June 5, 2008
Bar task force to study wrongful convictions in NY, AM NY (AP)
By Michael Virtanen
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _
Saying wrongful convictions undermine public confidence in the justice
system, the New York
State Bar Association president has
established a task force of 22 professors, former judges, prosecutors,
defense attorneys and others to identify rules, procedures and statutes
contributing to the problem.
``For each wrongful conviction
that surfaces, how many others are still unfairly resolved?''
attorney Bernice Leber, named
president of the 74,000-member association on Monday.
``The problem of
wrongful convictions has reached, I would say, national epidemic
status,'' Leber said. Three states _ California, North Carolina and
Texas _ have established formal innocence commissions and have
exonerated hundreds of people, while similar legislation in New York
``hasn't gained too much traction yet,'' she said.
Barry Kamins, past New York City Bar Association president and an
adjunct professor at Brooklyn and Fordham
law schools, will chair the task force. It will analyze
New Yorkcases statewide that led to wrongful
convictions and hold hearings. A final report with proposed reforms is
expected in April 2009.
``In New York, the number of cases has really not been collected, I
should say studied, with any of the type of detail required in order to
reach conclusions about the various causes of wrongful convictions,''
Leber said. She noted work starting in 1992 by attorneys Barry Scheck
and Peter Neufeld at the Innocence Project based at
New York, which says DNA evidence has exonerated 217
people wrongly convicted, including 16 who spent time on death row.
The association task force will examine every reported case in
New York, like that of Anthony Capozzi, who spent 22 years
in prison convicted of two rapes. Capozzi, 51, who is schizophrenic, was
freed a year ago after DNA evidence proved those attacks were part of a
decades-long crime spree in the Buffalo area by killer Altemio Sanchez,
also known as the ``Bike Path Rapist.''
The task force will examine the process all along the line, from the
innocent person's arrest to interrogation of witnesses, the evidence
collected, and everything that happens up to the moment of indictment,
``Another interesting facet will be looking at remedies and compensation
available to those wrongly convicted,'' she said. For taxpayers, the
cost could run into millions of dollars.
A lawsuit seeking $41
million has been filed on behalf of Capozzi, who lives now in an
assisted living setting because of the mental illness that worsened in
prison. Capozzi was denied parole five times after becoming eligible in
1997 because his refusal to admit the crimes made it impossible to
complete a mandatory sex offender program, according to his lawyers.
Erie County prosecutors supported his release. ``I truly regret that this
had to happen,'' District Attorney Frank Clark has said of the 1987
convictions, ``everybody trying to do the right thing and going through
all the right steps and coming out with the wrong
Similar stories appeared in the
Examiner, Newsday, WRGB, Times Union, Finger Lakes Times,
Kamins Tapped to Head Task Force on Wrongful
Convictions, NY Law Journal
Barry M. Kamins, the
immediate past president of the New York City Bar Association, will
chair the New
YorkState Bar Association's Task Force on
Wrongful Convictions. The panel is the first initiative of Bernice K.
Leber, the new state bar president, who said it is incumbent upon the
group to take a leadership role in ensuring that no innocent people in
New York are punished for crimes they did not commit. Mr. Kamins, of
Flamhaft Levy Kamins Hirsch & Rendeiro in Brooklyn, said yesterday in
an interview that the task force will scour police and court records for
cases in which defendants were wrongfully convicted and exonerated, both
through DNA and other evidence. "It is our hope that taking a look
statewide what has happened to these individuals, that we can draw up a
game plan to prevent this from happening in the future," he said. The
task force's goal is to aid prosecutors, police, defense counsel and the
courts in preventing wrongful prosecutions and convictions, according to
Mr. Kamins. Ms. Leber announced yesterday that 21 members have agreed to
serve on the task force with Mr. Kamins, including former Court of
Appeals Judges Howard Levine and George Bundy Smith and District
Attorneys Charles J. Hynes of Brooklyn and Janet DeFiore of
Westchester. The task force
will issue a final report in April 2009, Ms. Leber
June 6, 2008
Editorial, Wrongful convictions, Post-Standard
Know the cases.
