New Post-Conviction Justice Unit Will Conduct Collaborative Investigations with Impacted Individuals
New Yorkers Seeking Conviction Review Should Visit www.manhattanda.org/PCJU
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., today announced the launch of a new application process for those seeking a review of their convictions through the Office’s Post-Conviction Justice Unit (PCJU). Anyone convicted of a crime prosecuted by the Manhattan D.A.’s Office is eligible to submit an application requesting a review, which can be found at www.manhattanda.org/PCJU and sent to the office by mail or emailed to PCJU_intake@dany.nyc.gov. Established in January and aligned with national best practices, PCJU is an independent unit separate from trial and appellate prosecutors. All investigations will be done in collaboration with impacted individuals and their counsel, including reviewing and analyzing evidence.
“Post-conviction justice is essential to the work of this Office. Wrongful convictions ruin lives, impair law enforcement’s ability to apprehend those who actually committed the crime, and severely undermine the public’s faith in our criminal justice system. Our new Post-Conviction Justice Unit will prioritize collaboration and trust with the community when reviewing old cases, and I am thrilled it is led by Terri Rosenblatt, a widely-respected former public defender who has deep experience in this work,” said District Attorney Bragg.
“As a former civil rights attorney and public defender, I worked to convince courts to exonerate wrongfully convicted clients. In those cases, I wished for a D.A. like Alvin Bragg who appreciated that justice sometimes demands that prosecutors work together with impacted people and their representatives to right past wrongs. D.A. Bragg’s holistic and collaborative model of post-conviction justice will promote confidence in a criminal legal system by being unafraid to look back and do justice. I am humbled to have been selected to lead this Unit and fulfil that vision,” said Post-Conviction Justice Unit Chief Terri Rosenblatt.
Once PCJU receives an application, it will conduct an initial screening and notify the petitioner whether their case will be accepted for a full reinvestigation. The Unit will prioritize cases where the applicant is convicted of a serious offense and is currently either in prison or under parole or post-release supervision. Active cases are not eligible for review. In addition to impacted people, attorneys, community members, family and friends can submit petitions on behalf of people convicted of crimes.
The Office recognizes that there are many factors that can undermine confidence in a conviction. Some of the factors the Office may consider when reviewing an application for screening or considering whether to vacate or modify a conviction include: innocence; request for DNA or other forensic testing; due process violation; faulty forensic science; unreliable witnesses; or ineffective assistance of trial counsel.
PCJU will report directly to the District Attorney and provide services and support to exonerees, as well as victims and survivors who may have been deprived of closure. The Unit will also promote conviction integrity in future prosecutions by advising the office in best practices, including through new trainings and root cause analysis reports.
Derrick Hamilton, exonerated after serving 21 years of a life sentence said: “It’s a great thing when someone, like me, who has been wrongfully convicted is given a process to be exonerated. I commend D.A. Alvin Bragg for expanding the work of its Post-Conviction Unit and giving those wrongly convicted a process to be heard. This is a critical development for incarcerated individuals and their families and will hopefully pave the way toward reducing such injustices.”
State Senator Cordell Cleare (D-Manhattan), said: “As someone who lived the horrors of the Exonerated Five up close, I’m heartened and encouraged by the work of D.A. Alvin Bragg to create a new application process for those seeking a review of their convictions. We cannot give back the precious time with family and friends, money, property or achievements one may have lost — nor can we undo the hurt, trauma, humiliation and other emotional and psychological damage one suffers from being wrongfully accused and incarcerated. It is a double tragedy when an individual suffers an injustice at the hands of our justice system. D.A. Bragg’s willingness to conduct a courageous, critical review of past convictions makes real his commitment to the pursuit of justice FOR ALL and I applaud him for that.”
Assemblymember Eddie Gibbs (D-Manhattan), said: “Beginning when I was 17 years old, I spent about four years in prison for an action I committed in self-defense. I know firsthand how harmful a wrongful conviction can be to an individual, their family, and their community. I applaud District Attorney Bragg for this new post-conviction application process, a significant step towards achieving a more fair criminal justice system in Manhattan. I hope this will serve as a model for other district attorneys around New York State, all of whom should take action to review old cases of potentially wrongful convictions and to ensure future conviction integrity.”
