Client Advocate, Bruce Bryan Advocates for the Passing of the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act

New York City Council
Committee on Public Safety
May 1, 2024

Testimony of Bruce Bryan, Client Advocate – Queens Defenders

Good morning, Chairperson Salaam, and members of the Committee on Public Safety. My name is Bruce Bryan, and I am a Client Advocate for Queens Defenders.  Prior to this role, I was wrongfully convicted and served over 29 years in prison.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. Before I begin, I wish to commend the New York City Council for considering this array of proposed legislative reforms calling for a systemic shift in both the wrongful conviction claims process and the decarceration landscape. Your leadership on this issue is an important step toward our city’s reckoning with both our current crisis of mass incarceration and our serious wrongful conviction problem — an intertwined state of affairs.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, New York has the third highest level of wrongful convictions in the United States. Despite the current legislative regime making it extremely difficult for those incarcerated to challenge their convictions, there have been more than 369 people exonerated since 1989.  This is a statistic we should be ashamed of. Each number represents a life stolen. Further, marginalized members of our community are unacceptably overrepresented. The Innocence Project notes that: “Black people account for 40% of the approximately 2.3 million incarcerated people in the U.S and nearly 50% of exonerees – despite making up just 13% of the US population. This is in large part, because they are policed more heavily, often presumed guilty, and frequently denied a fair shot at justice.”

Proposed Resolution S.1774, relating to forensic DNA testing and requesting certain DNA test comparisons, would help create additional, and necessary, avenues for those incarcerated to challenge the absolute injustice of a wrongful conviction. Further, I call on the Legislature to pass proposed Resolution S.5824/A6860, aimed at providing innocent people, who have been wrongfully convicted, an avenue to be able to recover restitution and damages against the state for time served.

I am here today to offer my story as an example of how nefarious tactics in police investigations and prosecutorial conduct, often guised as a tough-on-crime approach, in fact do not serve public safety – they only contribute to wrongful convictions and mass incarceration.

When I was 23 years old, I was arrested and prosecuted for a murder that I did not commit. As a result of a drug related shootout, a young person was killed. This involved multiple parties firing numerous shots. I was not one of the shooters and I never possessed a gun that day. There were multiple things that the NYPD did during that arrest and investigation that violated my Constitutional rights and contributed to my wrongful conviction.

When my case proceeded to trial, I watched on as the prosecutors spun a fantastical narrative, one that can only be likened to a Hollywood plot, and strayed far from the facts of the case. The prosecution used emotion and story-telling tactics to confront and shock the jury. Prosecutors told the tale of a key witness as being present at the scene of the crime, but who was in fact at home studying. Moreover, they persuasively told the jury of a gun in my hands, used to shoot, which was completely false and factually devoid. I have no doubt that the tactics used by those prosecuting me swayed the jury to wrongfully convict me which ultimately led to my incarceration for over 29 years. For these reasons, legislative discussion and reform pertaining to prosecutorial conduct and accountability is a crucial step in ensuring the right to a fair trial and to avoid the further injustice of more wrongful convictions. I use this opportunity to urge City Council to renew the call for passing the Challenging Wrongful Conviction Act, which would make it easier for those seeking to challenge a conviction, including people who pled guilty but have evidence of their innocence. Although this was vetoed by Governor Kathy Hochul, late last year, after it passed the Legislature, it is motivating to see this Bill is included in the State Senate’s one-house budget. I urge City Council to join in the call for state legislators to reprioritize the passing of this landmark Bill in 2024.

During my time incarcerated, I witnessed squalid pre-trial jail and post-conviction prison conditions, which were completely inadequate to meet the needs of those in custody. Resolution S.3103-B/A.6058-A, requiring mental health services for those incarcerated, is important especially for those grappling with the absolute trauma of being wrongfully convicted.

In 2022, I received clemency, and today, I am working as a Client Advocate at Queens Defenders leading innovative youth programming for our young court-involved clients that helps them make better life decisions and pursue meaningful and engaging educational and career goals.  Last week I celebrated one year of being at home and being able to contribute positively to my community. However, there are many spaces where formerly incarcerated people continue to be excluded from. I believe that passing Resolution S.4795/A.5959, aimed at having at least one formerly incarcerated person as a member of the State Board of Parole, would help ensure the proximity and visibility of formerly incarcerated voices, and would have helped me better navigate my release journey.

Similarly, proposed Resolution S.206-A/A.1432-A, which would allow convicted felons to serve on jury, is a step toward destigmatizing the formerly incarcerated and ensuring that our voices, shaped from our lived experiences, are not silenced in the criminal justice system. These legislative reforms are important steps forward to ensure the integrity of the decarceration process.

Again, I thank the Committee on Public Safety for considering legislative action aimed to prevent future wrongful convictions and to implement support in the decarceration space. I can only hope that we can collectively work together to protect the next generation and to make our system fair for everyone.


New York City Public Defenders’ Joint Statement on Lawsuits Filed Against the Department of Correction Alleging Sexual Abuse on Rikers Island

Queens Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Legal Aid Society, the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, and The Bronx Defenders released the following joint statement in response to reporting in Gothamist concerning 719 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse in New York City jails under the Adult Survivors Act:


“The harms detailed in these hundreds of lawsuits are appalling and unfortunately consistent with a pattern of abuse experienced by thousands of people incarcerated at Rikers who we have represented over the past several decades. The people who have come forward have taken a courageous step to demand accountability from the Department of Correction. Sadly, people incarcerated at Rikers continue to experience sexual abuse and other horrifying abuses and conditions. We reaffirm our call for a receivership that addresses the deep-seated culture of corruption and disregard for the health and safety of people in DOC custody, and we believe that ultimately decarceration and closing Rikers is imperative to stopping the harm and violence.”


Queens Defenders Executive Director Lori Zeno stated, “We are horrified to read of the allegations of sexual abuse at Rikers Island described in reporting by The Gothamist, and the stories of these brave survivors illustrate a prolific pattern of torture and abuse of women who were held while awaiting trial. Rikers’ notoriety for its reprehensible stewardship of the people it is responsible to house is now clearly known outside the circles of people involved in the criminal legal system.  It is clear that the Department of Corrections has proven itself incapable running a facility that respects the most basic human rights, and it is imperative that the Adams Administration follow through on its obligation to close Rikers Island by 2027.”


Read the full press release here

Read the reporting from Gothamist here.

Public Defenders Share Letter To Gov. Kathy Hochul - Saving IOLA Wasn’t Enough. Stop the ILSF Sweep & Fund Public Defense.

March 21, 2024


Governor Kathy Hochul

Governor of New York State


Hon. Andrea Stewart-Cousins

President Pro Tempore & Majority Leader

New York State Senate


Hon. Carl E. Heastie

New York State Assembly Speaker

New York State Assembly

RE: Saving IOLA Wasn’t Enough. Stop the ILSF Sweep & Fund Public Defense.

Dear Governor Hochul, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Heastie:


As you negotiate the final budget, we urge you to reject the proposed sweep of $234 million from the Indigent Legal Services Fund in the FY25 Executive Budget. These funds are crucial to ensure that low-income New Yorkers receive the high-quality legal representation they deserve and are entitled to by the United States Constitution. The ILS Fund must be restored.


In the 30-day amendments, the Governor correctly removed a $100 million proposed sweep of the IOLA Fund, which supports civil legal services, after widespread outcry, particularly by the legal profession. However, criminal and family court legal services are not covered by the IOLA Fund. These services are funded by New York State through the Indigent Legal Services Fund (ILSF). While the Senate rightfully rejected the sweep in its One House budget, the Assembly and Governor are still considering it. We urge you to join with the Senate in rejecting it full stop.


The ILS Fund was created twenty years ago to ensure high-quality public defense for all low-income New Yorkers. These monies are used to ensure people have access to the zealous representation required to defend themselves in criminal court, to fight to have their children returned to them in family court, and to navigate technical and complicated appeals processes. No one should have to face these legal systems alone without quality legal representation, including crucial investigative and social work support. ILS also provides counties across the state with funding for non-citizen advisals on immigration consequences (called Padilla support). In most counties, ILS funding is the only funding to support constitutionally-required Padilla advisals.


Public defenders meet people at some of the worst moments of their lives, and help them through to the other side. Without sufficient funding from the ILSF, many defender offices around the state will not have sufficient resources to provide many critical services to their clients. In addition, attorneys will be back to handling too many cases at one time, increasing the risk of missing important legal and factual issues. Large caseloads also lead attorneys to leave the public interest field, adding to the attrition that was experienced during the pandemic.


The ILS Fund protects counties from otherwise unfunded mandates. Prior to the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the NYCLU in 2015, counties were responsible for most of the costs of funding constitutionally-mandated public defense, with only a limited amount of state funding available. The Hurrell-Harring settlement clarified that it is the state’s responsibility to fund such obligations. The source for that funding is the ILS Fund. Without these funds, the state risks going backwards in its obligation. Perhaps more importantly, funding in family court is woefully inadequate and the sweep of these funds makes it even more unlikely that the state will play their part in funding these services.


