The new president of the New York State Bar Association announced Monday night that the association was launching a task force on wrongful convictions, revisiting an issue that it last studied a decade ago.
Michael Miller, who made his remarks immediately after being installed as bar association president, said that former state Supreme Court Justice Barry Kamins, one of the name partners in Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins, will co-chair the task force along with former Court of Appeals Judge Robert Smith of Friedman, Kaplan, Seiler & Adelman.
The job of the new task force is “to update the 2009 report with recommendations based upon new developments, technology, science, experience and judicial decisions, and make affirmative recommendations to reduce the likelihood of wrongful convictions,” Miller said.
Kamins was also the chairman of the 2009 association task force, which issued a groundbreaking report, Miller said.
“Unfortunately a week doesn’t go by where you pick up a newspaper and see another case of wrongful conviction in the news in New York or nationally,” Kamins said in an interview. “If there’s one conviction that’s wrongfully been obtained, that’s one too many.”
The task force’s mission is to see how far New York has progressed since the last report and to look at new developments such as convictions that have been obtained based on unreliable forensic evidence.
“I think it’s an issue that judges and prosecutors and defense attorneys will be interested in learning about,” Kamins said.
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York and the district attorneys from the Bronx, Nassau and Erie counties will also be members of the panel. There will also be representatives from the legal aid society, the attorney general’s office, the defenders office and law schools.
Martin Tankleff, who spent 17 years in prison before his conviction for his parents’ murders in Suffolk County was overturned, will also serve on the task force. After being exonerated, Tankleff graduated from Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in 2014 and passed the state bar exam in 2017.
The bar association task force is not the only one that tackled the issue of wrongful convictions in New York state. The state’s Justice Task Force has also made recommendations, which in 2017 resulted in all judges being required to issue an order demanding that all information favorable to the defense be turned over at least 30 days before a trial on a felony.
Task force recommendations have also led to expansion of the DNA databank, video recording of interrogations and procedural safeguards for photo identifications.
In his remarks, Miller also announced the formation of other groups and task forces, including a Rapid Response Advisory Group, to respond to attacks on judges and a Task Force on the Evaluation of Candidates for Election to Judicial Office. The advisory group will be led by NYSBA Past President David Miranda and the judicial task force will be chaired by NYCLA Past President Robert Haig and former Court of Appeals Judge Susan Phillips Read.
The association is also establishing the Task Force on Mass Shootings and Assault Weapons, which will be co-chaired by former Criminal Court Judge Margaret Finerty and NYSBA Past President David Schraver.
“This task force will consider the connection between mental health and mass shootings; the relationship between domestic violence and mass shootings; whether assault weapons belong in civilian hands; and will make appropriate recommendations,” Miller said.
Miller also addressed the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico.
“My friends, there is a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico of historic proportion,” Miller said. “I am appointing a Working Group on Puerto Rico to explore ways through enactment or modification of laws we might be able to assist our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico who are suffering so grievously.”