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State AG Proposes Expanding Law That Allows Wrongfully Convicted to Seek Damages

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Those who are wrongfully convicted and then cleared of crimes they didn't commit often struggle to adjust to life outside prison, and making matters worse, the law can make it difficult for them to seek recourse against the state, something that state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wants to change. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

Thanks to a coerced false confession, Jeffrey Deskovic went to prison for 16 years, convicted of a rape and murder that DNA later proved he didn't commit. A teenager when convicted, it took years upon release to get his life on track.

"I never had the same level of job training, and my education wasn't completed, so I was always passed over for gainful employment," Deskovic said. "Not to mention, there was the stigma of having spent 16 years in prison."

State law restricts the ability of those wrongfully imprisoned to sue the state for damages. Language in the law excludes those who, by their own conduct, bring about their conviction. Those who falsely confessed or pleaded guilty therefore face a barrier.

"The problem now is, the way the statute is structured, these people don't even get into court because of these unnecessary barriers," said New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Speaking at a program at John Jay College Wednesday morning, Schneiderman announced that he is proposing state legislation to ease those restrictions, like allowing three rather than two years to file a claim.

"All this does is allow those who a court has already found to have been wrongfully imprisoned and convicted to get their day in court, to seek monetary compensation," Schneiderman said.

According to Schneiderman, New York state ranks third in the nation in the number of convictions overturned by DNA evidence, with 27 people exonerated dating back to 1991. Ten of those 27 had falsely incriminated themselves.

"You may not understand why people falsely confess to crimes they didn't commit," Schneiderman said. "People do. The statistics back it up. We have to allow those people to recover as well as others."

After a years-long legal process, Deskovic did manage to settle with the state for nearly $2 million. As for Schneiderman's bill, it will be introduced by Assemblyman Joe Lentol of Brooklyn, but it may encounter resistance in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

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