As has been made clear by numerous task forces and reports as well as Chief Judge Wilson in his recent State of the Judiciary remarks, there must be an investment in New York’s family court, including legal services, as well as continued support for legal services for low-income people across the court system.


The ILS fund was created to ensure equity, justice, quality representation and family unification for indigent New Yorkers. The proposed sweep of $234 million undermines these goals and sets a dangerous precedent that will harm our communities. We collectively urge you instead to appropriate the funds in the ILSF for their intended purpose of improving public defense throughout New York State.



1. Albany County Public Defender, by Stephen W. Herrick, Public Defender

2. Allegany County Public Defender’s Office

3. The Bronx Defenders

4. Brooklyn Defender Services

5. Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A

6. CAMBALegalServices

7. Center for Community Alternatives

8. Center for Elder Law & Justice

9. The Center for Family Representation

10. Chemung County Public Advocate

11. Chief Defenders Association of New York

12. Children’s Defense Fund-New York

13. City Bar Justice Center

14. The Door

15. Dutchess County Bar

16. Dutchess County Public Defender’s Office

17. Empire Justice Center

18. Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc.

19. The Fortune Society

20. Frank H. Hiscock Legal Aid Society

21. Genesee County Public Defender

22. Goddard Riverside Law Project

23. Her Justice

24. Housing Conservation Coordinators

25. IOLA Fund of the State of New York

26. Immigrant Defense Project

27. JASA|Legal Services for Elder Justice

28. Journey’s End Refugee Services

29. JustCause

30. Law Offices of Jason F. Valentin, P.A.

31. Lawyers For Children

32. League of Women Voters of New York State

33. League of Women Voters of the Rochester Metro Area

34. Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc.

35. The Legal Aid Society

36. The Legal Aid Society of Nassau County

37. The Legal Aid Society of Rochester, New York

38. The Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County

39. The Legal Aid Society of Westchester County

40. The Legal Project

41. Livingston County Public Defender’s Office

42. Mobilization for Justice

43. Monroe County Bar Association

44. MRS Baking Distribution

45. Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem

46. NMIC

47. New York Civil Liberties Union

48. New York County Defender Services

49. New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

50. New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC)

51. New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

52. New York State Defenders Association

53. North American Climate, Conservation and Environment (NACCE)

54. The NYC Justice Peer Initiative

55. Office of Montgomery County Public Defender

56. Oneida County Public Defender

57. Onondaga County Assigned Counsel Program

58. Ontario County Office of the Conflict Defender

59. Ontario County Public Defender

60. Pro Bono Net

61. Queens Defenders

62. Rural Law Center of New York

63. Seneca County Public Defender

64. Tompkins County Assigned Counsel

65. Urban Justice Center

66. Volunteers of Legal Service

67. Wayne County Assigned Counsel Program

68. Wayne County Public Defender

69. Western New York Law Center

70. Wyoming County- Attica Legal Aid

71. Youth Represent




March 22nd, 2024

We strongly oppose adoption of the language proposed in Part WWW of S8305B which would make successive alleged incidents of theft from different locations subject to the aggregation of value of the alleged stolen goods and eligible for enhanced charging and sentencing.


Changing the method of valuation under PL 155.20(1) will not address the concerns around increased retail theft. In fact, the use of multiple petit larcenies aggregated to make out a grand larceny charge has already been addressed by the Court of Appeals. For thefts against a single owner/location, the law now allows aggregation of the value of successive thefts.[1] People v. Cox, 286 N.Y. 137 (1941). Therefore, for those who repeatedly target the same store, the law already allows for the prosecution of successive thefts as grand larceny if the aggregate value of the stolen items amounts to $1,000.00 or more.


There is good reason why the Court of Appeals stopped short of allowing aggregation of multiple thefts from multiple owners in different places: doing so raises constitutional concerns, implicating double jeopardy and due process. When multiple crimes are charged in a single count, which is precisely what the Senate’s proposal contemplates, the Court of Appeals has held that this “may [fail to give a defendant] adequate notice and opportunity to defend; it may impair his ability to assert the protection against double jeopardy in a future case; and it may undermine the requirement of jury unanimity, for if jurors are considering separate crimes in a single count, some may find the defendant guilty of one, and some of the other.” People v. Alonzo, 16 N.Y.3d 267, 269 (2011).


This caution from the Court is more than an academic exercise in the theoretical. Consider a person charged with three separate incidents at three separate locations where the value of the alleged items taken totals more than $1,000, meeting the threshold for grand larceny. What if that person has an alibi to offer for one of the incidents, or testimony to offer for another? To charge and try all three would force a person who stands accused in this merged indictment to relinquish their right to remain silent as to all allegations in order to offer testimony as to one. Such a scenario easily plays into the concerns of the Alonzo court and, as such, demands a rejection of, or at the very least, a more narrow tailoring of the senate proposal.


We urge our elected leaders to refocus the government’s attention on this issue and take a non-incarceratory approach to address concerns about retail theft. Changes to retail theft provisions are unnecessary to address the legitimate safety concerns of retail workers. In order to meaningfully address safety concerns or retail workers, we urge you to listen to the workers directly, whose main union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) is calling for passage of S8358/A8947 which would require employers to develop and implement safe staffing levels and programs to prevent workplace violence. Instead of increasing criminal penalties, we should focus on solutions that will produce true safety, like S8358/A8947, offered and endorsed by the workers themselves.


True safety is created by investing in the creation of thriving communities and addressing people’s underlying needs. We urge you to heed the call of the retail worker’s union, which recognizes that the way to keep its members safe is to focus on preventing harm in the first place. We look forward to supporting the critical work before you: to solve the root cause of the feeling of insecurity by investing in the support and health of our communities.



(1) In Cox, while determining whether petit larceny had permissibly been aggregated to grand larceny, the Court of Appeals found “‘if several takings are pursuant to several different intents and each illegal plan is a new and separate enterprise, each taking may only be prosecuted as a single larceny, for it is only those stealings which are prompted by a single intent and pursuant to a single plan which may be accumulated and prosecuted as one larceny”. People v. Cox, 286 NY. 137(1941).

Public Defenders, Civil Rights Groups, Advocacy Organizations, and NYC Officials Send Letter to Gov. Hochul Condemning Deployment of National Guard and State Police into NYC Subway System

(New York City, NY) – Today, New York City Public Defenders, civil rights organizations, advocacy organizations, and a number of New York City elected officials sent a letter to New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, condemning her five-point plan that includes the deployment of National Guard and state law enforcement personnel to conduct searches in New York City subway stations, legislation expanding judicial discretion to ban New Yorkers from public transit, and expansion of co-responder models that utilize New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers as part of a mental health crisis response team.


“The deployment of military personnel and state police in New York City subways is reminiscent of the city’s failed “stop-and-frisk” era that threatened the safety of Black and Brown New Yorkers and their right to be free of unwarranted intrusions. To achieve real safety, we need proven methods like community investments that will promote the health and economic well-being of residents, instead of surveillance and harassment from law enforcement and military personnel. We strongly urge Governor Hochul to reconsider this dangerous and ill-conceived plan,” said Jin Hee Lee, Director of Strategic Initiatives at LDF.  


“Governor Hochul’s kneejerk reaction to sensationalized tabloid headlines is straight from the playbook on how not to effectuate public policy,” said Jennvine Wong, Staff Attorney with the Cop Accountability Project at The Legal Aid Society. “Straphangers want a subway system that fully functions, not wrongheaded policies that perpetuate invasive police searches, which will disproportionally impact Black and Latinx communities. New Yorkers don’t want their morning commute turned into some dystopia, and Governor Hochul should immediately rescind this plan in favor of meaningful investments into social safety nets.”


“New Yorkers know deploying troops to subway entrances is a scare tactic that does nothing to keep millions of us safe underground,” said Riders Alliance Policy & Communications Director Danny Pearlstein. “Riders want to see major new public investment to address the root causes of the widespread problems uniquely visible on the subway, starting with housing, healthcare and basic support services.


“This latest push to expand police surveillance in the subways stems from our current administration’s relentless sensationalization of subway crime. It’s a thinly veiled attempt to further marginalize and target vulnerable communities, particularly people experiencing homelessness and Black and brown New Yorkers. This strategy not only funnels more resources into an already overfunded police force but also blatantly ignores the proven efficacy of alternative solutions like housing and mental health services,” said Anthony Feliciano, Vice President for Community Mobilization at Housing Works


“Our communities know that Governor Hochul saturating our City’s subways with the National Guard is not only a misallocation of resources, but a fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of New Yorkers. Showing instead a prioritization of an intimidating presence over genuine safety and community support. Instead, we advocate for solutions that address the root causes of our challenges, promoting a sense of security through community-based initiatives,” said Donavon Taveras, Lead Organizer, El Puente, CPR Member.


