Brooklyn has dedicated $1.1 million annually to look into cases of potential wrongful convictions. It is under the tutelage of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who has expanded his office’s Conviction Review Unit. And the unit is grabbing national attention.
It has had seven people in six months exonerated. It may not sound like much, but with a country’s judicial system bogged down with paperwork, these numbers are outstanding.
“Since 2007, prosecutors have started conviction integrity units dedicated to making sure the right people were found guilty of crimes. In many cases, exonerations have involved misidentifications and new DNA testing,” reports USA Today. But it has been found that most of the wrongful conviction claims in Brooklyn may involve police misconduct.
“Brooklyn is ground central,” Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, told the newspaper. “They are systematically examining a large set of cases in which there may have been serious misconduct by police officers and possibly by prosecutors themselves over a period of years involving dozens and possibly hundreds of homicide cases…That is an operation on a scale that nobody else has done.”
Compared to other parts of the city, Brooklyn’s cases are more complicated (and potentially more scandalous) as well as costly.
Of the 90 cases the unit is investigating, a whopping 57 of them involve former NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella. Scarcella’s policing tactics have been a sore spot for the NYPD, especially after evidence proved Scarcella coached a witness to pick a suspect out of a lineup. In that case, the suspect, David Ranta, spent 23 years in prison before being exonerated. “Scarcella is also accused of using one crack addicted witness to testify at a number of trials as well fabricating confessions and intimidating suspects,” reports USA Today.
Outrageous wrongful convictions such as Ranta’s have wound up costing the borough and the entire city. In an attempt to compensate Ranta for all the years he spent unjustly behind bars, the City of New York made a settlement for $6.4 million before a $150 million civil rights lawsuit went to trial.