June 16, 2014

Brooklyn District Attorney Ramps Up Conviction Review Unit

Brooklyn/Kings County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson
Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson
In a positive step for justice and prosecutorial integrity, Newly elected Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson has put in place a conviction review unit to take a second look at questionable convictions. The really good news is that this is not grandstanding. Thompson has brought in a crackerjack staff and they have taken on tremendous workload.

I won't restate all the details (they're here, in a New York Law Journal article), but allow me to summarize: his until is looking at 90 convictions -- 80 of which were obtained by former D.A. Charles Hynes's office -- and has appointed 10 full-time prosecutors to the unit. In contrast, when Hynes buckled under the pressure of his re-election campaign and began reviewing his own convictions, he only assigned three prosecutors.

The unit is looking at cases referred to them by defense counsel, but is also turning over its own rocks and initiating its own reviews.  Not surprisingly, according to the NYLJ, University of Michigan Law School Professor Samuel Gross, who tracks exonerations across the country, described the caseload as "staggering," and says that the program is superior to others throughout the country, noting that it "could become a model for other big-city D.A.'s offices."

I have written repeatedly about the need to do away with prosecutorial immunity, and the numbing regularity of prosecutorial misconduct (i.e., here, here, and here). It is equally important to observe and applaud those who take their prosecutorial obligations seriously, those who are willing to forego a conviction if doing justice or observing the constitution so requires. We are early into the Ken Thompson era, but his willingness to turn a harsh light on past practices is most welcome.

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