“The Gathering for Justice vehemently denounces Governor Hochul’s Five-Point subway plan. All proposed measures only serve to increase the already loosely restricted power of law enforcement and embolden them to continue to act with impunity, while limiting the rights of civilian New Yorkers, and improperly target vulnerable populations, including individuals with records, youth, unhoused people, and those suffering from mental health crises. We join the call of numerous organizations and elected officials to urge Governor Hochul to reconsider this approach and pursue more measured and effective strategies, grounded in the community, that will actually promote meaningful public safety,” said Jessica Persaud, Director of Policy & Advocacy at The Gathering for Justice.


The letter identifies several ways the coalition believes the Governor’s Plan is ineffective and will negatively impact public safety, including:

  • Increased searches that will likely disproportionately harm Black and Brown people without delivering the intended public safety benefits, which historical data shows has been consistently characteristic of stops by law enforcement officers in the city;
  • Increased involvement of NYPD in mental health responses, which significantly raises the risk of criminalizing and using force against people with mental health disabilities;
  • Expansion of judicial discretion to ban people from subway ridership, which will prevent people from meeting their basic needs or any requirements set by probation or parole authorities;
  • Embrace of an ineffective and counterproductive approach to community safety, which is best achieved through investments in public services, not policing.

Read the full letter with the list of signatories here.


Queens Defenders' Client Advocate Bruce Bryan Shares Testimony to New York City Council Committee on Public Safety

New York City Council
Committee on Public Safety
February 26, 2024

Testimony of Bruce Bryan – Client Advocate – Queens Defenders

Good morning, Chairperson Salaam, and members of the Committee on Public Safety. My name is Bruce Bryan, and I am a Client Advocate for Queens Defenders.  Prior to this role, I was wrongfully convicted and served over 29 years in prison.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. Before I begin, I wish to commend the New York City Council for overriding Mayor Adams’ Veto on the How Many Stops Act.  Your leadership on this issue is an important step toward protecting our city’s marginalized communities from over-policing and abuse by law enforcement authorities.


I am here today to offer my story as an example of how nefarious tactics in police investigations do not serve public safety – they only create wrongful convictions and an adverse relationship between the police and the community.  The Innocence Project notes that: “Black people account for 40% of the approximately 2.3 million incarcerated people in the U.S and nearly 50% of exonerees – despite making up just 13% of the US population. This is in large part, because they are policed more heavily, often presumed guilty, and frequently denied a fair shot at justice.”


My story and wrongful incarceration for nearly 30 years echoes these statistics.  My life could have – and should have – had a different outcome and I am calling on the New York City Council to take action to prevent the practice of NYPD officers being given carte blanche to lie; to manipulate; and deceive people who they are interviewing.


When I was 23 years old, I was arrested and charged with a murder that I did not commit. There were multiple things that the NYPD did during that arrest and investigation that contributed to my wrongful conviction.


When I was arrested, I was represented by counsel who specifically invoked my 6th Amendment rights. Despite this, I was still placed in an in-person lineup without my attorney being notified or present to protect my rights. As a result of that lineup, I was misidentified as the perpetrator and charged, beginning a 29-year nightmare that finally ended when I received clemency in 2022.


In my case, the death of a young person occurred because of a drug related shootout. This involved multiple parties firing numerous shots. I was not one of the shooters and I never possessed a gun that day. Despite this, the NYPD only collected two (2) shell casing that were used to incriminate me. There is no doubt in my mind that this was an intentional and selective act by the investigators who were intent on pinning this crime on me.


Further, one of the people who identified me had an extensive criminal background. He was compensated by the NYPD to make the identification. He was never a credible or reliable witness in my case. In fact, he had a strong motivation to please law enforcement by telling them what they wanted to hear.


Now that I have had this experience, I am horrified to see so many other young black and brown people having their rights violated during police investigations, and tragically and irrevocably interrupted through wrongful incarceration. On the State level, we are seeing momentum with the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act and the Right 2 Silence Act which guarantees legal counsel to juveniles.  Here in New York City, we can and must enact meaningful legislation to ensure that another life is not lost to a wrongful conviction and protect the rights and lives of Black and Brown residents who are so often the victims of deceitful and nefarious police tactics.


Today, I am working as a Client Advocate at Queens Defenders leading innovative youth programming for our young court-involved clients that helps them make better life decisions and pursue meaningful and engaging educational and career goals.  We also work to ensure that young people are made aware of their rights under the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments and understand how to have safe interactions with the police. Programs like ours can only achieve so much without legislative action that provides police accountability and protects against the absolute injustice of incarceration for a wrongful conviction.  I can only hope that we can collectively work together to protect the next generation and to make our system fair for everyone.


Bruce Bryan
Client Advocate
Queens Defenders

Queens Defenders' Attorney-in-Charge of Law Reform & Policy Testimony to New York City Council Committee on Public Safety

New York City Council
Committee on Public Safety
February 26, 2024

Testimony of Gina Mitchell – Attorney-in-charge of Law Reform and Policy – Queens Defenders

Good morning, Chairperson Salaam, and members of the Committee on Public Safety. My name is Gina Mitchell and I am the Attorney in Charge of Law Reform and Policy for Queens Defenders. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.


Queens Defenders is a Public Defender organization in Queens, New York. Since, 1996, our lawyers have helped over 450,000 people in cases involving homicides and major trials, in treatment courts, domestic violence and youth felony parts and immigrants charged with criminal offenses. We have legal offices in Kew Gardens, Jamaica and we operate our Rockaway Community Justice Center (RCJC). The RCJC works with the office of Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz and community-based organizations, police, elected officials, civic leaders, and residents to provide restorative justice based solutions to crime.


The scope of the problem:  Wrongful Convictions

As of 2023, the National Registry of Exonerations has recorded 3,465 cases of wrongful convictions in the United States[1]. New York specifically has a serious wrongful conviction problem. More than 390 people have been exonerated in New York since 1989[2]. New York ranks as the third highest in the number of wrongful convictions in the nation, trailing behind Texas and Illinois. Every one of these exonerations represents a gross miscarriage of justice that should weigh heavily on each of us and motivate us to ensure that these failures do not happen again.


Of the approximately 390 exonerations in New York, Queens County has had 47 exoneration cases between 1992 and 2023[3]. In May 2020, the Queens District Attorney announced the creation of a new Conviction Integrity Unit that was created in January of 2020. As of May 5, 2020, the unit stated that they had received 46 cases for review. The cases that have been reviewed and which have resulted in convictions being overturned, tell a cautionary tale.


In November 2020, the murder conviction of Ernest “Jaythan” Kendrick, who had been incarcerated for nearly 26 years was vacated. Developments in DNA analysis were used to prove Mr. Kendrick’s innocence. This exposed the fact that the original identification witness’ evidence (a 10 year old child) was deeply flawed. Investigating police overlooked the fact that the young witness originally identified someone else when he viewed a live lineup that included Mr. Kendrick. Other flaws in the NYPD investigation led to a grave miscarriage of justice occurring in that case[4].


In March 2021, a state judge in Queens exonerated three men, Gary Johnson; George Bell and Rohan Bolt, and admonished prosecutors for withholding evidence that would have cast serious doubt on their guilt. These men spent 24 years behind bars before the case eventually fell apart[5]. This case resulted in the city having to pay a record $17.5 Million settlement to George Bell[6]. While the financial incentives for preventing wrongful convictions are clear, the moral imperative is even clearer. Each wrongful conviction represents a gross miscarriage of justice and a life squandered and stolen.


Similarly, in August 2021, the Queens District Attorney agreed to vacate a murder conviction for Carlton Roman who was incarcerated for 32 years. Mr. Roman was tried, convicted and sentenced to 43 and 1/3 years “for a crime based solely on the testimony of …two witnesses”.[7] Once again the NYPD investigation was found to be profoundly flawed.


As Public Defenders we bear witness to the systems and processes that lead to wrongful convictions that destroy lives. Many of these flaws relate to how the NYPD conduct their investigations which inevitably set the foundation and tone for the conduct of the entire prosecution of a case.


Mistaken eyewitness identifications

Eyewitness misidentification occurs when an eyewitness incorrectly identifies an innocent person as the perpetrator of a crime. According to the Innocence Project, 60% of DNA exonerations involve eyewitness misidentification[8]. Obviously, this statistic does not account for other cases where the wrongfully convicted person does not have the good fortune of having exculpatory DNA evidence upon which to base their legal challenge.


The Innocence Project has identified two factors that contribute to misidentifications: “Estimator variables are those outside the control of the criminal legal system. They include gaps in an eyewitness’s memory, how far away the eyewitness was from the crime scene, the level of stress or trauma the eyewitness experienced while observing the crime, visibility conditions, and challenges associated with cross-racial identification.”[9] However, they also refer to: “System variable are those controlled by the criminal legal system, such as law enforcement procedures related to recording an eyewitness’ memory, the administration of lineups and photo arrays, and more[10].”


