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Projects, Units & Initiatives

Wrongful Conviction Unit

As the nation’s largest provider of public defender services, we are the only New York City public defender that handles trial, appellate and post-conviction cases for clients accused of criminal conduct. Over the years we have had scores of successful outcomes in wrongful conviction cases. Yet, despite these successes, until this year, we did not have the funding to dedicated to a unit devoting solely to litigating wrongful convictions.

The Wrongful Conviction Unit was created this spring to address the population of prisoners who have exhausted all possible avenues of defense – at the trial and state and federal appellate levels – and are still fighting for their freedom and to clear their names of crimes they did not commit.

Our plan is to investigate wrongful conviction claims of both clients already assigned to our Criminal Appeals Bureau, as well as those of persons who write directly to our unit seeking our help to overturn their convictions.

Our work involves intensive investigations, seeking out witnesses who were never spoken to, or who are now claiming they gave false testimony or that law enforcement threatened or enticed them to testify falsely against our clients. We will be looking for forensic evidence that can be tested, such as DNA and fingerprint evidence; and we will be searching for physical evidence that may not have been presented at the time of conviction such as cellphone records and video recordings.

Our unit will seek to work with the conviction review units in the different district attorney officers, and where necessary, bring litigation in both state and federal court. Currently, we are a staff of three people: a supervising attorney with over 30 years of trial and appellate experience, an experienced investigator who is both a retired NYPD detective and a Legal Aid investigator of several years; and a highly knowledgeable paralegal who assisted inmates for ten years, writing the very types of motions that our unit will be bringing in court. We have begun to avail ourselves of interns to assist in the workload as it continues to expand. As our unit continues to grow, we plan to work with law students as well as volunteers from law firms.