Wrongfully Convicted Get Support From AG's Proposed Bill

, New York Law Journal

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Eric T. Schneiderman
Eric T. Schneiderman

Lentol said it is unfair to continue to block the wrongfully convicted from making claims based on the fact they gave false confessions or made self-incriminating statements.

"Somebody confessed to the crime, and courts have said that is a barrier to even getting into court to sue for damages," Lentol said in an interview. "So how do you compensate a person who has spent 20 years of their life wrongfully imprisoned and they cannot even get into court? What do you say, 'Sorry buddy' and give them $50 say, 'You can go home now?' I don't think so."

State Senator Michael Nozzolio, the Seneca Falls Republican who chairs the codes committee, did not respond to a phone message about the chances Schneiderman's bill has in his chamber.

A spokeswoman for Schneiderman said the attorney general was seeking a Senate sponsor.

Two attorneys who have successfully represented wrongfully convicted clients against the state, Thomas D'Agostino in Buffalo and Bruce Barket of Barket, Marion, Epstein & Kearon in Garden City, both said the Schneiderman bill would treat exonerated convicts more fairly.

"You just have people with different intelligence levels, people with different tolerance levels in terms of stress," D'Agostino said "Maybe if you talk to a psychiatrist or a psychologist they can explain why false confessions happen. But it's clear that they do happen, more than we'd like to think."

D'Agostino successfully pursued a claim against the state on behalf of Anthony Capozzi, who was released in 2007 after serving 20 years for being the purported "Delaware Park Rapist" in Buffalo. DNA evidence linked the crimes to another man, and Capozzi reached a $4.25 million settlement with the state in 2010.

Barket said the Schneiderman bill would comport the Court of Claims Act with the Court of Appeals' finding in Warney v. State of New York, 16 NY3d 428 (2011) in which the judges said a man who was exonerated after confessing to murder could still seek restitution for false imprisonment.

"It makes sense," said Barket, who represented Martin Tankleff in his wrongful conviction action against the state. Tankleff, who was convicted for killing his parents on Long Island in Suffolk County, won a $3.37 million settlement as his trial against the state for damages was about to begin (NYLJ, Jan. 8).

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office did not respond to a request for comment.

What's being said

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    toot, toot, wrongful conviction express coming down the tracks. Mr. AG, how about checking out the FZ Express Train.

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