Nationally, eyewitness misidentification played a role in 71 percent of wrongful convictions that were later overturned with DNA in the United States[11].


As Public Defenders we know that law enforcement often either do not understand or do not care about the way that the human memory functions and the inherent problems with identifications based on eyewitness testimony. Human memory is highly malleable and prone to suggestion and contamination[12]. Additionally, as Public Defenders we routinely see cases where lineups and photo array procedures are not recorded. In fact, most of our attorneys have never seen a recorded identification procedure in their careers because it is an unofficial norm that these procedures are not recorded. This is because the standard form that the NYPD complete for an identification procedure asks the witness if they will consent to the procedure being recorded. Invariably, the box for a ‘NO’ response is ticked with no further explanation. There is no incentive on the NYPD to encourage, support or facilitate the recording of identification procedures. This creates a perfect storm whereby it becomes increasingly difficult to scrutinize and assess the reliability and credibility of eyewitness investigations.


False confessions

False and coerced confessions continue to be a major contributor to wrongful convictions. While the average person might find it very difficult to understand why a person would confess to a crime that they did not commit, research demonstrates that due to a variety of law enforcement practices, false confessions occur regularly. Deceptive and coercive interview methods that include police manipulation; intimidation; force; and other coercive tactics such as isolation and police officers lying about evidence continue to be used to this day.


The ‘Central Park Jogger’ case involved clearly coerced false confessions: “That was a case [involving] five kids, 14, 15, and 16 years old, each of them [was] led to believe that he would get to go home if he confessed. Each one calculated – given that they had been there from 14-30 hours of interrogation under tremendous pressure – that it was in his own best interest to cooperate”[13]. Similarly, the Queens District Attorney in consenting to vacate the convictions of Reginald Cameron and Armond Mcloud acknowledged that their “confessions in a 1994 deadly shooting were unreliable because they were elicited by a detective connected with two other false confession cases.”[14] Manipulative, deceptive and coercive practices in police questioning are not a thing of the past. Queens Defenders attorneys continue to see these kinds of coercive police tactics used on our clients in 2024.


Specifically, we have urged state legislators to support legislation proposed by the #Right2RemainSilent campaign through the passage of legislation (S. 2800/A. 5891) that will codify young New Yorkers’ right to counsel before a police interrogation[15]. Currently, confessions in New York are only required to be voluntary to be used at trial. The reliability of a confession, including whether it was obtained through coercion and deception is not considered. Queens Defenders urges state legislators to support and pass S. 324, introduced by State Senator Zellnor Myrie, which would ban police deception in the interrogation room while requiring that courts evaluate the reliability of confession evidence before allowing it to be used.


Official police misconduct

The Innocence Project has noted that “[p]olice and prosecutorial misconduct is a leading contributing factor in a significant number of recorded exoneration cases since 1989.”[16] Police officers committed misconduct in more than a third of exoneration cases since 1989 according to the National Registry of Exonerations[17]. On November 8, 2021, the Queens District Attorney’s office moved to vacated 60 convictions for cases that “relied on work by three former New York Police Department detectives who were later convicted of perjury, sexual assault and official misconduct”[18].


The repeal of New York Civil Rights Law §50-a which required the concealment of disciplinary records of police officers from the public was an important step towards ensuring accountability in New York. Another positive development came in the form of the introduction of Criminal Procedure Law §245[19] which mandates automatic discovery disclosure to defense counsel including: “(d) The name and work affiliation of all law enforcement personnel whom the prosecutor knows to have evidence or information relevant to any offense charged or to any potential defense thereto” and “(k) All evidence and information, including that which is known to police or other law enforcement agencies acting on the government’s behalf in the case, that tends to: … (iv) impeach the credibility of a testifying prosecution witness”. There now exists explicit appellate authority holding that underlying impeachment records are discoverable pursuant to this provision[20]. It is imperative that the city council and state legislators vigilantly protect the discovery laws in New York. Discovery is vital in ensuring that defense counsel can adequately represent and protect the rights of defendants and to guard against wrongful convictions. While some District Attorney’s offices have complained that discovery laws have overburdened their staff and resulted in high levels of attrition[21]; we must remain vigilant in our commitment to protecting discovery laws that are so fundamentally important in preventing wrongful convictions and the integrity of our legal system.


Additionally, Queens Defenders applauds the New York City Council for demonstrating leadership and overriding Mayor Adams’ veto on Introduction 586 and Introduction 538 known as the “How Many Stops Act”[22]. Despite the fact that the NYPD has been under federal monitorship for a decade because of their unconstitutional “stop question and frisk” practices, these patterns and practices persist. According to a recent federal monitor report at least 24% of stops made by Neighborhood Safety Teams were unconstitutional[23], and 97% were of Black and Latinx New Yorkers. In NYCHA, one-third of stops are unconstitutional and 70% of them are of Black New Yorkers[24]. This law will have a particularly important impact in Queens New York which is commonly referred to as “The World’s Borough” because of its status as the most ethnically diverse large county in the country.  As Public Defenders staffing the Queens criminal court arraignment part on a daily basis, Queens Defenders attorneys get a front row seat to the racial disparities evident in NYPD stops in our borough. Additionally, we have voiced concern about NYPD practices of targeting fake license plates which serves to criminalize poverty in our borough[25]. The passage of How Many Stops is an important step in holding the NYPD accountable.


Deeply flawed forensic evidence

The impact of so-called “junk science” on wrongful convictions can not be underestimated. The Innocence project reports that the misapplication of forensic science contributed to more than half of the wrongful conviction cases and nearly a quarter of all wrongful conviction cases since 1989. They specifically describe the following investigation methods as being deeply problematic: Bite mark analysis; Hair comparisons; Tool mark evidence; Arson investigation; Fingerprint analysis; Dog scent evidence; Comparative bullet lead analysis; Shaken baby syndrome diagnosis; Bloodstain pattern analysis. At Queens Defenders, our Homicide and major trials attorneys continue to see the use of many of these investigatory methods. Action is required to educate law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, forensic experts and other systematic actors as to “the limitations of certain forensic methods, and urge them to examine scientific evidence for accuracy and reliability”[26]. No person should ever be convicted based on unreliable and misleading pseudo-scientific evidence.


Racism and implicit bias in Policing

It is impossible to understand the way that race and implicit bias in policing impacts wrongful convictions, without taking a close look at US history. Both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written to apply only to “propertied white men”[27]. Furthermore, the earliest creation of a police force in America was motivated by the desire to monitor and control slaves and to ensure segregation and disenfranchisement of freed slaves[28]. The Innocence Project notes that it is not surprising then that: “Black people account for 40% of the approximately 2.3 million incarcerated people in the U.S and nearly 50% of exonerees – despite making up just 13% of the US population. This is in large part, because they are policed more heavily, often presumed guilty, and frequently denied a fair shot at justice.”[29]


Racism and implicit bias continue to impact police investigations to this day. In particular, Queens Defenders attorneys are deeply concerned about the increased use of facial recognition technology as method for identification of suspects. Increasingly, we see cases where the NYPD use facial recognition software to obtain an identification of an alleged perpetrator. The NYPD’s own website confirms that “Since 2011, the NYPD has successfully used facial recognition to identify suspects whose images have been captured by cameras…”[30]. The NYPD maintain that facial recognition is only used as an investigative tool and that it alone “does not establish probable cause to arrest or to obtain a search warrant, but serves as a lead for additional investigative steps”[31]. The reality is that this technique is often used in cases where a suspect can not be readily identified from footage or a still image because of the quality of the image or some other impediment. Facial recognition software is then used to obtain a “match”. What we commonly see is that law enforcement will then arrange a so-called “confirmatory identification” from a witness who has some prior knowledge of the suspect. The resulting “identification” is inevitably tainted by the use of deeply flawed facial recognition software and the circumstances of these so-called “confirmatory” identifications are often highly suggestive. The deficiencies of facial recognition technology in identifying black and brown people have been well documented[32]. By utilizing a flawed algorithm to make an initial (investigative) identification, any misidentification by the software inevitably flows through the entire identification procedure. Queens Defenders urges the Council to take action to limit and to regulate the use of facial recognition software by law enforcement in New York to prevent wrongful convictions.


Inadequate funding for Public Defenders

It is commonly noted that public defenders are overworked and underpaid. The profession is more than a job; it is a calling for practitioners committed to serving the least privileged and the most downtrodden members of our society. The Innocence Project notes that “lawyers who represent poor people often lack the resources necessary to investigate and defend against the evidence marshaled by robust police departments, prosecutor offices, and crime labs”[33]. The connection between wrongful convictions and lack of defense resources makes it painfully clear that justice can be bought for those who can afford it. Whilst Queens Defenders are committed to delivering excellent results for our clients, there are financial realities that cannot be ignored. We thank the New York City Council for joining our call to increase funding for public defenders[34] and we call on the Council to continue to advocate for increased funding for all public defenders as a strategy to prevent wrongful convictions that deeply undermine the quality of our legal system.



