By Julia Urquizo
NEW YORK, NY – New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblyman Clyde Vanel—joined by members of the “Exonerated Five”—introduced a series of bills last week to prevent wrongful convictions from proliferating in the Empire State.
As teenagers in 1990, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, and Kevin Richardson were wrongfully convicted for assaulting a jogger in Central Park.
Deceptive police interrogation tactics were blamed for coercing confessions out of the three teens because they were told there was evidence implicating their guilt.
However, no such evidence had ever existed following investigations later.
The Innocence Project quoted Senator Myrie exclaiming, “This isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue. This is a moral imperative. This is an issue of the heart. We are innocent before we are proven guilty. We are collectively demanding today that not one more person suffer under our wrongful conviction problem.”
He said that up to 303 New Yorkers, as of last week, have been exonerated for crimes they did not commit. Many like the Central Park Five may still be incarcerated due to coercive police tactics that lead to wrongful convictions, he said.
The first bill will ban deceptive police interrogation tactics, specifically preventing law enforcement from lying to adults during interrogation, which is currently allowed in all 50 states. The bill will also require confessions to be assessed for reliability before they are submitted as evidence for court.
The Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act allows individuals who pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit to file to have their cases reviewed and possibly get their conviction overturned. This would apply only to individuals whose cases do not have DNA evidence.
According to the Innocence Project, 20 percent of the 2,900 people exonerated since 1989 pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit in fear of the harsher penalties they would face if they were to take their case to trial.
The final justice reform bill introduced, entitled the “Youth Right to Remain Silent Bill,” protects minors in contact with law enforcement by requiring an attorney to consult with them before they consider waiving their Miranda Rights.
This kind of law would have prevented the Central Park Five from being wrongfully accused and convicted, the bill authors said.
Sharonne Salaam—Dr. Salaam’s mother—is quoted by the Innocence Project: “I remember years ago, when I was going through this process, we didn’t have this kind of opportunity. I want people to stand up and start fighting with me. We got to take this fight on to the end. We got to win because our people depend on this victory. We need you all to be a part of it.”