On Law Day 2017, we are encouraged to reflect on the role of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which serves as the mechanism by which the fundamental guarantees of the Bill of Rights are made enforceable in the states. The 14th Amendment has long shaped American law and advanced and protected the rights of all Americans through its citizenship, due process and equal protection clauses. On this Law Day, I would like to focus on the due process clause and the requirement that states provide fair and just legal proceedings before any person may be deprived of life or liberty.
While there is much to be proud of in the American criminal justice system, we know that it is not a perfect system, as evidenced by the fact that innocent people have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in New York and around the country. According to the Innocence Project, post-conviction DNA testing first initiated in 1989 has established the innocence of 349 persons around the country, opening our eyes to the hard reality that wrongful convictions occur much more frequently than anyone previously imagined. More recently, we have experienced a growing number of non-DNA exonerations, a trend that appears disturbing on its face but is largely attributable to the increasing adoption of accountability procedures by prosecutors, including second-look procedures and special review units, that are uncovering erroneous convictions—and that is all to the good.
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