Queens Defenders urges the New York City Council to take urgent action to hold the NYPD accountable for their practices that contribute to and create wrongful convictions in Queens and across all of New York City. The core integrity of our criminal legal system is at stake. Thank you for your time and the opportunity to testify regarding this important matter of significant public interest.


Gina Mitchell
Attorney in Charge of Law Reform and Policy
Queens Defenders

[1] Equal Justice Initiative (accessed 2/20/2024) citing National Registry of Exonerations (accessed 2/20/2024).

[2] Latest data from the National Registry of Exonerations lists 393 cases from the State of New York.

[3] National Registry of Exonerations (accessed 2/20/2024).

[4] Queens District Attorney, Press Release “Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz file joint motion with defense to vacate murder conviction and release a man incarcerated for nearly 26 years” 11/19/2020 (accessed 2/24/2024).

[5] Closson, Troy New York Times “They Spent 24 Years Behind Bars. Then the Case Fell Apart” 3/5/2021 (accessed 2/23/2024)

[6] Meko, Hurubie New York Times “City to Pay Record $17.5 Million Settlement After Wrongful Conviction” 11/16/2023 (accessed 2/23/2024)

[7] Queens District Attorney, Press Release “Queens District Attorney to File Joint Motion with Defense to Vacate Conviction in Murder & Attempted Murder Case and Release a Man Incarcerated for 32 Years” 8/9/2021 (accessed 2/24/2024).

[8] The Innocence Project “The Issues: Eyewitness Misidentification” (accessed 2/22/2024).

[9] The Innocence Project, ibid.

[10] The Innocence Project, ibid.

[11] The Innocence Project, “Minnesota Adopts Landmark Eyewitness ID Law: New measure prevents wrongful convictions by requiring scientifically-based lineup procedures” 5/19/2020 < >  (accessed 2/22/2024).

[12] Albright, Thomas D “Why eyewitnesses fail” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2017 July 25; 114(30): 7758-7764 <> (accessed 2/22/24).

[13] Nesterak, Evan, “Coerced to Confess: The Psychology of False Confessions” Behavioral Scientist, October 21, 2014 (accessed 2/22/2024).

[14] Manna, Victoria, “Queens District Attorney vacates three wrongful convictions” 8/24/2023 Queens district attorney vacates three wrongful convictions ( (2/24/2023).

[15] See an example of the problem discussed in The CITY “A Brooklyn teen refused to waive his Miranda Rights. But the NYPD’s Questioning Didn’t Stop There, Video Shows”, 10/12/2023 <> (accessed 2/22/2023).

[16] Innocent Project, “Official Misconduct” <,that%20are%20more%20heavily%20policed.> (accessed 2/22/2024).

[17] Innocence Project, ibid, citing the National Registry of Exonerations

[18] Davis O’Brien, Rebecca, New York Times “60 Criminal cases are thrown out because of 3 Detectives’ Misconduct” 11/8/2021 <60 Cases Are Thrown Out in Queens After Misconduct by 3 NYPD Detectives – The New York Times (> (2/24/2024).

[19] Herein referred to as “the Discovery Laws”.

[20] See People v. Hamizane, 2023 NY Slip Op 23233 (2nd Dep’t, App. Term 2023); People v. Rodriguez, 77 Misc.3d 23 (1st Dep’t, App. Term 2022; Matter of Jayson C., 200 A.D.3d 447 (1st Dep’t 2021).

[21] Bromwich, Jonah E; Meko, Hurubie; and Ashford, Grace. New York Times  ”Why 3 Liberal New York D.As Want to Change a Law Backed by Progressives” April 25, 2023 (accessed 2/22/2024).

[22] This bill will require the NYPD to provide quarterly reports detailing information on level one, two and three investigative encounters between the police and civilians, including the race/ethnicity, age and gender or the civilian approached by the police, the factors that led to the interaction, and whether the interaction led to a summons or use of force incident. The first such report is due within 30 days of the quarter ending September 30,2024 per Bill Summary at The New York City Council|Text|Other|&Search=Int.+586 (accessed 2/22/2024).

[23] Kilgannon, Corey, New York Times “ NYPD Anti-Crime Units Still Stopping People Illegally, Report Shows” June 5 2023 (accessed 2/22/2024).

[24] NYPD Federal Monitor, 17th Report, 10/17/2022 <> (accessed 2/22/2024).

[25] Lowens, Etha, AMNY “Op-Ed: Cracking down on fake license plates is criminalizing poverty” 8/7/2022 (accessed 2/22/2024).

[26] Innocence Project, “Misapplication of Forensic Science”<,wrongful%20conviction%20cases%20since%201989.>  (accessed 2/22/2024).

[27] ACLU “The Bill of Rights: A Brief History” 3/2/2022 (accessed 2/22/2024).

[28] Waxman, Olivia. TIME “How the U.S. Got Its Police Force” 5/18/2017 (2/22/2024).

[29] Innocence Project, “How Racial Bias Contributes to Wrongful Conviction” 7/17/21 (accessed 2/22/2024).

[30] NYPD, “NYPD Questions and Answers Facial Recognition” (accessed 2/22/2024).

[31] NYPD, ibid.

[32] Johnson, Thadeus L and Johnson Natasha N. Scientific American “Police Facial Recognition Technology Can’t Tell Black People Apart: AI-powered facial recognition will lead to increased racial profiling” 5/18/2023,recognize%20people%20of%20other%20races. (accessed 2/22/2024)

[33] Innocence Project, “Inadequate Defense” <> (accessed 2/23/2024)

[34] Kaye, Jacob, Queens Eagle “Council calls on mayor to increase funds for public defenders” 6/21/2023 (accessed 2/23/2024)

Justice Roadmap 2024 Launch

Queens Defenders supports the 2024 Justice Roadmap -- a state legislative platform that highlights the way the criminal and immigration legal systems interplay to separate, isolate, expel, and cage people.

“We are proud to join advocates and legislators from across the State of New York to launch the 2024 Justice Roadmap,” said Lori Zeno, Executive Director & Founder of Queens Defenders. “As we launch a new legislative session, we call on Governor Hochul to build on the momentum started with the signing of the Clean Slate Act  last year and sign these essential bills into law to establish a more equitable and just  legal system for all New Yorkers.”


Bruce Bryan, Client Advocate at Queens Defenders, spoke at the virtual launch of the 2024 Justice Roadmap on January 18th urging Governor Hochul to sign the Wrongful Conviction Act and support the priorities laid out in the 2024 Justice Roadmap.


“I would implore our Governor [Kathy Hochul] to sign the Wrongful Conviction Act because the reality is this… New York State is third in the country [for rate of wrongful convictions] largely as a result of not a trial but a guilty plea. People plead guilty for several reasons including the deplorable conditions of Rikers Island, or Bullpen Therapy, or more times than not due to police coercion and prosecutorial misconduct.”


“It happens far too often where people are coerced or abused into pleading guilty for crimes that they have not committed and they are forced to languish years and years and sometimes decades like myself for 29 years, knowing that [in my case] a prosecutor or police precinct has a history of misconduct…This is against public safety, because what we don’t realize is jails and prisons are criminogenic in nature. I’ve seen countless good guys who were wrongly convicted and falsely accused become criminals while they’re inside because they have a sense of hopelessness and despair. Where they say I might as well get in where I fit in. To promote public safety we have to create a meaningful way by which those who are arrested, falsely accused, and plead guilty are able to challenge those wrongful convictions.”

Queens Defenders and over 120 other organizations across the state stand united in the belief that we must take action NOW to ensure human dignity, human rights, and true community safety for all New Yorkers. Let your representatives know that you support the 2024 Justice Roadmap.


Read the full Justice Roadmap HERE.

NY Advocates, Legislators Launch Justice Agenda to Provide Real Community Safety and Rights for All New Yorkers


January 18th, 2024


Albany, N.Y. – New York State legislators joined over 120 human rights and social justice advocates, directly impacted people, legal service providers, and faith leaders across New York State to launch the Justice Roadmap, a legislative agenda designed to address the deeply interconnected harms caused by the criminal legal and immigration systems and build community safety and justice for all New Yorkers.


In a virtual launch and press conference, advocates said they are redoubling their efforts in Albany this year. Advocates celebrated the Governor’s signature of the Clean Slate Act, a key Justice Roadmap priority last year. Yet, much work remains to be done to end perpetual punishment for Black, brown and immigrant New Yorkers, especially after Governor Hochul vetoed critical bills to protect the rights and safety of New Yorkers in 2023, including the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act. Contrary to the governor’s veto as well as her 2024 State of the State briefing, which leans on the failed policies of criminalization, true public safety comes from policies that keep families together and invest in communities.


