Manhattan DA Candidates and the Problem of Wrongful Convictions

Three Democratic candidates are campaigning to replace Robert Morgenthau, who is retiring as Manhattan's district attorney upon completion of his current term.

Leslie Crocker Snyder, Richard Aborn and Cyrus Vance Jr. All are campaigning on preventing crime and providing alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. But at a Crain’s breakfast forum in midtown, Messrs. Aborn and Vance contrasted their unwavering opposition to capital punishment to the change in Ms. Snyder’s view since she lost to Mr. Morgenthau in 2005.

Snyder ("a retired judge who once offered to personally administer a lethal injection to a convict") cites her investigation of the reasons for Jeffrey Deskovic's wrongful conviction as the cause of her change of heart about the death penalty. The more cynically minded might think that political calculation accounts for Snyder's conversion. Interestingly, Deskovic is among those who questions Snyder's explanation. [more ...]

"I'm pleased that my story inspired Judge Snyder to shift her position on the death penalty, but it's troubling that her revelation on such an important issue should come at such a politically expedient time," said Deskovic. "She has not taken any serious actions on the issue, whereas Aborn's record speaks loud and clear.

Of the three candidates, Aborn has been the strongest advocate of policy changes designed to curb wrongful convictions.

As District Attorney, Richard Aborn pledges to reduce the likelihood of such errors by creating a new office of professional responsibility to collect and investigate allegations of prosecutor misconduct, work to reduce false confessions by requiring videotaping of interrogations and by improving the use of forensic technology. Aborn will also implement policies and programs to financially compensate the exonerated and expunge criminal records related to wrongful convictions.

Deskovic supports Aborn's candidacy in light of his commitment to reforming the systemic causes of wrongful convictions.

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    i, like most people, (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by cpinva on Tue Jul 28, 2009 at 08:50:45 PM EST
    hate being shown i'm wrong, no doubt about it. however, i'd rather be shown that, and have the opportunity to correct my error, than possibly allow an injustice to be perpetuated in my name.

    perhaps, i just don't have the requisite impervious ego necessary to be a prosecutor.

    Snyder was a nasty judge (none / 0) (#3)
    by fuzzyone on Tue Jul 28, 2009 at 09:58:05 PM EST
    to defense attorneys and defendants (I practiced law in New York, including handling capital cases, though thanks to Morgenthau there were none in Manhattan).  Based on her behavior and attitudes its hard to believe her original views on the death penalty were not sincere.  

    She was a defense attorney herself at (none / 0) (#4)
    by tigercourse on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 12:11:44 AM EST
    one point.

    That was one of those ticket-punching stints (none / 0) (#5)
    by scribe on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 02:24:37 AM EST
    She's a prosecutor, through and through.  Being a defense lawyer was, for her, nothing more than something to put on the resume so she can say "See, I did it."

    There has been much written about her - most of it tending to show her in a negative light (at least as we on the defense side would see it).  I have a hard time believing she would be as even-handed as Morgenthau, but would be rather more likely to bring Giuliani-style operating to the D.A.'s office.

    New York and, and should do better than her.


    you are correct (none / 0) (#10)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 11:38:07 PM EST
    she's got a total prosecutor mentality and had a negative reputation among the defense bar in NY. She's smart but one-sided. She's made some progress (I've debated her on cable news shows in the past) and she's nowhere near as bad as Jeannine Pirro, but she's running for D.A., so I would expect her to revert back to those lock 'em up positions.

    I've been offered a chance to interview one of the other candidates. I haven't decided yet.


    I support Leslie Crocker Snyder (none / 0) (#6)
    by nycvoter on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 10:21:45 AM EST
    Leslie Crocker Snyder was responsible for getting the FIRST Rape shield laws enacted in the country.  She also founded and led the Sex Crimes Prosecution Bureau, the FIRST in the nation.  She was the fist woman in the NY DAs office to try both felony and homicide cases and as a Judge had to oversee some of the most egregious gang violence cases. Her family (children)were under constant police protection for nearly a decade.  She believes in alternatives to prison and was often overuled in recommendations to those avenues by the DAs office.  That leadership comes from the top.  I believe in her progressive agenda, and while capital punishment has been a moot point in NYS for a long time, I am pleased that she has changed her mind because of mistakes in sentencing, however this is a red herring against the most qualified candidate, in my opinion!

    thanks for giving us the reasons (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 11:38:34 PM EST
    to oppose her. This is a defense site, remember?

    Because she is a former prosecutor? (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 11:42:10 PM EST
    no, because of her positions on issues and record (none / 0) (#13)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 12:01:05 AM EST
    check out her book "25 to life"...

    She can't be accused of sentimentalizing defendants: readers will look in vain for a story about an innocent man caught up in the justice system. By her own admission, her heart lies with the prosecution, and the rulings that she recounts (e.g., one to allow suppression hearings outside the presence of defense counsel) reflect that.


    New York Judge Snyder, known among criminal defendants in New York City as the "Ice Princess," "Princess of Darkness," and "25 to Life" for her long sentences in drug cases, has written a blunt, fascinating account of her work...Judge Snyder does an excellent job of describing the work of prosecutors and gives her unvarnished opinions of weak judges, shifty defense lawyers, and evil criminals.

    She's running for DA and I expect her to have prosecutorial leanings, so I'm not criticizing her for having been a prosecutor, it's her record as a prosecutor and judge.


    Thanks for the explanation. (none / 0) (#14)
    by oculus on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 09:20:15 AM EST
    how about wrongful acquittals? (none / 0) (#8)
    by diogenes on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 07:07:58 PM EST
    Langan and Levin, 2002, found that within 3 years of release from prison 40% of convicted murderers and rapists were arrested for another crime of any sort and that 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape and 1.2% or those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide.
    Does that mean that if someone is wrongfully acquitted for homicide and dodges a 20 year sentence that within three years there is a one in eighty chance that he will be arrested for homicide?
    Those of you who would sooner release one thousand guilty men rather than convict one innocent man should ponder post-release lifetime recidivism statistics of guilty men.
    Death penalty in NY is a red herring in wrongful conviction-there is no NY death penalty.

    How many times do I need to say this? (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by TChris on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 11:02:29 PM EST
         There is no such thing as a wrongful acquittal.  If the evidence does not convince a jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the Constitution requires an acquittal.  There is nothing wrongful about following the Constitution's commands.
         Your statistics tell me that 97.5% of released rapists are not arrested for another rape and that 98.8% of released murderers are not arrested for another homicide.  Those numbers suggest that the likelihood of same-offense recidivism in any individual case is quite small.
         The finding that less than half of the released murderers and rapists are arrested for committing some crime isn't particularly compelling given that: (1) an arrest is not proof of guilt, and (2) "another crime of any sort" includes traffic crimes and nonviolent misdemeanors.  In fact, given that Langan and Levin found that only about a third of all released offenders who were arrested for a new crime were sent to prison for that crime, I can only assume that most of the new offenses weren't terribly serious.
         Of course, if we devoted significant effort to rehabilitation in prison, and to serious reintegration efforts upon release (i.e., helping ex-offenders find jobs and housing and reconnecting them with families and other support systems) instead of hounding or ignoring them, recidivism rates would likely drop dramatically.