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New Yorkers Mobilize against Wrongful Convictions

October 29, 2007

New York, NY – A lot of New York convicts are serving other people's time, leaving the real criminals out on the street. That's the conclusion of a new study by the Innocence Project, which has used DNA evidence to exonerate two dozen falsely prosecuted New Yorkers, seven of whom were wrongfully convicted of murder, despite unreliable forensics and questionable testimony at their trials. New York's disproportionate error rate has prompted legislators, prosecutors and legal activists to gather today in support of new reform. Andrea Batista-Schlesinger is with the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy; she says earlier efforts have been unsuccessful.

"There's legislation on the table enabling those that have been wrongfully convicted to petition for restitution. Progress could have been made earlier this year but, due to typical Albany dynamics, that legislation didn't go through."

Governor Spitzer has proposed a DNA database of convicts, raising privacy issues, but Albany has yet to implement a state-appointed "Innocence Commission," which would facilitate case reviews. Batista-Schlesinger points to similar prosecutorial problems and solutions in Texas, where District Attorney Craig Watkins has launched new procedures to avoid wrongful convictions.

"Defense lawyers can finally have access to the same information that prosecutors can use. The next step is reviewing the cases of the 400 people who have petitioned to have DNA reviews because they believe they have been wrongfully convicted."

Participants in the "Wrongful Convictions" symposium are recommending preservation and access to DNA evidence, and ways to work with police and prosecutors to eliminate erroneous testimony and false confessions.

More information about the symposium can be found at www.drummajorinstitute.org.

The Innocence Project report is also available online, at www.innocenceproject.org.

Robert Knight/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - NY