Actual Innocence Act
December 22nd, 2009
Sen. Eric Schneiderman and Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat seem to share at least one New Year’s resolution–they both hope to pass legislation that would give the wrongfully convicted a chance to prove their innocence and vacate their conviction.
Both legislators were joined today by a number of civil rights groups as well as Fernando Bermudez to announce their support for the legislation.
Bermudez served 18 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit before a judge dismissed the indictment against him this past November. A witness in Bermudez’s case was found to have lied in court.
“Fernando’s experience illustrates exactly why we need to reform the criminal justice system to give innocent people locked up in prison a hearing when they can produce evidence conclusively proving they are not guilty,” said Schneiderman. “It’s that simple. Had this law been in place in the 1990s, it’s possible that Mr. Bermudez could have been a free man more than ten years ago.”
Here is the statement from Schneiderman’s office:
“For wrongfully convicted individuals in these non-DNA cases, current law offers only limited hope for relief by establishing procedural obstacles that can deprive them of having an innocence claim thoroughly heard. The tragic result – as demonstrated in hundreds of DNA exoneration cases throughout the country – is that an innocent person can spend years in jail while the real perpetrator is free to commit more crimes and terrorize countless victims.
The Schneiderman-Espaillat bill (S.5234) creates a freestanding ground of “actual innocence” upon which a criminal court could grant a post-conviction motion to vacate its prior judgment of conviction. The motion can be granted only where a defendant is able to present “reliable and relevant” proof that “conclusively establishes” the defendant’s actual innocence of the crime of which he or she was convicted. To ensure that a defendant cannot benefit from prior inaction or delay aimed at “gaming” the system, the bill would specifically permit the court to deny relief where it determines that the defendant’s failure to act was intentional.
This bill prevents the rejection of innocence claims on technicalities. It is particularly important in cases like this one, where there is no DNA evidence. In the last five years, approximately 64 percent of all the exonerations in the United States were based on non-DNA evidence. Experts observe that the percentage of exonerations based on non-DNA evidence in New York State is only increasing.”By David King on December 22, 2009, 2:07 pm
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