Assemblyman Al Taylor (D-Manhattan) said: “I applaud D.A. Alvin Bragg’s plans to expand the work of its Post-Conviction Unit. Wrongful convictions represent justice lost. Correcting miscarriages of justice and learning how to avoid them is important for those directly affected, and indeed for all of us. With D.A. Bragg leading the way, I have no doubt that this Unit will soon be righting many wrongful convictions.”
Barry Scheck, Cardozo Law Prof. and Co-Founder of the Innocence Project, said: “Terri Rosenblatt, a leader in the defense and civil rights community, is a superb choice to run this unit. Alvin Bragg deserves great credit for putting in place a structure that assures those seeking post-conviction justice will get an independent and collaborative re-investigation, an indispensable best practice.”
Rachel Barkow, NYU Law Prof and Faculty Director of the Zimroth Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, said: “I am pleased to see DA Bragg making the Post-Conviction Unit a priority. Wrongful convictions are one of the most egregious forms of state malfeasance and they ruin lives and people’s faith in the functioning of our justice system. The public needs to know that convictions are the product of careful and fair processes, and any sign that a conviction was tainted needs to be investigated and any wrongful conviction immediately remedied. Wrongful conviction cases also serve as canaries in the coal mine, revealing procedures that need to be fixed and sources of abuse. I look forward to seeing the robust invigoration of this unit with the necessary personnel to process and evaluate the applications filed.”
Janos Marton, National Director of Dream Corps Justice, said: “Far too many people in prison today were wrongfully convicted, and DA Bragg’s Post-Conviction Justice Unit will implement best practices to help people restore their freedom. I commend DA Bragg for fulfilling this campaign promise and using the Manhattan DA’s office to lead on an issue communities are facing across the country.”
Five Mualimm-ak, Executive Director, Incarcerated Nation Network, said: “Post-conviction justice is a needed pathway for returning citizens and their families to positively reintegrate back into society, and the Post-Conviction Justice Unit will now be that vital pathway for bringing us one step closer to a fair justice system for all.”
Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Alliance of Families for Justice, said: “I highly commend Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on the establishment of the Post-Conviction Justice Unit. The necessity of such a unit is made starkly evident by the tragic story of what happened to the Central Park 5 defendants and their families; their lives were forever changed by their wrongful prosecutions and convictions. As a former criminal defense lawyer and law professor, I bear witness to the daily challenges of ensuring that the rights of people accused of violating the law are protected and that their prosecutions are honestly undertaken. The appointment of a former public defender signals DA Bragg’s leadership and commitment to making the PCJU a place where the community can turn for redress of police misconduct and overzealous prosecutions resulting in wrongful convictions.”
Zachary Katznelson, Executive Director of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, said: “I applaud District Attorney Bragg for establishing the Post-Conviction Justice Unit and ensuring a cooperative approach to investigating possibly wrongful convictions. I am also pleased that any mistakes and misconduct will be analyzed and used to impact training and policy moving forward. These are strong steps towards increasing justice.”
Derek Perkinson, NYS Field Director and Crisis Director, National Action Network, said: “New Yorkers will not have faith in the criminal justice system unless they know everyone is treated equally under the law. We know that we are far from achieving that ideal, and unaddressed wrongful convictions are a major reason why. The Post-Conviction Justice Unit is an important step towards righting those wrongs, and I thank District Attorney Bragg for following through on his commitment to establish an independent unit to review these cases with the seriousness that they deserve.”
Reverend Dr. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director at The Interfaith Center of New York, said: “As a Manhattan faith-leader, I welcome D.A. Bragg’s new Post-Conviction Unit that will review eligible convictions and offer support to exonerees, as well as victims and survivors who may have been deprived of closure. To that end, D.A. Bragg is taking an important step towards ending wrongful convictions and doing what New Yorkers elected him to do: fight crime and improve our justice system.”
Stanley Richards, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Fortune Society said: “The Fortune Society supports DA Bragg’s establishment of a robust process and unit dedicated to the review of convictions. In 2021 alone, there were 161 recorded exonerations nationwide resulting from wrongful convictions, three of whom were on death row, and the majority of whom were African American. All convictions carry lifelong consequences and stigma that prevent people from obtaining housing, jobs, and otherwise moving forward with their lives. Wrongful convictions weigh down individuals and their loved ones with additional pain, and destroy individual and community trust in law enforcement and our institutions. We look forward to partnering with DA Bragg on providing access to alternatives to incarceration and promoting successful reentry.”