Understand the causes. Fix the system. That's the mantra of The
Innocence Project, a program started at Cardozo Law
New York City to
uncover cases of wrongful conviction.
Since 1989, the project has
helped exonerate 217 people using DNA evidence, a major new
investigative tool; 16 of them served time on death row. In 82 cases,
the actual wrongdoers were identified -- like the killer linked to two
rapes after DNA evidence last year freed New Yorker Anthony Capozzi, 51,
who had spent 22 years in prison for the crimes.
Wrongful convictions can result
from mistaken eyewitness accounts, forensic errors, false confessions or
incriminating statements, unreliable jailhouse informants, inadequate
defense counsel or prosecutorial or police misconduct.
Three states now have
"innocence commissions," though legislation to create one in
New York languishes. Fortunately, the state bar association now is
taking up the matter.
convictions have reached "epidemic proportions," association President
Bernice Leber vows her group's task force will analyze each case
from New Yorkstate, identify what went wrong and how
to fix it. The results should be eye-opening.
June 12, 2008
State Bar Association Studies Wrongful
By Jay Moran
The local stories of Lynn
DeJac and Anthony Capozzi are just a few of the examples of those who
have spent time in prison for crimes they did not commit.
With similar stories making headlines across the nation, the
Associationformed a blue ribbon task force to study wrongful convictions.
The group will make recommendations based on its findings.
Bernice Leber, president of the New York State Bar Association,
discussed the issue with WNED's Jay Moran.
To listen to the interview,
please visit: http://publicbroadcasting.net/wned/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=1297833§ionID=1
Editorial, Make DNA testing more available to New York inmates,
Democrat and Chronicle
Provide more DNA testing for
inmates in New
It's certainly welcome
that the New York State
Bar Associationis investigating the growing number of wrongful criminal
convictions in the state.
But frankly, this page likes even more the approach to the problem being
used by the district attorney's office in Dallas.
District Attorney Craig Watkins
is using a $453,900 grant from the New York-based Justice, Equality,
Human Dignity and Tolerance Foundation to pay for post-conviction DNA
testing. With the help of law students, Watkins' office is reviewing
hundreds of requests by inmates, including requests denied under the
previous district attorney.
The grant also
Countycommissioners to fund the DA's
office for two additional years.
This attempt to free wrongly convicted people comes at a time when there
is a proliferation of cases overturned by new DNA evidence nationwide.
In Texas since 2001, DNA testing has cleared 33 people who spent a
combined 427 years in prison.
Or consider that locally,
DNA evidence was responsible for freeing Douglas Warney in 2006 from
state prison where he was sentenced for his 1996 conviction of the
murder of a Rochester
The Warney case, no
doubt, helped persuade the New York Bar to study wrongful criminal
convictions and propose solutions.
A final report is expected to be issued by the bar in April 2009, but it
shouldn't take another year to figure out the merit of programs like the
one in Dallas.
The state Legislature
should make available funds for district attorneys' offices such
as Monroe's to help pay for DNA testing.
It's bad enough that people are behind bars who shouldn't be there. Add
to this travesty the fact that this predicament undermines confidence in
the judicial system, and wrongful convictions become nothing short of a
June 17, 2008
To right the wrongs, Newsday
Group will study wrongful
produce not only a nightmare for the person serving the time without
having committed the crime, but a nest of problems for the rest of us.
That includes the costs of the actual imprisonment, plus millions of
dollars in damages that the state must pay exonerated inmates, and the
sickening knowledge that the real perpetrators have been on the loose,
probably committing other crimes.
Now the new president of the New York State Bar Association, Bernice Leber, is doing something
about it. She has appointed a task force to study cases of wrongful
conviction, examine the faults in the criminal justice system that led
to them, and recommend legislation to fix what's broken.
