Schneiderman seeks to help wrongfully convicted New Yorkers
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman proposed new legislation on Wednesday that would reduce roadblocks for wrongfully convicted New Yorkers seeking compensation.
The bill, also known as the Unjust Imprisonment Act, would update law originally passed in 1894 and revisited in 2007 that limited claims for compensation only to individuals who “did not by his own conduct cause or bring about” their convictions.
“Those who are wrongfully convicted and unjustly deprived of liberty must be allowed to put their lives back together again, and we have a moral obligation to help them do so,” Schneiderman said in a statement today.
“The legal reforms we are proposing today are critically important not just to the futures of the people wrongfully convicted by our criminal justice system, but to our future as a just society,” he added.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Joseph Lentol is slated to introduce the bill at Schneiderman’s request. While Albany has a fickle history with legislation related to criminal justice, Lentol said he anticipates little resistance to the bill in question.
“This is not a jail break,” Lentol explained, adding that the New Yorkers who would benefit from the law are only those who have already proven their innocence.
The bill, he said, only opens a door for those who have been shut out by the existing law from the opportunity to seek compensation for time wrongfully served. The claims court would still evaluate the validity of each request.
According to national legal nonprofit the Innocence Project, a little more than half of the 27 persons exonerated by DNA in New York State received compensation for their wrongful convictions. Twelve New Yorkers have yet to receive compensation after their exonerations.
“They should at least get their case heard,” Lentol added.
Currently, the proposed legislation would permit anybody who falsely confessed or pleaded guilty to a crime they did not commit to file a claim with the court. It also allows affected New Yorkers proven innocent as a result of constitutional violations or post-conviction DNA testing to pursue compensation.
Additionally, the law would give exonerated individuals an extra year to file their claim to three years from two. If the bill makes it through the state capitol, any person whose case was dismissed due to minor human error is also eligible for an extra six months to resubmit a claim from the dismissal date.
Raymond Santana is one of the handful of those wrongfully convicted New Yorkers still seeking compensation.
One of the five young black and Latino men who falsely confessed to the infamous 1989 rape of a jogger in Central Park, Santana and the other now adult men filed a civil suit against the city almost immediately after a court overturned their convictions in 2001 when DNA testing linked a serial rapist to the victim in their case.
Santana and the four other men would not be eligible for relief under the proposed legislation, but he nonetheless praised the bill and what he said he hopes is a movement within Albany to recognize the struggle that exonerated New Yorkers face.
Having been arrested for a crime he didn’t commit when he was 15 years old, however, Santana said his overriding concern continues to be how the courts determine the amount of compensation others wrongfully convicted at a young age are eligible to receive.
With compensation often seen as a way to help men and women rebuild their lives after serving time for crimes they never committed, Santana said he hopes those cases that do receive relief reflect the impact the convictions have on young people.
“You cannot measure how much is lost,” he said. “You’re not just stealing time but a crucial stage of development.”
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria