The legal process in the U.S. is set according to constitutional guarantees for American citizens. However, each state has the autonomy to write legislation that impacts how due process plays out when a defendant goes to court. The civil and criminal processes can be much different in that a civil case is decided on a preponderance of the evidence while a criminal case is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The problem that many criminal defendants face is the latitude within the concept of what reasonable doubt actually is, as many times convictions are reached on borderline or weak evidence. Ensuring that those accused are actually guilty is important to the effectiveness of the system, and now the state of New York is following the New Jersey lead for an additional layer of protection for defendants.
New proposed bill
Several years ago the state of New Jersey enacted legislation that allowed defendants to retain attorneys in post-conviction who then began a second investigation into their client’s criminal case. The goal is to uncover additional evidence for exoneration that was not available when the criminal defense was presented in the original prosecution. The success of this additional layer of prosecution protection has prompted New York legislators to introduce a similar legal representation law.
How the law would work
Central to the potential for overturning a conviction is reopening a case based on strong evidence that a defendant was indeed innocent of what they were accused of. The best example of this type of evidence is DNA and other scientific testing that could remove the defendant from being present at the scene of a crime. However, recanting of testimony could also apply in some criminal cases.
Many advocates feel this is a positive step in the right direction with respect to ensuring the integrity of the criminal prosecution system. Sending individuals to jail for crimes they have not committed is counter to what to the U.S. Constitution demands, which is what this law would guard against.