The chairman of the task force will be Barry Kamins, immediate past
president of the New York City Bar Association. Among others, it
includes prosecutors, retired judges, law professors, and
representatives of the Fortune Society, which helps inmates re-enter
society, and the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City.
This page has endorsed legislation sponsored by Assemb. Michael Gianaris
(D-Astoria), setting up a permanent innocence commission to review the
cases of exonerated inmates. That bill is still making its way through
the State Legislature. Meanwhile, the state bar's task force will play a
similar role, except on a temporary basis, and with no need for
legislative action to get its work started.
Leber wants the task force to finish by next April. That would allow
time for the legislature to act next year on its recommendations. We
hope the Gianaris bill will have passed by then, but if not, the report
should give it a welcome boost. We need to examine faults in the
criminal justice system.
July 3, 2008
Tankleff pushes for video recording of interrogations, Newsday
By Zachary R. Dowdy
In his first public
appearance since having murder charges dropped against him, Martin
Tankleff said he was lucky to have his family, high-caliber attorneys on
his side, and a public that supported him in his drive to overturn his
conviction for the 1988 murders of his parents.
"I was one of the fortunate ones," he said, testifying in upper
Manhattan about his plight before a task force
designed to explore criminal justice reforms. "I wrote over 50,000
letters. I was able to recruit the support of many, many lawyers and
major law firms. There's too many men in prison who didn't get that
After Tankleff's address before the New York State Senate Democratic
Task Force on Criminal Justice Reform, two state legislators, state Sen.
Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan), the task force's chairman, and Assemb.
Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), apologized for the role the criminal
justice system played in imprisoning Tankleff and for taking so long to
"I cannot say enough how much all of us in public service and in
government are really embarrassed and upset by what happened to you,"
Schneiderman said. "I'm sorry it took so long."
He said the State Senate, through forums like the one Tankleff spoke at
and the legislation it hopes to draft, will strive to put in place
reforms that "could prevent this from happening again."
Tankleff pushed for videotaped interrogations, saying a recording of his
questioning by detectives would have documented his innocence.
"Had my interrogation been recorded, I would not have served 6,338 days
in prison," he said.
Tankleff, who had been sentenced to 50 years to life in prison, said
further, "There's no downside to recording. The truth gets exposed. ...
Does 17 years of my life cost as much as it does to record
interrogations? How many other men have to serve time in prison because
somebody says it costs too much? I can record this entire event on my
cell phone. It's ridiculous."Opponents of recording interrogations say
defendants' rights are adequately protected already and that videotaping
the process offers few benefits.
On Monday, state
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo dropped murder charges against Tankleff,
whose conviction for the Sept. 7, 1988, murders of his parents, Arlene
and Seymour Tankleff, was overturned by a state appellate panel in
December. Cuomo's office stepped in and began investigating the case
anew after Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said he would move to
drop the charges.
The event also featured testimony from Alan Netwon, who was convicted of
a rape, spent 21 years in prison and was later exonerated, and legal
experts such as New York
State Bar Association President Bernice Leber
and Barry Kamins, chair of the state bar's task force on wrongful
convictions, which will examine 56 such convictions in New York State.
Martin Tankleff and Other Exonerees and Legal Experts Testify at
Senate Democratic Forum on Preventing Wrongful Convictions, News LI
York, NY) – State Senators Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan/Bronx),
Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) and Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan),
Assemblymembers Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), Adriano Espaillat
(D-Manhattan), Rory Lancman (D-Queens) and Ellen Young (D-Queens), and
leading criminal justice advocates took part in a public forum to
address wrongful convictions and the creation of an independent
“Innocence Commission” in New York State.
At the forum, testimony was presented by exonerees Martin Tankleff and
Alan Newton, Steve Saloom of The Innocence Project, which is affiliated
with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Bernice Leber, President of
the New York State Bar
Barry Kamins, Chair of the NYS Bar Association’s Task Force on
Wrongful Convictions, and Jonathan Gradess, Executive Director of the
New York State Defenders Association.
