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NY 2nd in Nation for Wrongful Convictions Overturned

Nationally, 149 prisoners were exonerated in 2015. (Bubby1124/Wikimedia Commons)
Nationally, 149 prisoners were exonerated in 2015. (Bubby1124/Wikimedia Commons)
February 8, 2016

NEW YORK – A record number of criminal convictions were overturned last year both nationally and here in New York.

Of the 149 people exonerated across the country in 2015, 17 were in New York prisons, second only to Texas where 54 were found to be falsely convicted.

That may not seem like a lot, but Lonnie Soury, founder of the website, says it's just the tip of the iceberg.

"Even the federal Justice Department did a study once and said between 5 and 10 percent of the people in prison are wrongfully convicted,” he states. “So if there's two-and-a-half-million people in prison, even 5 percent would be 125,000."

A review by the National Registry of Exonerations found that 58 of those exonerated last year had been convicted of homicide, five had been sentenced to death and, on average, those falsely convicted had spent 14 years in prison.

Many false convictions are gained through official misconduct. In Brooklyn, the district attorney's office has been reviewing scores of convictions involving former police Detective Louis Scarcella.

Soury has reviewed those cases and believes judges and prosecutors clearly knew the detective was lying.

"To allow tainted testimony and tainted evidence from prosecutors, to allow that to go before jury after jury after jury is an abomination," he stresses.

New York City has paid out more than $24 million to settle lawsuits for wrongful convictions based on Scarcella's police work.

More than 1,700 false convictions have been overturned since 1989, and the annual number of exonerations has doubled since 2011. But Soury says there is still a lot of resistance to change.

"Prosecutors need to be held accountable for, not their mistakes, but for their actions,” he states. “I like to say, wrongful convictions don't happen by mistake."

Brooklyn is one of about two dozen jurisdictions nationwide that now has conviction integrity units to review possible wrongful convictions.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY