Lawmakers rally to reform laws that will reduce unfair convictions

Craig D. Frazier | 10/2/2014, 3:18 p.m.

“When it comes to justice, we should have a system in place that allows us to find the truth, as opposed to prosecutors or defense teams trying to win a case,” said City Council Member Andy King, along with activists, labor leaders and elected officials at a rally outside the Bronx Civil Courthouse Monday. The Black, Latino and Asian Caucus co-chair wants to repeal and replace Article 240 of the Criminal Procedure Law. The law allows prosecutors to withhold evidence in criminal cases until trial. Criminal justice critics claim the law leads to many false guilty pleas.

State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Archbishop Bishop Angelo Rosario joined members who represented New York State Defenders, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers-Brooklyn Defenders, United States Veterans and the National Latino Law Officers Association. They marched from Hostos Community College on 149th Street and the Grand Concourse to the courthouse.

A proposal for a new bill passed in the Assembly but failed in the state Senate. Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda said the existing law is part of a system that encourages convictions rather than justice.

“The criminal justice system believes that the only way you measure success is by the number of criminal convictions that you have,” said Sepulveda. “That is the problem we have with the criminal justice system in this state.”

King believes that reforming the CPL would make sense because it would save money, it would save resources and it would save lives. “We have to recognize that there are statutory changes that need to be made so that we can give our public defenders the tools they need to better represent their clients,” said King. “If we reformed the discovery process, public defenders would be able to properly and effectively counsel their clients, and far more innocent people would not have to spend time in jail. Clients would be able to arrive at informed decisions about how to proceed in their case at the early stages.”