Schneiderman, who chairs the New York State Senate Democratic Task
Force on Criminal Justice Reform and also serves as the ranking Democrat
on the Senate Codes Committee and as a Commissioner on the New York
State Commission on Sentencing Reform, has worked to ensure that the
guilty are punished and innocent persons are (safeguarded). Testimony
from today’s forum will be used to develop legislation that
ensures the public’s trust in New
York’s criminal justice system.
“No one who is entrusted with ensuring the integrity of our
criminal justice process—and most importantly the legislators who
make our laws—can, in good conscience, ignore the prevalence of
wrongful convictions in our state,” Senator Schneiderman
said. “There are known flaws in the system, with eyewitness
identification, interrogations, and preservation of and post-conviction
access to DNA, that we can and should remedy. There are also
contributing factors that we don’t understand, and we have a
responsibility to identify and remedy those as well.”
Testifying today about the need for reform in our criminal justice
system was Martin Tankleff, who was convicted and sentenced to
50-years-to-life after allegedly confessing to his parents’
double-homicide. Last year, after serving over 17 years in prison, the
New York State Appellate Court 2nd Department unanimously overturned his
conviction. On Monday, the office of New York State Attorney
General Andrew Cuomo vacated his indictments and decided not to retry
“I clearly do not want another person to experience what I have
been experiencing for nearly twenty years,” said Mr.
Tankleff. “The larger meaning of my case is to point out the
gaps in our system, which is that when there is a horrible, obvious
mistake made, there is no mechanism for correcting it. To leave it to
the judicial and prosecutorial entities to correct their own mistakes is
what leads the wrongfully convicted, like myself, to remain imprisoned
for many, many years.”
Steve Saloom, Policy Director at The Innocence Project, indicated that
the circumstances in the Tankleff case were not unique. The
Innocence Project has helped to exonerate 215 individuals in the
since 1989. According to Saloom, “Twenty-three
people in New York
served years or decades in prison before DNA proved their
innocence, more than almost any other state in the nation. Nobody
– not the police, prosecutors, judges, victims, or the public at
large – benefits from these wrongful convictions. The only
person who benefits is the real perpetrator of a crime, who eludes
justice. In order to restore public faith in the justice system,
it is critically important that we learn from each wrongful conviction
by examining their causes and understanding the reforms that can prevent
them. We applaud the New
York Bar Association for taking the first steps towards doing so and we commend
Senator Schneiderman for convening this Task Force to understand how the
legislature can best act to prevent wrongful convictions.”
Saloom and others spoke about the need for an independent innocence
commission as a tool for addressing wrongful convictions in the state.
For several years, and without success, the state legislature has sought
to establish an innocence commission empowered to evaluate the lessons
of these exonerations. Such a commission would examine each case, with a
specific eye towards what investigative and court processes – and
what prosecutorial and defense shortcomings—contributed to those
Such a commission would make recommendations to adopt reforms that
increase the accuracy of criminal investigations, strengthen
prosecutions, and protect the innocent. Many other states have
learned from wrongful convictions in this manner; they have researched
cases and potential reforms, heard testimony from experts, and issued
reports and recommendations on issues including eyewitness
identifications, false confessions, and forensic laboratory
The New York State Bar
Association recently created a task force of
criminal justice experts from across the state’s criminal justice
system that will review the state’s wrongful convictions, seek to
understand their causes, and issue recommendations to improve the
accuracy of New
justice system. This NYSBA task force has great potential to
inform policymakers about the reforms New
York needs to adopt in
order to further enhance the quality of justice across our state.
Legislation has been introduced in Albany to permanently establish and fund such a
“Fundamentally, we became lawyers and public servants to help
others,” testified Bernice Leber, President of the New York State Bar
“I can think of no worse fear than being imprisoned – even
for one day – for a crime that one did not commit.”
