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Albany Law Review
PERSPECTIVE: PROTECTING THE INNOCENT IN NEW YORK: MOVING BEYOND CHANGING ONLY THEIR NAMES
Albany Law Review
73 Alb. L. Rev. 1245
James R. Acker* and Catherine L. Bonventre**
New York courts generated more than forty thousand felony convictions in 2007 1 and an additional 155,746 misdemeanor convictions. 2 Roughly sixty-two thousand individuals are presently incarcerated in New York prisons 3 and many more are in jail. 4 Some of them are innocent. It is impossible to know precisely how many and who they all are. But there is no disputing that wrongful convictions occur. Even if guilty verdicts are usually, or almost always reliable, converting estimated error rates into absolute numbers produces a staggering total of wrongful convictions. An accuracy level as high as 99.5%, which by some projections is decidedly optimistic, 5 would still mean that nearly one thousand innocent New Yorkers a year are convicted of crimes 6 and in excess of eleven thousand of the nation's incarcerated population (including well over eight hundred in New York) are in prison or jail for crimes they did not commit. 7 The tragedy is compounded because not only do innocent people suffer the devastating consequences of wrongful convictions, but actual offenders escape justice, perhaps to prey on additional victims. 8 Errors, inevitable in all human endeavors, are both predestined and tacitly acknowledged in systems of criminal justice that need negate only reasonable doubts - not all doubts - to support convictions. 9
In June 2008, upon assuming the presidency of the New York State Bar Association ("NYSBA"), Bernice Leber appointed "a blue ribbon Task Force to find ways to prevent wrongful convictions" 10 in the ...
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