Announces Three-Way Agreement on Chapter Amendment
Independent, Publicly Accountable Commission Will Investigate Prosecutorial Misconduct to Address Claims of Malicious Prosecutions, Prevent Wrongful Convictions, and Address Allegations of Wrongdoing
Addresses Complaints of Prosecutorial Misconduct Which Can Lead to Wrongful Convictions, Frequently Impacting People of Color
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation (S.2412-D/A.5285-C) establishing the nation's first State Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct, with a three-way agreement on a chapter amendment to build on New York's comprehensive criminal justice reform efforts. The Commission will review and investigate prosecutorial conduct to address allegations of misconduct which lead to among other things including malicious prosecutions and wrongful convictions, frequently impacting people of color and marginalized communities. By avoiding wrongful convictions and associated retrial costs and settlements, the Commission will save taxpayers money.
"Our criminal justice system must fairly convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent," Governor Cuomo said. "When any prosecutor consciously disregards that fundamental duty, communities suffer and lose faith in the system, and they must have a forum to be heard and seek justice. This first-in-the-nation Commission will serve to give New Yorkers comfort that there is a system of checks and balances in the criminal justice system, and to root out any potential abuses of power to ensure that our justice system is just for all New Yorkers."
Senator John DeFrancisco said, "There have been many cases of individuals who've been wrongfully convicted and who've served jail time because of the misconduct of some prosecutors. Despite the good work of most prosecutors, there must be a remedy against those who violate the law. This prosecutorial conduct commission legislation, signed by the Governor today, will provide that remedy and also provide oversight by an independent body, which over time will change the conduct of the wrongdoing of prosecutors, and help to ensure all a fairer criminal justice system."
Assemblymember Nick Perry said, "I am extremely happy that New York is finally answering the decades-long call for greater accountability from prosecutors. Lack of oversight has caused irreparable damage to people's lives and reputations through wrongful conviction, prosecutorial bias or other misconduct. This historic legislation will create a truly independent commission to investigate prosecutorial misconduct and will serve to assure New Yorkers that their justice system will treat them fairly and without bias."
This action builds on the Governor's record of fighting to restore faith and address inequities in our justice system. In 2015, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order appointing the state Attorney General to investigate and prosecute cases involving police officers who in their official capacities allegedly cause the death of an unarmed person. This ensures that a full, fair and thorough review of each case and removes any question of bias in the prosecution of those cases.
Governor Cuomo also led a successful effort to expand New York's DNA databank in 2012, making New York the first state in the nation to require DNA samples from anyone convicted of a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor. The access to a wider pool of DNA helps prevent crime, convict the guilty, and protect the innocent. In addition, Governor Cuomo led the landmark effort in 2017 to raise the age of criminal responsibility, passed legislation that required law enforcement to video-record custodial interrogations for serious offenses, allowed the use of photo arrays to identify witnesses to be admissible at trial and extended the Hurrell-Harring settlement's indigent criminal defense reforms to the entire State, becoming the first state in the nation to overhaul its public defense system in such a drastic manner.
In the time since Governor Cuomo took office, New York State has closed 24 prisons and juvenile detention centers—more than in any other period under one Governor in state history. The prison population has also decreased by more than 7,000 within that time. At the same time, New York has remained the safest large state in the country. Recognizing the critical need to address issues within local jails, the Governor's 2018 State of the State policy agenda called for increased oversight of problematic facilities where the conditions of detained individuals are deplorable and dangerous. At the Governor's direction and pursuant to their statutory authority, the State Commission of Correction reviewed years of on-site inspections, interviews, and investigations identifying five local jails in February 2018 that have persistently failed to maintain the minimum standards for the safe operation of a correctional facility.
The Governor also established the Work for Success Initiative which has helped over 18,000 formerly incarcerated people find work upon their release. Additionally, Governor Cuomo formed the state's first Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration in 2014 to address obstacles formerly incarcerated people face upon re-entering society. Since its launch, the Council has helped spur a number of changes to improve re-entry ranging from adopting "Fair Chance Hiring" principles in state agencies to issuing guidance that forbids discrimination at New York-financed housing based on a conviction alone.