“The Bar Association’s Task Force has identified 56 cases
in New York where a convicted defendant was later exonerated, either by
the use of DNA testing or based on non-DNA methods, and we plan to
review each of those cases and produce a report by January 2009,”
said Barry Kamins, Chair of the recently established Bar Association
Task Force on Wrongful Convictions.
State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, a long time advocate for reforming
criminal justice policies in New York, continued “The hundreds of
exonerations across the nation over the past several years should
inspire us to fix the cracks in our criminal justice system. By
examining current exonerations and recommending ways to reform our
criminal justice procedures, an independent commission will act as a
guide to ensure that our criminal justice system is working properly,
and that we are only convicting the real perpetrator of a
State Senator Bill Perkins agreed with his colleagues and added,
“The Central ParkFive are perfect examples of how innocent
individuals can be wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not
commit. Frighteningly, if this case had warranted the death
penalty, then these young men would have had their lives ended because
our system failed them.”
“Just as we study the causes of wrongful deaths, our criminal
justice system needs an autopsy to determine how to prevent even more
innocent people from being imprisoned,” said Assemblyman Michael
Gianaris (D-Queens), who is the author of legislation to establish an
Innocence Commission in New
York(Assembly Bill A4317). “One innocent person spending
years in prison for crimes he or she did not commit is one too many.
Unfortunately, recent history proves that the problem is more widespread
than anyone would like to admit. This is a systemic problem that
requires a systemic solution. ”
Respected criminal law maven Kamins newly sworn in
to serve in Manhattan, NY Daily News
By Nancie L. Katz
A prominent Brooklyn criminal defense lawyer - who counts corrupt judges among his
clients - was sworn onto the Manhattan bench Thursday.
"I've been an advocate a long
time. I'm looking forward to the legal issues," said Barry Kamins, 64. "There's a certain excitement about being on the
Kamins, former chairman of
the New York City Bar Association
and author of a definitive book on
search and seizure, was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg's Advisory Committee on the
He began his career as
a Brooklyn assistant district
attorney and went into private practice in 1973.
Since then, he has built
a name as the go-to guy in Brooklyn and Manhattan for
legal ethical questions. When a judge gets in trouble, he calls
Kings Countylawyers called Kamins the "dean" of the
"You know how you say 'Michael'
and everyone knows you're referring to Michael Jordan?" asked James Koenig, chairman of the Kings County Criminal Bar
"It's almost in Brooklyn, like that with
Barry. Barry is Barry. There's a lot of Barrys out there, but there's
only one Barry."
Koenig said Kamins has advised
"several generations of lawyers. If you have an issue, you go to Barry.
It's really terrific that someone of this stature becomes a
Kamins also is chairman
of the New York State Bar
Association Task Force on Wrongful
Convictions, and co-chairman of the chief judge's advisory committee on
His name has woven in and
out of Brooklyn's judicial scandals.
Soon after convicted Democratic Party Chairman Clarence
Norman was probed for
selling judgeships, Kamins resigned from his panel for screening
When former Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Victor
Barron pleaded guilty
to soliciting $250,000 from a lawyer in exchange for approving a $4
million personal injury settlement, Kamins - sporting a characteristic
bow tie - was there to represent him.
He also was the first attorney
called by bribery Judge Gerald Garson when he was arrested in March 2003. Garson is serving
three years for fixing divorce cases in exchange for cash, cigars,
drinks and dinners from a crooked lawyer.
Kamins also is known for
representing lawyers probed by the Appellate Division's disciplinary
Among them is Louis Rosenthal, former counsel to the
administrator, who took more than $2 million in excessive fees,
according to the state Court of Appeals.
Kamins' firm also welcomed
former Brooklyn Justice Edward Rappaport, who was refused permission to
stay on the bench after the age of 70 by a court administrative
* Similar stories appeared in
the NY Law Journal and Brooklyn Daily Eagle