March 4th, 2014
The government shutdown this past October was enough to show that Americans are right to be distrustful of politicians. But this latest opinion piece from the Attorney General of New York is a real doozy. In the piece, Mr. Schneiderman, highlights the case of Fernando Bermudez, a Danbury, CT resident and friend of the NEIP family. For those of you unfamiliar with Fernando’s case, he was imprisoned for 18 years for a crime he did not commit. He had an alibi, and several alibi witnesses, but was convicted on the snitch testimony of an individual who was actually responsible for the murder.Read more about his story here.
Back to the op-ed. Mr. Schneiderman starts out saying that Fernando’s case is an example of the injustice exonerees face. Fernando’s case certainly is filled with injustice, and should be used as an example to prevent future miscarriages of justice. Our disagreement is with the truth behind the article. The truth is that in the article, Mr. Schneiderman is hiding the role he plays in making sure Fernando’s suffering and fight continues for as long as possible. Because Fernando’s attorney signed the wrongful conviction claim in his case seeking restitution, Mr. Schneiderman claims that this forces the Attorney General’s office to fight the compensation case, stating “So, because his claim did not comply with this strict and highly technical requirement, my office must challenge his case in court.” What Mr. Schneiderman fails to note is that because of something called prosecutorial discretion, he could actually refuse to challenge the case in court; it’s well within his power to refuse to challenge, and help to rectify this injustice. However, for political and financial reasons, not having anything to do with a mistaken signature, his office is fighting this case, denying their financial obligations to the Bermudez family, while writing an article claiming to want the opposite, which would be fine, if it weren’t completely within his control to right this wrong.
Time and time again we see exonerees treated this way. They are wronged by the system, fight to prove that wrong, and when that wrong is finally recognized (in Fernando’s case, the judge declared him actually innocent – a first in NY history) they are given NOTHING. They then have to fight to get money owed to them under compensation statutes, which means going back to court. Prosecutors on behalf of the state, look for whatever reason, like say a supposedly invalid signature (though lawyers sign documents for their clients all the time when filing, so it’s a bit unclear as to why this should be any different) to fight the state’s obligation. We have a person who has spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, who is seeking what the state owes him for this grave injustice, and the state is pointing fingers to avoid paying the bill. The Attorney General wants us to believe it’s because there’s a wrong signature somewhere, when really he just doesn’t want to be the one to sign the check.