By Rebecca Brown, Innocence Project Director of Policy
This morning, New York City took the bold step of publicly recognizing a horrible miscarriage of justice that began with an attack on a Central Park jogger 33 years ago. From now on, the park’s northeast entrance will be known as the “Gate of the Exonerated.” The gate is dedicated to all those wrongly convicted in the state of New York, like the teens wrongly incarcerated for the jogger’s assault, known as the Exonerated Five.
For nearly 20 years, the Innocence Project has partnered with exonerated New Yorkers to prevent what happened to them from happening to others. In that time, New York passed a critical law, albeit with limitations, requiring police custodial interrogations to be recorded from start to finish. Yet more must be done to prevent future wrongful convictions.
Law enforcement can still use deception during interrogations, meaning detectives can legally lie about the existence of incriminating evidence and falsely promise leniency. These same tactics led some of the Exonerated Five to falsely confess three decades ago. The teens were interrogated for up to 30 hours and did not have legal counsel present during that time.
In this regard, little has changed today. Children in New York still do not have the right to counsel during an interrogation. Instead, the burden is on them to request access to counsel.
Additionally, people who falsely plead guilty to crimes can only bring their innocence claims back to court if there is DNA evidence in their case. Given that 20% of exoneration cases involved guilty pleas, there’s no telling how many innocent, incarcerated New Yorkers have been left stranded by the legal system.
If we are serious about ensuring no one else has to endure such injustices, then it’s time to end deceptive interrogation practices, require the right to counsel for juveniles (at minimum), and create stronger pathways to true justice for wrongly convicted people. This upcoming legislative session, New York has the opportunity to do just that by passing the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act, the Right2Remain Silent Act, and a bill that would ban deception during interrogations. Learn more here.
On December 4th, the Innocence Project proudly housed an intimate conversation at The Green Space with Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana, members of the Central Park “Exonerated Five,” after live streaming their interview on WNYC’s Notes from America with Kai Wright.
For more information, watch Raymond and Kevin’s Notes from America interview with Kai Wright below.