So you spend 10 years in prison like Douglas Warney, a mentally challenged young man who confessed to a crime he did not commit. The courts finally overturn your conviction based upon new DNA evidence of your innocence. You emerge from prison ill, with little money and less opportunity, but you are free and, you would think, free to sue the State of New York, which wrongfully imprisoned you in the first place. Not so fast. New York State law up until this week prevented many who were wrongfully convicted from obtaining compensation. The Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act bars recovery for those whose own “misconduct” caused their conviction.
Now, in a precedent-setting decision, the New York State Court of Appeals has ruled for Douglas Warney. The Court ruled that Warney could sue the state, unanimously overruling the lower courts which had refused to allow Warney compensation because under the existing law. In a letter published in the New York Times, FalseConfgessions.org noted that close to 45% of all DNA exonerees were convicted based upon a false confession, technically precluding them from gaining compensation.
Prosecutors and state attorneys are reluctant to do the right thing. As Jim Dwyer, in a New York Times column reminds us,”The state attorney general’s office, first under Andrew M. Cuomo, and now under Eric T. Schneiderman, had argued that Mr. Warney, while innocent, had brought about his own conviction. Therefore, they argued, he was not eligible to get money under a state law intended to help people who were wrongly imprisoned.”
It is the courts and judicairy that must step up to do the right thing, finally.