The bills in the Justice Roadmap ensure human rights and basic dignity for all New Yorkers and seek to stop criminalization of mental illness, people who use drugs, street vendors and sex workers; to protect the dignity of incarcerated New Yorkers, while expanding opportunities for growth; to reform sentencing laws and promote pathways for safe and fair release from prison; and to end wealth extraction and instead invest in historically underserved communities. Furthermore, we reject xenophobic rhetoric targeting both our long-time and recent immigrant communities and reject any attempts to divide us.


The supporters of the Justice Roadmap stand united in the belief that we must address the root causes of the harms caused by the criminal legal system and immigration system and not be distracted by long-standing racist rhetoric that further criminalizes Black, brown, and immigrant communities in NY.


“We are proud to join advocates and legislators from across the State of New York to launch the 2024 Justice Roadmap,” said Lori Zeno, Executive Director & Founder of Queens Defenders. “As we launch a new legislative session, we call on Governor Hochul to build on the momentum started with the signing of the Clean Slate Act last year and sign these essential bills into law to establish a more equitable and just legal system for all New Yorkers.”


“Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) stands united with hundreds of human rights advocacy groups to champion the transformative legislation outlined in the Justice Roadmap. For over 40 years, CCA has supported and built power with people targeted by mass incarceration, criminalization, and community disinvestment across New York State,” said Katie Schaffer, Director of Advocacy and Organizing at the Center for Community Alternatives. “The Justice Roadmap’s dedication to the decarceration of New York’s jails, prisons, and detention centers is necessary to create a safer, more just New York where everyone can thrive. The Communities Not Cages legislation, designed to eliminate mandatory minimums, address excessive sentences, and provide additional opportunities for release, is indispensable in our work to support transformation and reunite families.”


“We need to start addressing the root causes of the criminalization caused by our criminal legal and immigration system and actively addressing the harms they have caused,” said Linda Flor Brito, Senior Policy and Campaigns Organizer at the Immigrant Defense Project. “The bills included in the Justice Roadmap piece away at carceral systems that have historically disinvested, incarcerated, and overpoliced Black, brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities. The New York for All Act and the Clemency Justice Act are two of the bills included in this year’s roadmap that challenge the deportation machine and perpetual punishment of New Yorkers. We call on the legislature to prioritize and pass these bills and all of the Justice Roadmap bills to ensure we protect ALL New Yorkers.”


“Justice Roadmap takes critical steps towards achieving justice for those that are wrongfully convicted, fairness in how penalties are levied, the release of those for whom it serves no purpose to further incarcerate, and the promotion of a successful return to the community for those that have been imprisoned,” said Patricia Pazner, Attorney-in-Charge, Appellate Advocates.


“The Justice Road Map is a tangible step toward a more just system, acknowledging the shortcomings of our punitive approach. It sheds light on the disparities in assessments, where urban and rural communities receive risk assessments, while suburban counterparts receive trauma assessments for similar situations. It urges a critical examination of our criminal justice system, aiming to address the contradictions and gaps that persist,” said Lukee Forbes, Executive Director, We Are Revolutionary.


“We need bold action from the legislature to address the failings of New York’s criminal legal and immigration systems. Among those failings is the relentless financial exploitation of incarcerated people and their loved ones through costly prison phone calls, predatory court fees, or other egregious system costs. Passed in five other states, the Connecting Families Act would make communication free across New York prisons to ensure that families with incarcerated loved ones can stay connected without skipping on other needs or going into debt. This must pass this year,” said Bianca Tylek, Executive Director of Worth Rises.


“For far too long, our immigrant communities have borne the brunt of racist enforcement and legal systems, and are all too often left to navigate these challenges alone. The Justice Roadmap provides legislative protection against the unfair and abusive criminal justice system. Laws such as the Access to Representation Act (guaranteeing legal counsel in immigration court), New York for All (ending collusion with ICE), and the Dignity, not Detention Act (putting an end to immigration detention in the state) are essential to creating justice and opportunity for immigrant New Yorkers. It’s essential that our elected officials in Albany expeditiously pass these bills into law this session to establish trust and justice as the pillars of our governance, ensuring freedom for all New Yorkers and fostering stronger, healthier communities,” said Robert Agyemang, Vice President of Advocacy, New York Immigration Coalition.


“As public defenders, we see every day how the criminal, immigration, and other legal systems perpetuate harm and injustice against Black, Brown, immigrant, and low-income New Yorkers,” said Anya Mukarji-Connolly, Director of Policy & Advocacy at Brooklyn Defenders. “By following the Justice Roadmap, Albany can reject the punishment paradigm and choose a path towards real community safety. We urge state leaders to enact the entire platform, including bills that decarcerate and end perpetual punishment like the Youth Justice & Opportunities Act, the End Predatory Court Fees Act, and Treatment Not Jail.”


“We are proud to stand with our fellow advocates and legislators to launch the Justice Roadmap in 2024, a critical blueprint that will address the deeply interconnected harms caused by the criminal legal and immigration systems and build community safety and justice for all New Yorkers,” said Tina Luongo, chief attorney of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “We call on Governor Hochul to sign these bills into law to ensure human rights and basic dignity for our clients and all New Yorkers.”


“As advocates for children, youth, and families across New York, we know that the safest communities are those with the most resources. We stand with allies across the State in support of the Justice Roadmap because it advances a vision for investing in people instead of punishment. We are proud to see youth justice legislation like the Right2RemainSilent youth interrogation bill and the Youth Justice & Opportunities Act are part of the Roadmap’s comprehensive platform for true community safety,” said Julia L. Davis, Director of Youth Justice & Child Welfare at the Children’s Defense Fund-New York.


“Envision Freedom’s members and their families experience lasting traumatic effects from the criminalization, racism, and inhumane detention perpetuated by the immigration and criminal legal system in New York,” said Anacristina Fonseca, the community organizing and advocacy manager at Envision Freedom Fund. “The Justice Roadmap offers our representatives a pathway toward the safe and just New York we all deserve. Legislation such as Dignity Not Detention, New York for All, Ending Predatory Court Fees, Access to Representation, and other essential bills outlined in the Roadmap will keep families together, invest in the wellbeing of our communities, and begin to rectify some of the lasting harms caused by decades of criminalizing Black, brown, immigrant and low-income communities.”


“Justice does not begin or end at courts and prisons. True justice must be conceived and enacted holistically, in every branch of society, from housing and healthcare, to jobs, to community safety,” said Jay Edidin, Director of Advocacy with the Women’s Community Justice Association. “As an organization dedicated to a holistic model of justice and an end to mass incarceration, we are proud to stand with supporters of the Justice Roadmap in working towards a just and equitable future for all New Yorkers.”


“CEO is thrilled to be part of the Justice Roadmap Coalition. We believe that it’s setting the course that will help make the necessary changes within the criminal justice system,” said Kenneth Edwards, Manager of Leadership & Organizing with CEO. “The Justice Roadmap is a huge step in the right direction for individuals returning home and will serve as a beacon of light, providing hope to those who are looking to find their way.”


“Here in Harlem, we see the disparate impact of economic and racial inequities in our community on a daily basis,” said Alice Fontier, Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. “We are happy that Gov. Hochul has signed a bill to study racial justice and reparations, and we hope she will underscore that commitment by abandoning the failed policies of criminalization and adopting the measures set forth in the Justice Roadmap.”


“Once again, the impressive collection of bills included in the 2024 Justice Roadmap offers a comprehensive blueprint for creating a fair and humane criminal legal system,” said Stan Germán, Executive Director of New York County Defender Services. “This year’s Roadmap strikes at the very core of our current system’s dysfunction: with the Treatment Not Jail Act, our state has an opportunity to decriminalize mental health and addiction, and divert those suffering from underlying mental health and substance use crises out of our jails and prisons. With the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act, our state has the chance to re-consider the untold wrongful convictions that our racist, abusive justice system exacted in years past. Along with the dozens of other important bills included in this package, our state has the chance to reimagine our current carceral system and make meaningful investments in our communities.”


“As public defenders in the Bronx, we know that the policies that affect the communities we serve don’t come out of thin air. They are designed by people in power, but often without the people’s input – especially those who are most affected by those policies. The Justice Roadmap is the exact opposite: a powerfully detailed vision, by and for New Yorkers, of how to address the harms at the intersection of the criminal and immigration systems, which is critical to achieving true community safety and well-being for all,” said Brittany McCoy, Managing Director of Policy at The Bronx Defenders. “Anyone who asks what the alternative solutions are to the Governor’s proposals need look no further. We proudly endorse the Justice Roadmap and call on the State Legislature to make it a reality.”


“The Justice Roadmap provides a comprehensive framework to end New York’s most carceral policies that trap our most marginalized neighbors in cycles of criminalization, poverty, and re-incarceration,” said Jared Trujillo, Associate Professor of Law and steering committee member of Decrim NY. “The criminalization of mental illness, drug use, consensual sex work, and poverty does not make us safer, it only exacerbates underlying issues.”


