Alvin Bragg Credit: Campaign photo

What’s done is not always done. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is giving people the chance to change the past for the better.

In late April, Bragg launched the Post-Conviction Justice Unit, which is designed for those convicted of crimes in the past via the Manhattan D.A. Bragg just wants to get those out that were unjustly convicted. He saw unjust convictions in the flesh as a youth.

“I grew up in the shadow of the Central Park Five case, which had an incredibly deep impact on me,” said Bragg. “I was actually pulled over with some friends by the police not long after, who started interrogating us about a crime that we didn’t commit. I was lucky—the reality of being a Black man meant I could have been one of the Exonerated Five.”

According to the website, the three main pillars of the website are impartial post-conviction reinvestigation via collaboration with impacted individuals and their counsel, which will help with outcomes; “supporting those exonerated” (as well as victims/survivors); and “promoting conviction integrity in future prosecutions by advising the Office in best practices, including through new trainings and root cause analysis reports.”

So how does the review process work? Unit Chief Terri Rosenblatt explained the process that happens once you visit the website.

“It can be submitted to the office by email or mail,” Rosenblatt said. “Once we receive the application, we will conduct an initial review to determine if it warrants a full re-investigation, at which point we will reach out directly to the petitioner and their counsel and enter in a collaboration agreement. We will then conduct a collaborative reinvestigation, and our office will ultimately decide what relief, if any, would be appropriate. This could include a full or partial vacation of the conviction; a retrial; replacement of a conviction with a non-criminal adjudication; or a referral to other units or organizations for follow up.

“While not every re-investigation will result in an overturned or modified conviction, it is important to us that everyone who goes through this process feel their case was handled fairly and transparently, no matter the outcome,” continued Rosenblatt. “That is critical for restoring faith in the criminal justice system.”

Both Bragg and Rosenblatt said that convictions aren’t always right or wrongful but could be dealt with through other measures.

“There are far too many people who have had their lives ruined due to unjust convictions,” added Bragg. “But beyond the impact it has on individuals and their families, unjust convictions undermine public safety by impairing law enforcement’s ability to apprehend those who actually committed the crime. They also severely undermine the public’s faith in our criminal justice system.”

During his campaign last year Bragg parroted his promise to “restore” justice to the system and wanted people to remember that despite the recent uptick in certain crimes, “We’re not in the ’80s.”

“One important aspect of PCJU is that any re-investigation will be done collaboratively, meaning we will work directly with impacted individuals and their counsel throughout the process, which is aligned with national best practices,” Bragg said. “This is important because it makes clear we are committed to a transparent process that gives everyone a fair chance at a thorough review.”

Bragg said that this part is about working with both victims and survivors in order to give them insight into their decision, no matter what it is.

Rosenblatt explained that the unit is in the middle of taking on the most serious offenses where the applicant is convicted of a serious offense and is either already in prison, parole or post-release supervision.

“Right now, we are in the process of reviewing several cases, and hope to have some of this work completed over the next few weeks,” Rosenblatt said.

Bragg wasn’t shy to get into the topic of race. The racial disparities of those behind bars have been well chronicled. This is something that Bragg wants to address as well as how many convicted felons shouldn’t have been convicted at all.

“We know there are huge racial disparities in who is impacted by an unjust conviction,” Bragg said. “Research has shown that Black people make up 47% of known wrongful convictions and are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder. A Black person serving a sentence for sexual assault is 3.5 times more likely to be innocent than a white person. The work of PCJU will touch every New Yorker, but it will have an important impact in reversing some of the deep racial inequities in the criminal justice system.”

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