July 18, 2024

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New York Governor Kathy Hochul vetoes bill that would make challenging convictions easier

2 min read

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill days before Christmas that would have made it easier for people who have pleaded guilty to crimes to challenge their convictions, a measure that was favored by criminal justice reformers but fiercely opposed by prosecutors.

The Democrat said the bill’s “sweeping expansion of eligibility for post-conviction relief” would “up-end the judicial system and create an unjustifiable risk of flooding the courts with frivolous claims,” in a veto letter released Saturday.

Under existing state law, criminal defendants who plead guilty are usually barred from trying to get their cases reopened based on a new claim of innocence, except in certain circumstances involving new DNA evidence.

The bill passed by the Legislature in June would have expanded the types of evidence that could be considered proof of innocence, including video footage or evidence of someone else confessing to a crime. Arguments that a person was coerced into a false guilty plea would have also been considered.

Prosecutors and advocates for crime victims warned the bill would have opened the floodgates to endless, frivolous legal appeals by the guilty.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, the president of the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York, wrote in a letter to Hochul in July that the bill would create “an impossible burden on an already overburdened criminal justice system.”

The legislation would have benefitted people like Reginald Cameron, who was exonerated in 2023, years after he pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery in exchange for a lesser sentence. He served more than eight years in prison after he was arrested alongside another person in 1994 in the fatal shooting of Kei Sunada, a 22-year-old Japanese immigrant. Cameron, then 19, had confessed after being questioned for several hours without attorneys.

His conviction was thrown out after prosecutors reinvestigated the case, finding…

Maysoon Khan, The Associated Press

2023-12-25 05:30:00

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