MANHATTAN - Manhattan district attorney candidate Dan Quart will build a robust conviction integrity unit, one not led by former prosecutors, that roots out injustice and exonerates wrongfully convicted people. Quart is not new to this issue-- he has partnered with the Innocence Project to pass the Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act, drafted legislation to create a statewide conviction integrity agency, fought for benefits for exonerated New Yorkers, and has been endorsed by prominent wrongful conviction advocates, including Jeff Deskovic and Derrick Hamilton.
Recent reporting by The Appeal and New York Focus found that while candidate Tali Farhadian Weinstein often touts her work overseeing the conviction integrity unit in Brooklyn, the unit only exonerated three people under her leadership, a number far below average. Modeling Manhattan’s conviction integrity unit off of Farhadian-Weinstein’s unit in Brooklyn would leave wrongfully convicted people with little chance at getting justice.
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As general counsel at the Brooklyn DA’s office, Manhattan DA candidate Tali Farhadian Weinstein was involved in the creation and leadership of a bureau designed to provide “post-conviction justice,” including overturning wrongful convictions. Her leadership of the program has been a mainstay of her campaign. At forums, she often boasts of having “built the first post-conviction justice bureau in the country.” Her supporters, from Gloria Steinem to U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres, cite the program in their endorsement messages. On her campaign platform, she says she led the unit that “published a first-of-its-kind report detailing its first 25 exonerations.”
But during the year and four months that Farhadian Weinstein oversaw the bureau, its conviction review unit exonerated just three people—a far lower rate of exonerations than in previous years.
During the same length of time, the conviction integrity unit operating in Detroit exonerated 14 people—more than four times the number exonerated in Brooklyn, despite the fact that Brooklyn contains hundreds of thousands more people. The conviction integrity unit in Philadelphia, in a jurisdiction with a million fewer residents, exonerated 10 people.
And the 25 exonerations in the Brooklyn unit’s report? Only one occurred under Farhadian Weinstein’s leadership.
“She’s taking credit for exonerations that she had nothing to do with,” said Derrick Hamilton, co-founder and assistant director of Family and Friends of the Wrongfully Convicted, who was exonerated by the conviction review unit in 2015 after 21 years in prison on a wrongful conviction for murder.
Now, Farhadian Weinstein says she would “use her experience in Brooklyn to establish the nation’s most robust Post-Conviction Justice Bureau in Manhattan.”
But advocates and public defenders who have interacted with the Brooklyn bureau say that its record makes it unworthy of imitation—in part because the head of its conviction review unit was a prosecutor who had long worked side by side with the prosecutors whose convictions he now reviews.
“If the model that’s currently operating in Brooklyn is set up in Manhattan, that would be a disaster,” said Nick Encalada-Malinowsksi, civil rights campaign director with the criminal justice advocacy group VOCAL-NY.
Family members of incarcerated people rallied for reforms to the unit in 2019, to little avail. “She ignored our cries and went along with business as usual,” Hamilton said.
“Tali Weinstein … was not interested in righting the wrongs that was done to so many Africans and Latinos by the Kings County DA’s office,” he added.
Three defense attorneys told New York Focus and The Appeal that one key reason was that Farhadian Weinstein left the conviction review unit under the control of a career prosecutor: Mark Hale, who had for years worked as a homicide prosecutor for the Brooklyn DA’s office.
Hale was chief of the unit even when Thompson was DA, but Thompson also appointed Harvard Law School professor Ron Sullivan, a former public defender, to “lead the efforts” of the unit. Other conviction review units in the New York City area, such as Westchester and Queens, are run by lawyers with backgrounds in criminal defense.
But the unit has never regained the efficacy that it had under Thompson, said Hamilton, who now works on wrongful convictions as a paralegal. He imputes much of the blame to Farhadian Weinstein.
“She’s bragging of being at the head at the time when the unit took a backwards step and never came back right,” he said. “Weinstein sanctioned it.”
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