POST-CONVICTION JUSTICE BUREAU

The Post-Conviction Justice Bureau is the first stand-alone bureau of its kind in the nation. It is anchored by the nationally recognized Conviction Review Unit and includes two Units: A Parole and Clemency Unit charged with implementing new policies governing the Office’s participation in parole and clemency proceedings for incarcerated individuals, and a Sealing Unit to encourage and facilitate applications to seal criminal convictions.

The Post-Conviction Justice Bureau is also charged with studying and facilitating opportunities for reviewing excessive sentences.

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Conviction Review Unit

One of the keys ways that the Brooklyn DA’s Office ensures fairness and public safety is through our Conviction Review Unit (CRU). Expanded and revamped in 2014, Brooklyn has the largest dedicated unit in the country tasked with reviewing old cases in which credible claims have emerged that people may have been wrongfully convicted.

When the CRU investigates a potential wrongful conviction, they take a fresh look at all the evidence. They re-interview witnesses, consult with experts and use the most up-to-date science and technology to reevaluate the evidence. This includes forensic science like DNA, as well as social science research on issues like faulty eyewitness identification and false confessions.

The CRU’s work is critical for public safety. If the wrong person is sitting in prison for a serious violent crime, the real perpetrator may still be out there endangering the public.

Moreover, it offends our most basic sense of fairness, and corrodes public confidence in the justice system, for anyone to serve decades in prison for a crime they didn’t commit or because they did not get a fair trial. As of February 2019, Brooklyn’s CRU had exonerated 24 people, and the Unit has many more cases under review.

In addition to reviewing cases in Brooklyn, the attorneys from the CRU share their expertise with other prosecutors’ offices across the country.

Brooklyn’s CRU staff have helped prosecutors’ offices in Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland, Tampa, Boston and elsewhere to create or improve their own Conviction Review Units.

Internally as well, CRU staff trains all new ADAs on the kinds of errors that most commonly lead to wrongful convictions.

If prosecutors ignore credible claims of wrongful conviction, it undermines public confidence in the justice system. Conversely, when the Brooklyn DA’s Office vigorously investigate claims of innocence, exonerates innocent people, admits mistakes, and apologizes, that sends a powerful message to the public that we can be trusted to pursue the truth, and not just guilty verdicts.

 

Parole and Clemency Unit

The Parole and Clemency Unit is charged with directing the Office’s participation in parole proceedings for incarcerated individuals through the analysis of individual cases and the development of policy positions that apply across various categories of cases. Those policy positions are:

  • For cases that ended in a guilty plea, our default position will now be that the defendant generally should be released at his or her first parole opportunity (subject to his or her record in prison and other considerations).
  • For cases in which juveniles (defined as age 23 or younger at the time of the offense) were sentenced to an indeterminate life sentence, special considerations must go into their parole determinations so that there can be a meaningful inquiry into whether they have matured into appropriate candidates for release.
  • We will be developing partnerships with transitional services to bring to our attention defendants whose cases for early parole merit a closer look.
  • The Unit will train and guide Assistant District Attorneys throughout the Office on their parole recommendations.
  • The Unit will also advise the Office on what position to take on mass supervision contributors such as probation and post-release supervision. Going forward, in plea agreements, the default position on probation for general crimes will be three years (rather than four or five) in felony cases and two years (rather than three) for A misdemeanors. The default position for post-release supervision for general crimes will be the minimum where options are one-and-one-half to three years for D and E violent felonies and two-and-one-half to five years for B and C violent felony offenses. Assistant District Attorneys who wish to deviate from these default positions will be asked to justify their decision in writing.
  • It will also serve as the principal contact with the Governor’s Office and advise him on applications for clemency.

 

Sealing Unit

The Sealing Unit encourages and facilitates applications to seal criminal convictions under CPL 160.59, the New York State statute that went into effect in October 2017. The Unit has been working with the Office of Court Administration on methods that would make it easier for applicants to apply for sealing on their own, including addressing mandatory fees and creating a more user-friendly application. It also partners with the DA’s Office of Public Engagement to spread the word in our communities, to encourage more applications and to help resolve them expeditiously.


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