Tonight on Crime Talk at 5:35 PM EST on WRCN 103.9 FM Suffolk County N.Y., I welcome Michelle Feldman of the Innocence Project. Michelle and I will discuss the two largest contributors for wrongful convictions in the United States: Eyewitness misidentification and false confessions and what is being done about it.
Currently, there is legislation in over 30 states, including New York, to change the way that law enforcement conducts eyewitness identification and the mandatory recording of all interrogations. Misidentification is the leading cause of those that have been exonerated by the Innocence Project with DNA. The proposal is designed to improve eyewitness identification and increase its reliability as an investigative tool by mandating a blind administration of photo arrays. A blind photo array means that the officer / detective conducting the array has no idea who the suspect is, therefore eliminating any potential clues to who the suspect is.
Here are the main reasons (in no particular order) for wrongful convictions as per the Innocence Project:
- Incentivized Informants
- Inadequate Defense
- Unvalidated or improper Forensic Science
- Government Misconduct
- False Confessions or admissions
- Eyewitness Misidentification
The legislation is also proposing to videotape all interrogations from beginning to end. In one of the most recent exonerations with the help of the Innocence Project from false confessions was the Central Park Five case (also known as the Central Park Jogger Case) from 1989. Five teenagers were arrested and subsequently confessed to raping a jogger in Central Park, NYC. A convicted rapist confessed to the crime after the men spent up to 13 years in prison. In 2014, they settled with NYC for $40 million.
Another impending problem in NYC, are the cases of former NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella. District Attorneys in Brooklyn are going through at least 70 of his former cases, after a wrongfully convicted man was exonerated. A New York Post article has alleged that Scarcella coached witnesses, made up confessions and used the same witness on multiple cases.
According to the Innocence Project there have been 341 exonerations and 147 perpetrators identified. Those perpetrators continued to commit crimes as the innocent person sat in prison.