Wrongfully Convicted Get Support From AG's Proposed Bill
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Wednesday he will file legislation allowing people who were wrongfully convicted of a crime to sue New York State, even if they confessed or otherwise helped "bring about" their own convictions.
Advocates of the attorney general's proposed change said it would remove a significant roadblock for people seeking restitution for their arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for crimes they did not commit.
Ironically, the bill could make it more difficult for the attorneys in Schneiderman's office to perform one of the attorney general's principal functions—defend the state against lawsuits.
Steven Banks, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society of New York City, said the Schneiderman legislation would properly make it easier for some wrongfully convicted people to pursue damages against the state.
"The role of a government lawyer is to do the right thing, which is exactly what this bill does, even though by facilitating access to justice, there will be more of these actions for the attorney general's office to defend," Banks said in an interview.
Schneiderman, who is up for reelection this year, said his Unjust Imprisonment Act would amend §8-b of the Court of Claims Act, which states people can sue for restitution only if they can prove innocence and "did not by [their] own conduct cause or bring about ... conviction."
Schneiderman said his bill will stipulate that people who are exonerated can still pursue a lawsuit if they pleaded guilty or confessed and cannot prove that their admissions were the result of coercion or duress.
In an appearance at John Jay College in Manhattan, Schneiderman said the amended version of the Court of Claims Act would address the "all too common" occurrence where people confess to crimes they did not commit, and then find they cannot sue the state if they are later exonerated.
"It doubly victimizes people who acted out of fear, had a serious mental or psychological problem, or were simply too young to know better, that they admitted doing something they did not do," Schneiderman said. "A statute that allows some wrongfully convicted individuals to seek restitution but denies that legal right to others is an unjust and unequal application of the law."