“The Justice Roadmap advances a vision that centers safety and justice for all New Yorkers,” said Kate Rubin, Director of Policy at Youth Represents. “As advocates who use legal services, policy advocacy, peer education, and other tools to build power and opportunity for Black, Latiné, and other youth of color who the criminal legal system harms the most, we are proud to join with allies across New York to support this comprehensive platform. We look forward to working with the legislature to pass the Youth Justice & Opportunities Act, #Right2RemainSilent, and the other crucial pieces of legislation in the Roadmap.”


“Instead of advancing justice and dignity, too often, our criminal and immigration legal systems interplay to separate, isolate, expel, and cage people,” said Naila Awan, co-director of policy at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “That’s why the NYCLU stands with our Justice Roadmap partners in the fight to end the criminalization of poverty, mental illness, drug use and consensual sex work, and begin building supportive systems for marginalized communities to receive the support they deserve.”


“The Clemency Coalition is committed to standing in solidarity with our fellow advocates to push our legislative representatives to do what is right and pass all the bills in the Justice Roadmap,” said Fanta Fofana, Co-Coordinator of the Clemency Coalition. “We are long overdue for the critical policy changes proposed in all of the bills in the Justice Roadmap, including the Clemency Justice Act, and the legislature must pass them to ensure our communities receive the justice we deserve. For decades, our black and brown communities have faced the damages and harms of the criminal legal and immigration systems.” Socheatta Meng, Clemency Coalition Co-Coordinator added, “So many families have been torn apart as a result of prolonged incarceration and/or deportation and have been waiting to be reunited. New York’s Governor has the power to make thousands of families whole again. With the passage of the Clemency Justice Act, the Governor would be held accountable to New Yorkers seeking clemency by creating a more transparent and accessible clemency process.”


As youth who have experienced the incarceration of a parent, we know firsthand that not having access to in-person visiting can leave us heartbroken. It is our right to speak with, see, and touch our parents. This bill would protect the right to in-person visits so that families across the State will no longer worry that their next visit will be their last. When children don’t get to see their parents because in-person visiting is not an option, they may think that their parents do not want to see them. In-person visits help us bond with our parents and make us so happy because there is nothing like seeing a parent in person. Period. We urge the NYS legislature to See and Support Us by passing the Protect In-Person Visiting Bill immediately. We also support the passage of the Justice Roadmap and thank the Roadmap coalition for seeing and supporting us,” said Osborne Youth Action Council members.


“The 2024 Justice Roadmap features key legislative steps for making New York safer, more just, and more humane,” said State Senator Julia Salazar. “Our communities won’t enjoy genuine safety, justice, and dignity until we stop locking people up as a cruel replacement for better access to healthcare, mental health care, jobs, and affordable housing. It’s long past time to end the criminalization of mental illness, drug use, street vending, and sex work. It’s past time to ensure the dignity of incarcerated New Yorkers and support their successful re-entry upon completing their sentences. It’s past time to prohibit state spending on immigration detention. And it’s past time to end the predatory court fees that incentivize over-policing, prosecution, and incarceration, especially of Black and brown communities. I’m pleased to co-sponsor all of the Roadmap’s bills—and to serve as the prime sponsor of so many, including the Fair and Timely Parole Act, the Second Look Act, the Dignity Not Detention Act, the Voting for Incarcerated People Act, the Rights Behind Bars Act, the End Predatory Court Fees Act, and the Gender Identity Respect, Dignity, and Safety Act. I’m proud of the strides we’ve made already, such as passing the Clean Slate Act. And I’m honored to stand with this impressive coalition to finish the job.”


“I join this coalition of public safety and immigrant justice advocates in announcing the launch and calling for the passage of the 2024 Justice Roadmap,” said Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas. “For New York to be the progressive and safe state that it can be, we must ensure that we are fighting for the dignity of all New Yorkers, including our low-income communities and communities of color, which have been historically and are currently unjustly surveilled and oppressed by the criminal legal system. When the vision of this coalition is realized, New York will be as safe for all of our neighbors, including street vendors in Corona and sex workers in Jackson Heights, as it is for everyone else.”


“The Justice Roadmap is a hands-on, get-stuff-done guide for affirming the dignity and human rights of every New Yorker,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes. “We know true public safety comes from policies that invest in our communities and keep families together. My ‘New York for All’ Act does that by prohibiting local law enforcement from conspiring with ICE and Border Patrol, so parents can attend parent-teacher conferences, go to the grocery, or visit public hospitals without worrying their family will be torn apart by deportation. When we build a New York that unites families instead of dividing them, we build a better New York for all. And with all of us working together, we can get it done.”


“In shaping the path toward fairness, the Justice Roadmap speaks volumes about the genuine needs that support our communities’ well-being,” said Assembly Member Michaelle C. Solages. “Together with Senator Myrie, I’m championing the Clemency Justice Act – a pivotal component of this collective journey. We must heed the resonating demand for justice for all New Yorkers.”


“Our job as legislators is to fight for equitable policies for all New Yorkers, not just those with privilege; therefore it is essential to pass the Justice Roadmap 2024,” said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. “I am particularly passionate about passing my bill A3414B, also known as 13th Forward, which is a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw the practice of forced prison labor in New York prisons. Similar constitutional amendments have been ratified across the nation from Alabama to Nebraska. If New York truly wants to lead the nation in progressive values, we must get this passed this session”.


“I stand with the hardworking advocates and my colleagues in support of the Justice Roadmap 2024,” said Assembly Member Latrice Walker. “I will work to end perpetual punishment in New York State, focusing on legislation and investments that will deliver true public safety. There are far too many people — most of them Black and brown — who are either serving excessive sentences or have done the rehabilitative work to warrant consideration for release. We scored a huge win last year with the passage of the Clean Slate Act, but we can’t stop there. We have to fight the criminalization of poverty and mental illness, end slavery behind bars and fight to protect in-person visitation. There’s so much to do. My sleeves are rolled up and I am ready to get to work.”


I’m proud that three of my bills – the Treatment Not Jail Act, the Street Vendor Legalization Act, and the Unemployment Bridge Program – are a part of the Justice Roadmap platform. This package of bills outlines a comprehensive plan for public safety, and shows that we can do more to build thriving communities at every level of intervention,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos.


“Our broken carceral and parole systems condemn incarcerated New Yorkers to stay behind bars way beyond their minimum sentences, regardless of their sincere efforts to rehabilitate,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “While important bills like the Clean Slate Act have become law, we still need to fight for many other bills included on the Justice Roadmap legislative agenda. Redemption should be part of our criminal legal system so those incarcerated New Yorkers who have genuinely demonstrated remorse and a willingness to do better can be granted the opportunity to return home and successfully rejoin their communities.”


“The violence of mass incarcerations continues to fuel a cycle of harm and poverty throughout our state,” said Assembly Member Demond Meeks. “The legacy of destructive policies such as the Rockefeller Drug laws have created a sentencing regime with mandatory minimums and excessive maximums that disproportionately impact communities of color. It is our responsibility to create lasting support for incarcerated individuals throughout New York State. The Justice Roadmap 2024 is aimed at transforming the criminal justice system to ensure fairness, equality, and justice for all individuals. A transformative criminal justice system addresses harm at the root; creating presumptions against incarceration, providing more opportunities for dignified re-entry, and making greater investments for our vulnerable residents. To provide for the continued welfare and restoration of our families and neighborhoods, my colleagues and I will work to pass the Justice Roadmap in the 2024 legislative session.”


“The continued criminalization of immigrant New Yorkers and people of color won’t keep us safe. We can only build a safe and livable New York for all with stable communities, investment in public and social services, and an end to the perpetual punishment that prevents people from getting back on their feet. I’m proud to support the Justice Roadmap, which makes real a vision of true public safety in our state,” said Assembly Member Zohran K. Mamdani.


“A majority of the State Senate has signed on to my bill to reform our parole system for elderly New Yorkers (S2423), which would ensure that our older population does not needlessly die behind bars, after having already served a lengthy sentence,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal. There are too many incarcerated New Yorkers, and this is just one of the necessary steps we must take to address our overcrowded facilities. But simply reforming elder parole is not enough to fix all of the issues plaguing our criminal justice system. That’s why I stand with the advocates, formerly incarcerated individuals, legal experts, faith leaders, and my fellow lawmakers in support of the Justice Roadmap legislative agenda for New York. In order to create a more just New York State, we need to continue the work of reforming our criminal justice system, from one focused on incarceration to one dedicated to getting New Yorkers the help that they need. It’s long past time to end the criminalization of mental illness, decarcerate our jails and prisons, ensure that those who are locked up are treated with dignity, and finally put an end to the perpetual cycle of punishment. Let’s pass elder parole reform, along with the initiatives laid out in the Justice Roadmap, and bring more equal justice to all New Yorkers.


“New York State should embrace an equitable and inclusive agenda that puts the lives of everyday people first,” said Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal. “Treating those with mental health issues, financially investing in our communities, reforming the criminal legal system and expanding harm reduction efforts will provide countless New Yorkers with desperately needed resources as well as a second chance at justice. I am proud to work with the Justice Roadmap Coalition, and I look forward to once again advancing the human rights of all people this legislative session.”


