The recent exoneration of a 26-year-old California man who spent five years in prison for a rape he didn't commit has highlighted the need for New York State to make sure the same thing doesn't happen here. Solomon Syed has more.
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- Imagine a loved one convicted of a crime and thrown behind bars for a crime they didn't commit. It's a scenario the Innocence Project wants to avoid at all costs.
"I was 100 percent positive at the time I had made the right ID, I had no doubts," said Michele Mallin.
Mallin was the victim of a brutal rape, convinced she correctly identified her attacker. So sure of it, in fact, the man she fingered for the crime spent the next 14 years in prison until his death. That's when Mallin learned the truth.
Mallin said, "And that another man confessed to the crime and they had done DNA testing and proved that he was the one who raped me."
Mallin's ordeal unfolded in Texas, but advocates for the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to free wrongly convicted prisoners, says it happens just as often here in New York, where we have the third highest number of wrongful convictions in the country.
"Aside from being robbed of time and opportunities to build careers, security and families for ourselves, many of us witnessed or endured extreme brutality while in prisons," said Jeff Deskovic.
To end the injustice, the project's calling on the state legislature to reform interrogation and police lineup procedures, which can produce coerced confessions and suspect IDs. Former Duke lacrosse player Reade Seligmann was a victim in one of the most infamous false accusation cases.
Seligmann said, "My attorney walked into the room and I’ll never forget the chilling words: ‘She picked you.’"
One new law would mandate more objective, so-called "double-blind" identifications, where the officer conducting the lineup doesn't know the suspect's identity. Another bill would require police to videotape jailhouse interrogations.
Supporters admit this won't prevent all wrongful convictions, but will tip the scales of justice a little more evenly.
"Being convicted of a crime one didn't commit and subject to false imprisonment is akin to the experience and the torture to survive," Steven Barnes said.
According to the Innocence Project, at least 27 New Yorkers have been exonerated for crimes they didn't commit through DNA testing. However, since only a small number of crimes involve DNA evidence, they know the number of wrongful convictions throughout the state is much higher.