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On the Other Side of Wrongful Conviction

How does a lawyer get to be a an expert on wrongful conviction?  Most follow the conventional route, such as taking lots of classes on criminal law, investigative reporting and forensics in college and law school; volunteering for a clinic that handles post-conviction matters; and eventually working for, or starting a criminal law practice. But Marty Tankleff, a 36-year-old who aspires to a career of fighting for the wrongfully convicted, didn't take that approach. Wrongfully convicted for murdering his parents, Tankleff spent 17 years in prison before the Second Appellate Division, in December 2007, vacated his conviction and ordered a new trial based on new evidence showing that career criminals with connections to a business partner of Tankleff's father were the likely culprits. Now, as the New York Times reports, Tankleff is contemplating his future as a lawyer for others like himself while awaiting word on whether a new trial will in fact take place.

As Tankleff told the Times, he hopes to become a lawyer who works with the wrongfully convicted.  Joked Tankleff,  “I think I have the education for it -- and the experience." But more seriously, based on his own experience, Tankleff estimates that 5 percent of the prison population might be innocent; indeed, more than 200 people have been exonerated through DNA evidence alone over the past 20 years. However, most of the wrongful convictions are not high profile, so as Tankleff explains, the public doesn't usually hear about them.

Right now, Tankleff is busy working on his own case and others with Bruce Barket. Tankleff has also spoken on wrongful conviction and endorsed legislation that would require videotaping of confessions (Tankleff himself was convicted based on a disputed confession that Tankleff never wrote or signed and repudiated).

To be sure, Tankleff's story has a happy ending.  But how many other happy endings are out there, still waiting to be written?  If Tankleff has his way, hopefully, we'll find out.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 24, 2008 at 02:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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