“The Justice Roadmap lays out a bold pathway to reforming our broken criminal justice system and undoing decades of mass incarceration in our state. I am proud to stand with colleagues, advocates, and directly impacted individuals to say we must pass these bills and we must pass them now,” said Assembly Member Phara Souffrant Forrest. “We have an opportunity to send a strong message that New York is a state committed to justice and fairness and the idea that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Let us transform this broken system, and in so doing, create an opportunity for change, building a society where rehabilitation triumphs over punishment, and where every life has the chance to rebuild and contribute positively to our community. That is the future the Justice Roadmap points us toward. That is the future we demand and that New York deserves.”


“In a world where justice appears to be increasingly elusive for too many, it’s critical that we pass the Justice Roadmap 2024 to end mass incarceration and fight for the dignity of all New Yorkers,” said Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon. “This package of bills would stop the criminalization of mental illness and put an end to systemic perpetual punishment. I am proud to stand with a strong coalition of my colleagues and advocacy organizations to push for these reforms.”


“As New Yorkers’ rights and humanity are on the line, the Justice Roadmap Coalition and 2024 policy priorities are here to help, with legislation that prioritize the needs of the marginalized,” said Assembly Member Karines Reyes, R.N. “I am pleased that my bill with State Senator Andrew Gounardes has been included, New York for All, which would prohibit local and state law enforcement from colluding with ICE when they come into contact with undocumented New Yorkers. This bill is needed to ensure that we keep vulnerable families together and take them out of the shadows in our state. I applaud the coalition and look forward to advocating for this legislation during this session.”




Public and Appellate Defenders call on NYC District Attorneys for a Full, Transparent and Independent Audit of the NYPD Latent Print Section

December 7, 2023


Brian Schatz
Director of Community-Based Initiatives & External Affairs



Public and Appellate Defenders call on NYC District Attorneys for a Full, Transparent and Independent Audit of the NYPD Latent Print Section


Attorneys Demand Answers on the NYPD’s Delayed Notification of  Fingerprint Misidentification that May Have Contributed to Wrongful Convictions and Due Process Violations

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Legal Aid Society, Appellate Advocates, The Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Center for Appellate Litigation, Innocence Project of New York, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, Office of the Appellate Defender, Queens Defenders released a letter sent to all five New York City district attorneys calling for a full, transparent, and independent audit of the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Latent Print Section. The groups also called for a comprehensive list of all cases in which evidence was either examined or verified by the fingerprint examiners involved in the erroneous fingerprint analysis back in 2015.


The joint defender and advocate letter comes in response to a near-decade delay by the NYPD’s Latent Print Section to formally disclose that one of its fingerprint examiners erroneously matched an individual’s fingerprint to a crime-scene fingerprint back in 2015 while two other examiners verified the misidentification.


Indeed, the NYPD’s disclosure in a letter dated July 13, 2023, is addressed only to prosecutors.  Local DAs attempted to notify affected defendants, but the NYPD’s July 13, 2023 letter failed to identify which cases were affected by this misidentification event or the extent of the error’s impact on the operation and reliability of the Latent Print Unit.


Defenders and advocates expressed deep concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the fingerprint misidentification, which undermines the criminal legal system and the constitutional due process rights and right to a fair trial of the accused. Of particular concern is one of the examiners who verified the erroneous identification went on to become a trainer for the NYPD Latent Print Section and provided misleading testimony in at least two trials.


“Every person has the right to a fair trial where they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.” Said Lori Zeno, Executive Director & Founder of Queens Defenders. “The NYPD’s delay in identifying and sharing information related to cases where examiner error led to misidentification or tainting of a police investigation is deeply disturbing and undermines the integrity of the legal system. Further, the allegations of pervasive laboratory failures and cheating on OCME exams suggests a broken forensic collection system that cannot be relied upon to determine the outcome of an individual’s case. We are calling on the NYPD to immediately provide details of affected cases so that any miscarriages of justice can be expeditiously remedied. Queens Defenders is committed to defending and protecting all our clients who may have been impacted by these unjust systems and processes.”


“The NYPD’s disclosure letter reveals next to nothing about how this misidentification may have negatively impacted any number of our client’s cases,” said Jenny S. Cheung, Supervising Attorney of the DNA Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “It is unacceptable that even one client would have their right to a fair trial jeopardized as a result of the lack of disclosure of all pertinent case-related information to defendants and their counsel. We ask the DA’s Office to provide answers to the litany of questions raised by this disclosure letter, and promptly make all information available to attorneys and their clients.”


“New York State is third in the country in wrongful convictions, and it is incidents like this belated disclosure of a 2015 latent print misidentification that demonstrate why,” said Mariah Martinez, DNA & Forensics Unit Attorney at New York County Defender Services. “City District Attorneys must do better to mitigate and prevent wrongful convictions, starting by disclosing all of the cases that involved Detectives Joe Martinez, Gerald Rex, or Edward Sanabria, as required by the U.S. Constitution. This information potentially affects thousands of clients who these officers were associated with and raises the deeply concerning possibility of a wrongful conviction. Our clients deserve a complete accounting of process being used to evaluate each and every one of these cases to ensure that justice is delivered.”


“These recent disclosures show once again that NYC’s criminal legal system is optimized for securing convictions, not doing justice,” said Mark Zeno, Deputy Director at the Center for Appellate Litigation. “The means for determining who may have been unjustly convicted due to these chronic systemic failures within NYC’s law-enforcement apparatus are entirely within the government’s control, yet NYPD and the District Attorneys’ Offices have refused to identify those persons who may to-this-day be wrongfully incarcerated due to these failures. Our clients—and New York’s citizens—deserve better.”


As defenders we are deeply concerned about the lack of transparency and failure to provide complete information. New Yorker’s deserve a more accountable criminal legal system that does not shield unjust results from correction. The behavior of the New York District Attorney’s office and the NYPD severely undermines the administration of justice. We join the call for a full, transparent, and independent audit of the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Latent Print Section,” said Caprice Jenerson, President & Attorney-in-Charge of Office of the Appellate Defender.


“When similar forensic laboratory errors occurred in other cities, such as Washington, D.C. or Houston, their departments engaged in rigorous, independent audits of their laboratories, allowing them to identify and correct systemic problems, ameliorating past failures of justice and preventing future harms,” said Elizabeth Daniel Vasquez, Director of the Science and Surveillance Project at Brooklyn Defenders. “In New York, eight years of secrecy and avoidance of accountability has allowed the problems within NYPD’s forensic lab to fester. After so much time, we, as defenders, are unable to identify the many cases and people impacted by this misidentification event and other scientific failures or misconduct emanating from it. The people of New York City deserve transparency, accountability, and scientific rigor. In this case, sunlight is truly the best disinfectant.”



Read the full letter here.

New York City Public Defenders File Amicus Brief in Support of the Appointment of a Federal Receiver Over NYC Jails in Nunez v. City of New York

December 4, 2023

Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services, (
Anthony Chiarito, The Bronx Defenders, (
Emily Whitfield, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem,
Lupe Todd-Medina, New York County Defender Services, (
Brian Schatz, Queens Defenders (
Michael Orey, New York University Law School,


New York City Public Defenders File Amicus Brief in Support of the Appointment of a Federal Receiver Over NYC Jails in Nunez v. City of New York

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, and Queens Defenders, with co-counsel NYU School of Law’s Civil Rights in the Criminal Legal System Clinic, filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs’ motion for contempt and appointment of a federal receiver over New York City jails in Nunez v. City of New York.

Eight years after the court entered its consent decree mandating significant reforms to reduce the use of excessive force in New York City jails, the people held in those jails are increasingly subject to intolerable and sometimes deadly violence and dysfunction. Amici submitted the brief in support of the plaintiffs’ application for the appointment of a receiver, as the NYC Department of Correction (“DOC”) has shown it is unwilling and unable to protect the people in its custody and their constitutional rights, or to undertake the reforms needed to comply with core provisions of the consent decree and other court-ordered relief.

In its brief, amici offer insights from their experience as public defenders to highlight the impact of DOC’s excessive force and hyper-confrontational culture on people in custody, and the severe consequences of exposing people to normalized violence and disorder. The brief recounts stories of people who amici represent who have suffered enormous physical and psychological harm as a result of the chaos and dysfunction in New York City jails.

The five defender offices stated:

“For years, we have seen New York City’s jails plunge deeper and deeper into an abyss of chaos and cruelty, yet what we have witnessed in the past two years has been alarming beyond measure. DOC’s increasingly pervasive culture of hostility and aggression has inflicted outrageous violence, suffering, and neglect on the people we represent. The severity and urgency of the crisis in NYC jails requires the appointment of a receiver. Given the experiences of the
people we represent, no lesser remedy is appropriate.”

Read the amicus brief here.