Brooklyn’s borough president is lobbying the state to create a special commission to investigate and resolve wrongful convictions. In his county, over two dozen convictions, including some for murder, have been overturned since 2014, and he wants an independent commission set up to “examine exactly what went wrong here and who’s culpable.”

“Releasing innocent people is not the end. It is only the beginning,” said the politician, who is also a former police captain.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, a large number of wrongful and suspect convictions in Brooklyn are tied to a single retired detective, Louis Scarcella. He has denied any wrongdoing, but the Brooklyn DA’s office has been reviewing around 100 convictions garnered from his work since 2014. So far, 23 convictions have been disavowed.

According to the borough president, prosecutors have found witness manipulation, misleading testimony and even coerced confessions among Scarcella’s cases.

The former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals set up a task force on wrongful convictions in 2009, and many of the reforms his panel recommended were approved, including:

  • Videotaping police interrogations so coercive tactics can be challenged
  • Conducting “blind” photo identifications so the officer administering the ID doesn’t know which photo shows the suspect, which prevents them from unconsciously or intentionally signaling the witness
  • Giving defendants more access to DNA testing to challenge their convictions

The former judge joined Brooklyn’s borough president in the call for a new commission, saying that New York must “find out what the pattern is” that is causing so many innocent people to be locked up wrongfully.

The acting Brooklyn DA points out that he and his predecessor have also made the issue a priority. They focused on requiring police training on fair witness identifications and how to evaluate confessions. He offered to lend his expertise to any wrongful convictions commission.

The commission, if it is set up, is intended to examine cases statewide.