ruled that people who plead guilty cannot make a claim that they were wrongfully convicted based on new evidence, unless that evidence is DNA. But DNA cases make up a small minority of criminal cases and 95% of all convictions in New York are the result of a guilty plea.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblyman Dan Quart and backed by numerous organizations including New York County Defender Services, the Innocence Project and VOCAL-NY, would remove this “guilty-plea bar” and also would provide applicants with a right to counsel, a right to discovery, a right to a hearing and a right to appeal, none of which currently exist in the realm of post-conviction litigation in New York State.
New York is one of just five states in the U.S. that does not provide a right to attorney in post conviction cases, trailing red states like Texas and Alabama.