Manhattan D.A. Bragg committed to vacating prior wrongful convictions and past injustices

 December 22, 2023

Progressive Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is largely focused on the ideas of racial and social justice and as such has sought to use his position to correct what he perceives as past injustices.

That includes overturning or vacating prior wrongful convictions and granting freedom to individuals who never should have been imprisoned, according to Spectrum News' NY1.

Bragg's commitment in that regard stems from an incident when he was a teenager in Harlem that "left a deep imprint" on him -- the wrongful convictions of five black teens accused of attacking a Central Park jogger in 1989.

Righting past wrongs and injustices

According to NY1, one of the first things that DA Bragg did upon taking office in 2022 was to establish the Post-Conviction Justice Unit within the Manhattan office, which is now staffed with more than a dozen attorneys and investigators.

That unit looks back at certain closed cases to analyze and review the evidence and statements that led to convictions in search of discrepancies that could exonerate the incarcerated individual and then move to vacate their conviction if it is determined that the conviction was wrongful and unjust.

"Community trust in the justice system is essential to achieving public safety," Bragg said of his efforts to impose accountability. "New Yorkers must know that law enforcement is acting with the utmost integrity in the pursuit of equal justice under the law. Without that belief, our criminal justice system will fail to deliver the real and lasting safety that every community deserves."

That effort especially includes looking back at convictions connected to police officers who've been exposed as criminal or corrupt, and in June Bragg's office announced that, in conjunction with several private organizations, motions were filed to vacate 316 wrongful convictions between 1996 and 2017 linked to nine NYPD officers convicted of crimes related to their official duties.

In November 2022, Bragg's office had similarly moved to vacate 188 wrongful convictions that were tied to eight former NYPD officers convicted of various duty-related abuses and crimes.

First and latest vacaturs

NY1 reported that DA Bragg's first vacatur of a wrongful conviction came in July 2022 and stemmed from that same 1989 Central Park jogger incident that sparked his commitment to correct injustices and involved a sixth individual, Steven Lopez, who had pleaded guilty under pressure to a separate robbery to avoid trial on attempted murder and rape charges.

Most recently, in November, Bragg successfully moved to vacate the wrongful convictions of two men separately imprisoned for homicides that occurred in the 1990s, Wayne Gardine and Jabar Walker.

Those motions were based on newly discovered exonerating evidence in both cases, and while Gardine had already served more than 30 years and had been released on parole last year, Walker was immediately set free from two consecutive 25-to-life sentences.

Unit only reinvestigates "credible claims" of wrongful convictions

The head of the purportedly independent PCJU, Terri Rosenblatt, told NY1, "We’re looking at closed cases of people who have been convicted," and that reinvestigations of such cases are only opened if there are "credible claims of unjust conviction or innocence."

The Manhattan DA's Office established a link where individuals who believe they were wrongfully convicted can apply to have their cases reviewed, but notably only about 10% of requests received actually result in a reinvestigation, much less a motion to vacate.

Nonetheless, Bragg told NY1, "I have people reach out to me after a vacatur and they say, the fact that you’re looking back gives me faith in what you’re doing today and going forward."

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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