Assembly Passes Legislation to Help Those Wrongfully Convicted Find Justice

Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblymember Jeffrion L. Aubry today announced that the Assembly has passed legislation to help those wrongly convicted seek justice, and to vacate convictions of those who were convicted under statutes that were later decriminalized or found to be unconstitutional (A.2878, Aubry).

“The Assembly Majority is committed to building a criminal justice system that ensures that every person in our state is able to seek justice,” Speaker Heastie said. “But far too many New Yorkers are sitting behind bars for crimes they did not commit. This legislation will put into place the mechanisms to review cases of those who have been wrongly convicted and for them to present evidence of their innocence.”

“It is a crime that New Yorkers are languishing in prison for crimes that they did not commit,” Assemblymember Aubry said. “My legislation will allow those who have been wrongfully convicted to seek justice by providing the opportunity for applicants for post-conviction relief to submit evidence of their innocence and provides a remedy for those convicted under laws that have since been decriminalized or found to be unconstitutional.”

This legislation would provide individuals convicted of crimes with the opportunity for meaningful review to ensure redress for wrongful convictions, including in cases where the individual has pled guilty. In New York, 96 percent of felony cases are decided by plea agreement, but those who plead guilty have the lowest exoneration rate due to structural barriers put in place. It would also increase protections for people who are innocent, including ensuring that they are permitted under law to submit various types of evidence of their innocence to the court and requiring courts to order hearings in those cases with colorable claims of innocence.

The bill extends new due process protections to applicants for post-conviction relief, including the right to access complete discovery of both the prosecution and defense counsel files, and access to and retesting of physical evidence. It would also allow applicants for post-conviction relief to request defense counsel and requires the court to appoint counsel in cases where the person requesting relief requests counsel, is indigent or would otherwise qualify for free representation at the trial level.

It would also expand protections for people exposed to significant collateral consequences of their convictions and provide a remedy for people convicted under laws that are subsequently decriminalized or found to be unconstitutional to petition to vacate the conviction.