According to the National Registry of Convictions, more than 3,000 of the people exonerated since 1989 pleaded guilty to the charges against them even though they were innocent to avoid what prosecutors call the “trial penalty.” New York has one of the highest wrongful conviction rates in the country, but few of the innocent people incarcerated in the Empire State are ever exonerated and released. This is because the current laws in New York only allows people who plead guilty to seek exoneration when DNA evidence emerges that proves their innocence beyond any doubt.
The Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act
A bill currently languishing in the state legislature would finally give wrongfully convicted New Yorkers a path to exoneration. If it is passed and signed into law, the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act would remove what is known as the guilty bar, which prevents wrongfully convicted individuals who plead guilty from being exonerated even if they are innocent. It would also give individuals with wrongful claims the right to legal representation. New York is only one of five states that do not provide this right.
Broad coalition of support
The Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act has attracted bipartisan support from lawmakers and is being championed by groups advocating for civil rights and prisoner’s rights like the Innocence Project and New York County Defender Services. The bill was passed by the New York State Assembly in May 2022, but it did not even make it to the floor of the Senate.
New York is considered to be one of the most progressive states in the country, but the draconian way it treats the wrongfully convicted belies this reputation. The passage of the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act would bring the laws in New York into line with the laws of most other states, but that happy outcome is starting to look very unlikely.