ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York State Assembly passed the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act Tuesday evening. This is a major step toward giving wrongfully-convicted New Yorkers a chance to clear their name. The bill now heads to State Senate for approval.

The Act makes improvements to the existing post-conviction relief framework in New York State that only allows convicted individuals to petition the court for post-conviction relief if DNA evidence emerges – a framework that few cases can meet. According to the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE), more than one in five of the more than 3,000 people who have been exonerated since 1989 pleaded guilty despite their innocence.

The bill:

  • Removes the guilty plea bar on actual innocence claims when there is credible new, non-DNA evidence of wrongful conviction;
  • Provides a right to post-conviction discovery; and
  • Establishes a right to counsel for those with wrongful conviction claims. New York is one of just five states in the U.S. that does not provide a right to attorney in post-conviction cases, trailing states like Texas and Alabama.

The passage of this bill will ensure that New Yorkers can fully pursue their innocence claims in state court, even if the path to relief in federal court remains closed. The passage in the Assembly comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez where the Court’s conservative majority eviscerated a major avenue of post-conviction relief for innocent people in federal court.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assembly Member Dan Quart. It also has support from groups including the Innocence Project, VOCAL-NY, and New York County Defender Services. The bill passed the Assembly’s Rules Committee last week with unanimous support from Majority members.