Local government leader proposes solution for Brooklyn’s “wrongful convictions crisis”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is urging the state of New York to create a independent commission to look into what he has called a “wrongful convictions crisis” in Brooklyn.
Since 2014, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) has investigated at least 70 convictions; 23 have been overturned. The CRU, which was started by the late Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, has been carried forward by Acting DA Eric Gonzalez.
Disgraced former NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella has been at the center of much of the misconduct. Defendants and their lawyers have claimed that Scarcella coerced them into false confessions or manipulated witnesses to secure convictions. Despite the fact that his conduct has led to vacating old convictions, prosecutors have not directly blamed Scarcella or formally charged him with any wrongdoing.
Adams said he wants the commission to look into what went wrong and who was responsible for the many wrongful convictions. Adams noted that “releasing innocent people is not the end.” He indicated that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff would meet to discuss the idea.
Former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who recently led a commission on the future of Rikers Island in New York, seconded Adams’ call for a special commission. As Lippman explained:
One wrongful conviction is one too many. There is nothing that undermines the criminal justice system more than a person who is convicted of a crime that they didn’t commit. This goes to all players … everybody is responsible, no finger-pointing. The judge, the prosecutor, the district attorney, the police — we’re all players in the system … There are systemic lessons we have to learn.
The commission would look at cases throughout the state, although Brooklyn has become the flashpoint. While 23 convictions from Brooklyn have been thrown out in the last three years, the CRU is looking into over 100 more cases.
Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is now seeking to be electedafter ascending to the top-prosecutor job after Thompson died of cancer. Scarcella is proving to be a problematic issue for Gonzalez, with other candidates harshly criticizing him for his reluctance to go after the former detective.
As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, Adams suggests that the commission could operate as Brooklyn’s own “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” — akin to the formal body convened in post-apartheid South Africa to investigate atrocities.