Friday, February 5, 2010

Another Wrongful Conviction Exoneration After a False Confession

On Thursday, February 5, 2010, Freddie Peacock became the 250th person exonerated by DNA evidence after conviction, when his 1976 rape conviction was vacated in Monroe County. The court vacated Mr. Peacock's conviction pursuant to a motion filed jointly by the Innocence Project, ETKS partner Donald M. Thompson, and Kelly Wolford, chief of appeals for the Monroe County District Attorney's Office.

As detailed here Mr. Peacock, fought longer for his exoneration after his release from prison - 28 years - than any other DNA exoneree. Mr. Peacock was 38 years old when he was released from prison following a six-year sentence; today he is 60.

A large part of the story is Mr. Peacock''s ceaseless determination to clear him name. But that doesn't explain how an innocent man was convicted. In an addition to the complainant's identification testimony the there was testimony that Mr. Peacock orally confessed. This alleged oral confession contained no details. Since it was not recorded, neither court nor the jury had any basis for determining whether it was true or false. On appeal the Appellate Division agreed with Mr. Peacock's contention that the trial court erroneously permitted two witnesses to bolster the identification testimony of the complainant (People v Peacock,70 AD2d 781 [4th Dept 1979]), but held that "in light of the strong evidence of guilt, including defendant's confession, we find the error to be harmless."

Thus, reliance on an unrecorded false confession led to the affirmance of a wrongful conviction. This is not only time that the Fourth Department has affirmed the conviction of a man later proven to be innocent, on the strength of a false, unrecorded "confession" (See, e.g., People v Warney, 299 AD2d 956, 957, lv denied 99 NY2d 633) (see). One wonders when courts will acknowledge the obvious and develop a reluctance to credit unrecorded confessions, present in about a quarter of the wrongful convictions exonerated by DNA evidence (see).

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