Top Judge Plans a Task Force on Wrongful Convictions

Eric T. Schneiderman

ALBANY — In one of his first major initiatives as the state’s top jurist, Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of New York’s Court of Appeals, said he would create a permanent task force to examine wrongful convictions and recommend ways to minimize them.

Members of the task force, who are being selected by Judge Lippman, will include prosecutors, defense lawyers, scientists and lawmakers. They will have a broad mandate to examine police procedures, court rules and other issues involved in wrongful convictions.

“We’re going to take the raw material from all the cases here in New York and, for that matter, around the country, and see what we need to do to change the criminal justice system so this doesn’t happen,” Judge Lippman said in an interview on Wednesday.

A recent spate of high-profile cases have involved exoneration or overturned convictions, including those of Martin H. Tankleff, who was convicted in 1990 of bludgeoning his parents, and Jeffrey Deskovic, who was convicted that same year of raping and murdering a high school classmate. According to a report released last month by the New York State Bar Association, 53 people have been formally exonerated in New York since 1964, about half through the use of DNA testing.

While court officials or lawmakers in a handful of other states have set up commissions or task forces on wrongful convictions, some experts said that Mr. Lippman’s version promised to be the most robust in the country, with a continuing and influential role in developing criminal justice policy throughout New York.

Unlike some of those other efforts, New York’s task force will not be limited to capital cases, nor will it confine itself to a single set of recommendations. Instead, the task force will collect data about wrongful convictions on a continuing basis and monitor the effectiveness of any policy changes.

Led by Theodore T. Jones, an associate judge on the Court of Appeals, and Janet DiFiore, the district attorney of Westchester County, the task force will also include State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman and Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, chairmen of the committees that have jurisdiction over criminal justice legislation in their respective chambers of the Legislature. Other members of the task force will be named later, Mr. Lippman said.

“This is the judiciary acknowledging that there are many people passing through the justice system who are innocent,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “It is a very big step.”

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