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Legislation seeks to help those wrongfully convicted because of false confessions

Earlier this week, we told you about how, under certain circumstances, victims of wrongful convictions may not be able to seek damages for their wrongful incarceration if they falsely confessed to the crime or pled guilty in order to avoid a harsher sentence.

The problem with this, of course, is that some individuals may feel pressured to confess or plead guilty to a crime they did not commit, even in situations in which the court doesn't think they have been technically "coerced." The truth is, none of us knows how we would react to an intense police interrogation until it actually happens, especially if you are facing a significantly harsher penalty should you decide the fight the charges and lose.

Fortunately, however, New York lawmakers have introduced two bills that will, if passed and signed into law, allow those convicted based on false confessions to qualify for compensation and benefits. But, with the New York legislative session ending in just a few weeks, time is quickly running out on these bills.

What changes are being proposed?

Under current New York law, victims of wrongful convictions are not able to seek compensation if they by their "own conduct cause of bring about" their conviction. Unfortunately, some courts have interpreted this language to include situations in which an accused individual gives a false confession -- with one court even applying the law when the confession was not only false, but also illegally obtained.

However, the new bills -- otherwise known as S.B. 53 and A.B. 3894 -- hope to fix this problem. Specifically, these bills state that "a confession, admission or plea of guilty" will not be considered evidence that an individual caused or brought about their conviction, unless:

  • The confession, admission or guilty plea was made voluntarily, knowingly and without duress; AND
  • The intent of the confession, admission or guilty plea is to prevent the investigation or prosecution of another unrelated criminal offense or to protect the known perpetrator of the alleged crime currently at issue.

Under this proposed law, those pressured to take a plea deal or provide a false confession may be able to seek damages for their wrongful incarceration, so long as they aren't trying to protect a known perpetrator or hide another crime. As mentioned above, however, the New York legislative session is quickly coming to an end, so it is unknown if these bills will ever become law.

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