New York State Bar Association
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March 5, 2012
Innocence Project and New York State Bar Association Urge Lawmakers
To Include Wrongful Conviction Provisions in DNA Database Expansion
ALBANY, NY – Leaders from the Innocence Project and the New
York State Bar Association, saying the innocent should not be punished
for crimes committed by others, today called on state legislators to
enact reforms that truly would reduce wrongful convictions and improve
At a joint press conference, Peter Neufeld, co-director of
the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School
of Law, and Vincent E. Doyle III, president of the Bar
Association, said the proposal to expand the DNA database does
not go far enough to prevent innocent people from going to prison while
the real perpetrators remain free to commit other crimes.
Neufeld and Doyle were joined at the press conference by
Assembly Codes Committee Chair Joseph R. Lentol,
sponsor of wrongful conviction legislation; Steven Barnes,
Fernando Bermudez and Frank Sterling, who were
each exonerated after being incarcerated for nearly two decades for
separate crimes; and Sylvia Bouchard, Barnes’ mother, who
discussed the impact of wrongful convictions on family members.
In his remarks, Neufeld said a comprehensive package that complements
the DNA expansion will go further to prevent wrongful convictions than
the DNA expansion alone.
“Expanding the database is only going to have a marginal effect
on the number of new crimes solved and will be virtually no help to the
overwhelming majority of the wrongly convicted whose cases simply lack
biological evidence,” said Neufeld. “If lawmakers are
serious about their desire to prevent wrongful convictions and improve
public safety, they will pass a reform package that improves police
investigation practices to ensure that the right person is
“DNA is a potent law enforcement tool. But
expanding the DNA database alone will not exonerate the innocent and
convict the guilty,” said Doyle of Buffalo (Connors &
Vilardo). As evidence, he pointed to the findings of a 2009 State
Bar report which studied the cases of 53 innocent New Yorkers who were
convicted of crimes they did not commit.
The Bar Association’s Task Force on Wrongful Convictions
identified several factors contributing to wrongful convictions.
It recommended: videotaping interrogations in order to discourage
coerced confessions; improving police lineups to achieve more accurate
eyewitness testimony; requiring prosecutors to turn over more evidence
that might help clear a suspect; and allowing defendants to obtain DNA
evidence even after they have pleaded guilty.
Assembly Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol, a longtime supporter of
wrongful conviction legislation, said that when the wrong person is
convicted of a crime, all New Yorkers suffer.
“The person who is wrongly convicted is unjustly punished. The
victim is given a false sense of security and has to relive the crime a
second time when the truth comes out. And we are all put at risk
when the real perpetrator is left free to commit other crimes,” he
The Wrongfully Convicted
Frank Sterling spent more than 17 years in prison
for a Rochester murder he didn’t commit before he was exonerated
by DNA evidence in 2010. While he was incarcerated, the real
perpetrator, Mark Christie, went on to murder a 4-year-old
Fernando Bermudez spent more than 18 years in prison
in the shooting death of a 16-year-old boy in Greenwich Village.
His conviction was based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who later
recanted. There was no DNA evidence in his case, but he was ultimately
freed after it was proven that police and prosecutors manipulated the
eyewitness evidence against him.
“I spent years fighting for my freedom and was ultimately able
to prove my innocence without DNA. Most people aren’t so
fortunate,” said Bermudez. “I can’t even believe that
New York lawmakers are thinking of expanding the database without
enacting meaningful reforms that would actually prevent wrongful
convictions. No one should have to endure what I did, especially
when these reforms can make the system better.”
Steven Barnes served 19 years for the rape and
strangulation of a 16-year-old girl near Utica. His conviction was
based on faulty eyewitness testimony, a jailhouse snitch and
questionable evidence collection. DNA ultimately proved he did not
commit the crime.
“If being wrongly convicted can happen to me, it can happen to
anyone,” he said. “And it didn’t just affect my life,
it destroyed my entire family. I sincerely hope that this is finally the
year that our elected officials pass the wrongful convictions reforms
that affect all New Yorkers.”
To watch the press conference in its entirety, please click here:
The Innocence Project, a nonprofit public policy and
litigation organization affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School
of Law at Yeshiva University, is dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully
convicted through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system
to prevent future injustice.
The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest
voluntary state bar association in the United States. It was founded in