March 3, 2014

An Easier Road to Recovery for the Wrongly Convicted

Fernando Bermudez spent 18 years
in prison for a crime he did not commit.
New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently published an op-ed piece in the Daily News touting new legislation designed to help the wrongly convicted collect compensation from New York State. According to Schneiderman, the Unjust Imprisonment Act would eliminate restrictions in state law that foreclose by people who were coerced into false confessions or who pleaded guilty to crimes they not commit. It would also increase the statute of limitations (the time to file an action) from the current two years to three.

Schneiderman's recognition that innocent people do plead guilty or confess to crimes they did not commit is remarkably forward thinking. Criminal defense and civil rights attorneys are all too familiar with people coerced into false confessions, or those who take guilty pleas that come with time served sentences because the alternative is to remain in jail for months or years fighting the charge.

Slowly but surely it is becoming evident that the criminal justice system is deeply flawed and that convictions of innocent people are inevitable. These are sometimes the product of an assembly line that offers grossly imperfect representation to the poor, high-pressure tactics on those that can't afford bail, and a system that is overwhelmed by a staggering case load. Other times, the wrongly prosecuted are the victims of lying officers and prosecutors who have lost their way, having forgotten their primary obligation is to do justice, not to obtain convictions.

That New York's top prosecutor recognizes the need to provide great protection for the victims of our fractured system of criminal justice is a surprising but positive development.

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