Two developments in New York State took place last week that may reveal a less strict approach to compensating exonerees. First, David Ranta, a man who was framed by Brooklyn detective Louis Scarcella and served 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit reached an agreement with the office of the City Comptroller, Scott Stringer, to receive $6.4 million in compensation. Ranta’s $150 million claim was settled by the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, without a law suit ever being filed and thus without involving the City’s legal department. This was the first case to be disposed of by the new Conviction Integrity Unit in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, and that office joined in the application to vacate the conviction. While Stringer took some heat for this decision, he made clear that spending millions of dollars and many years in litigation would not do anyone justice in a case where the district attorney joined in the motion to vacate the conviction.
Second, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced legislation that would allow people who have confessed or pleaded guilty to a crime they did not commit to sue the state for damages. This change seemingly would go hand in hand with the amendment to N.Y. CPL § 440 that allowed convicted defendants who had plead guilty to bring a post-conviction motion for DNA testing. As Schneiderman noted in his announcement, 10 of the 27 people in New York who have had their convictions vacated based on DNA had falsely confessed or pleaded guilty. Such people will be able to sue for compensation even if they cannot prove that their confession or guilty plea was coerced. The proposed bill would also extend the statute of limitations for wrongful conviction compensation claims from two to three years.
These developments make sense. NYC Comptroller Stringer’s decision to settle a claim without years of expensive litigation is a welcome breath of fresh air in our overly contentious adversary system and will allow the millions that would have been spent on defending the indefensible to be used to pay other wrongfully convicted individuals or for other important criminal justice purposes. Similarly, given what we now know about the causes of wrongful conviction, we should welcome the end of our pretending that false confessions do not exist.
- Frances Robles, Man Framed by Detective Will Get $6.4 Million From New York City After Serving 23 Years for Murder, The New York Times (Feb. 20, 2014).
- Joel Stashenko, Wrongfully Convicted Get Support from AG’s Proposed Bill, NYLJ (Feb. 20, 2014).
- Attorney General Eric Schneiderman: Wrongfully Convicted May See State Aid, Brooklyn News 12 (Feb. 19, 2014).
- Glenn Blain, AG Push for Help to Wrongly Convicted, Daily News (Feb. 18, 2014).
- Schneiderman Backs Claims for Wrongful Convictions, The Wall Street Journal Online (Feb. 18, 2014).