District Attorney Vance Announces Conviction Integrity Program

March 4, 2010

DA Vance: Program to Employ the Best Science, the Best Training, and the Best National Practices

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced a comprehensive initiative by the New York County District Attorney’s Office to seek to prevent wrongful convictions and address claims of actual innocence. The Conviction Integrity Program will consist of three components: a Conviction Integrity Committee, a Conviction Integrity Chief, and an outside Conviction Integrity Policy Advisory Panel.

“As District Attorney of New York County, I am proud to supervise more than 500 of the finest prosecutors in the country,” District Attorney Vance said. “Our Assistant District Attorneys have prosecuted some of the most important and complex cases anywhere. Their work has helped to significantly reduce crime in this city, and has always been guided by an abiding concern that the right person be brought to justice.

“But the criminal justice system is subject to human error and thus can be fallible,” DA Vance continued.  “As prosecutors, it is our duty to bring our best efforts to bear in every case to ensure that only the guilty are convicted.  And if we have any reason to believe that we have prosecuted or are prosecuting someone who is actually innocent, we must take prompt steps to investigate the matter and see that justice is served. This Program is not aspirational – it is a modern, comprehensive structure to minimize wrongful convictions by evaluating the merits of each case, in the earliest stages of an investigation and beyond, guided by the best science, the best training, and the best national practices.”

The Conviction Integrity Committee, comprised of 10 senior members of the District Attorney’s staff, will review practices and policies related to case assessment, investigation, and disclosure obligations, with a focus on potential errors such as eyewitness misidentifications and false confessions.

DA Vance has appointed Bonnie Sard, a senior Assistant District Attorney, to the newly-created position of Conviction Integrity Chief.  She will report directly to the District Attorney and the Office’s General Counsel.  ADA Sard will coordinate the activities of the Committee, and with the Committee will lead the re-investigation of any cases that present a meaningful claim of actual innocence.

In addition, DA Vance announced the formation of a Conviction Integrity Policy Advisory Panel. The Panel is comprised of leading criminal justice experts, including former New York Court of Appeals Judge Howard Levine, former New York State Commissioner of Criminal Justice Services Denise O’Donnell, Innocence Project Co-Founder Barry Scheck, as well as legal scholars and former prosecutors.  The Panel will advise the Office on national best practices and evolving issues in the area of wrongful convictions.

The Innocence Project Co-Founder Barry Scheck said: “This innovative program will take us one step closer to preventing wrongful convictions before they occur, and freeing the innocent. This is a bold approach to a problem that plagues our country, and must be addressed without fear. It is my hope that the work done by the Manhattan DA’s Office will be emulated by prosecutors across the U.S. I applaud District Attorney Vance for making this issue a top priority, and moving swiftly to implement this comprehensive program.”

Former Commissioner O’Donnell said: “I applaud District Attorney Vance for launching this aggressive and comprehensive Conviction Integrity Program. Like so many other innovative programs which the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has spearheaded in the past, this will prove to be a national model for prosecutors’ offices to follow to address the most vexing criminal justice problem of our time.”

The Policy Advisory Panel will include:

Rachel E. Barkow, a Professor of Law at New York University School of Law.   Professor Barkow teaches criminal law and has written, lectured, and testified before Congress on an array of issues, including criminal and constitutional law, sentencing, and the structure of prosecutors’ offices. She is also the Faculty Director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University.

Zachary W. Carter, former United States Attorney for the Eastern District. As U.S. Attorney, Mr. Carter led several prosecutions of nationwide significance. He is now a partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP, where he co-chairs the firm’s white collar practice group.

Richard H. Girgenti, former New York State Director of Criminal Justice and Commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services.  Mr. Girgenti is currently the National and Americas Leader for KPMG LLP’s Forensic Services, and has served as a member of KPMG’s Board of Directors.

Bruce A. Green, Louis Stein Professor of Law and the Director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University School of Law. Professor Green, who previously served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, writes widely on issues on prosecutorial ethics and wrongful convictions.  He also serves as Chair-elect of the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section.

Howard A. Levine, former judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.  Judge Levine is currently a judge who a senior counsel at Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP. Prior to his tenure on the New York Court of Appeals, he served as an Associate Justice on the Appellate Division (Third Department), and as District Attorney of Schenectady County.

Robert J. McGuire, former Commissioner of the New York City Police Department. Mr. McGuire also served as Chairman and Chief Executive of Pinkerton’s Inc., and subsequently, President of Kroll Associates, an international investigation firm. He is formerly an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District.

Denise O’Donnell, former New York State Commissioner of Criminal Justice Services and Deputy Secretary for Public Safety.  In that capacity, Ms. O’Donnell supervised all New York State criminal justice and homeland security agencies.  Prior to her tenure at DCJS, she served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, and as a litigation partner at Hodgson, Russ LLP.

Mechthild (Mecki) Prinz, PhD, Director of the Forensic Biology Department in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City.  Dr. Prinz has been involved in many high profile criminal cases, and worked on identifying victims of the 9/11 attacks.  She oversees evidence examination and DNA testing for homicides, sexual assault cases, property crimes, and other criminal cases for New York City.

Barry C. Scheck, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project.  The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, has been responsible in whole or in part for exonerating most of the 250 men and women nationwide to be cleared through post-conviction DNA testing.   Mr. Scheck also serves as a Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School.