These days, thanks to the “Innocent Project” and advances in DNA testing, more and more victims of wrongful conviction are able to prove their innocence, even after many years behind bars.
This gets them out of jail, and under certain conditions, arms them with a claim against the State of New York to get money compensation for their nightmare behind bars. In New York, Court of Claims Act section 8-b says the wrongfully convicted can seek compensation from the State if they prove they are innocent and “did not by their own conduct bring about the conviction.” Courts have interpreted this language to mean that someone who falsely confesses to the crime cannot sue for compensation. After all, if you tell the D.A. “yeah, I did it”, you arguably “brought about your own conviction”, right?
Maybe. But that begs the question of why someone would confess to a crime they did not commit. Sounds silly to people who have never been under the grueling pressure of a tough interrogation for hour upon hour. But it makes sense to some of the accused at the time. Lengthy, tough interrogations do something to the human psyche. Sometimes people crack. Some folks have weaker constitutions than others. Especially those with serious mental or psychological problems, or who are too young to know what they were doing.
The proof is in the pudding. Of the twenty-seven people in New York who have had their convictions overturned by DNA evidence since 1991, ten — more than a third — had falsely confessed or pleaded guilty.
Now a new bill, the Unjust Imprisonment Act, would amend §8-b of the Court of Claims Act to allow people who have confessed or pleaded guilty to a crime they did not commit to sue the state for damages. The bill would also extend the statute of limitations for such suits from two years to three.
Interestingly, the bill comes from the desk of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office is also responsible for defending claims, including wrongful conviction claims, brought against New York State. But he decided to do “the right thing” regardless of the consequences to his office. And for that he deserves our praise.
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Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
mbk-law.com Central NY Wrongful Conviction Lawyers
Michaels Bersani Kalabanka