Majority of New Yorkers support package of bills to end wrongful convictions

Legislation that would help free more innocent people from prison has wide support among New Yorkers of all political stripes.

A new poll from Data for Progress released on Monday found 76% of voters in the Empire State support a package of bills that could help end wrongful convictions.

The bills, which would bar deceptive interrogation tactics, require minors to consult with a lawyer before waiving their Miranda right and allow more people who pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit have their cases reviewed, have wide support among both Democrats and Republicans.

Around 87% of Democrats back the bills and 63% of Republicans also support the measures, according to a survey conducted last month. The bipartisan support comes despite deep divides over other criminal justice issues including bail reform rollbacks recently passed as part of the state budget.

The centerpiece of the package being considered by the Democrat-controlled Legislature is the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act, which would give innocent people the ability to clear their names without the assistance of DNA evidence, and provide a right to post-conviction discovery and establish a right to counsel for those with wrongful conviction claims.

“The profound harm of a wrongful conviction can never truly be undone but at the very least, the state has a responsibility to ensure a working pathway to exoneration exists,” said Assemblyman Dan Quart (D-Manhattan). “New Yorkers overwhelmingly support action on wrongful convictions – and the Legislature can and should do more by passing the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act this session.”

Specifically, the measure, also sponsored by Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn), would assist New Yorkers who plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.

Under current state law, the only way to overturn a conviction of someone who pleads guilty is with supporting DNA evidence.

More than 330 innocent people have been exonerated in New York since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Recent data show that in New York State, 99% of misdemeanor charges and 94% of felony charges are resolved by a guilty plea, according to the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Additionally, according to the Innocence Project, biological evidence that could prove guilt or innocence exists in less than 10% of criminal cases.

Another bill in the package would ban police from using deceptive interrogation methods. Several other states have taken similar steps with both Illinois and Oregon recently banning police from using deception in juvenile interrogations. The bill under consideration in New York would go further by barring deception in all interrogations.

In the poll, New Yorkers also expressed support for a measure that would require that minors consult an attorney before waiving their Miranda rights.

Supporters of the measures plan to rally at the State Capitol on Tuesday.

“Few things undermine the credibility of the criminal legal system as much as the incredible tolerance law enforcement and elected officials seem to have for wrongful convictions,” said Nick Encalada-Malinowski, civil rights campaign director for VOCAL-NY, an advocacy group championing the bills. “The Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act, which we now know is widely supported by people across the political spectrum, will provide a legitimate path for people who have been wrongfully convicted to clear their names.

“We need leaders in the Legislature to fast-track the bill and get it passed immediately,” he added.

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