NEW YORK (PIX11) — Monday was designated as “International Wrongful Conviction Day.” Exonerees said they had an urgent message. They believe it’s time for thousands of men and women who plead guilty as a last resort to be given the chance to clear their name finally.  

“I took a plea to state prison just because it was the only way to get home in a somewhat expeditious manner,” said formerly incarcerated and advocate Eileen Maher.

The Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act cleared its final legislative hurdles this summer and now awaits New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature.

The bill would lower the legal threshold for overturning a conviction by:

  • Allowing non-DNA evidence to be presented to a judge
  • Provides access to discovery (evidence) prosecutors used to get a conviction
  • Establishes a framework that gives someone filing a claim *the right* to an attorney.

Exoneree Derrick Hamilton, 58, said this bill would also help people who have already served their time but still can’t get a job because of their criminal record.

“I spent 21 years in prison for a crime i did not commit. Their lawyer tells them they can’t win – forget the evidence. Now they’ve been home for years and years and got the evidence. But the courts are saying – “we don’t want to hear you’,” said Hamilton.

“The only way they can get back into court is if they have DNA evidence, which only happens in about 10% of cases,” Amanda Wallwin, a State Policy Advocate with the Innocence Project, added. “Everybody else has no other path back to court.”

New York City public advocate Jumaane Williams also attended the rally.

“We have seen how these systems have treated black, brown, and poor Americans for far too long. And i guarantee you, if it were richer, wealthier, whiter men, who were making up this population, we wouldn’t even have this conversation,” said Williams.

A spokesperson for Hochul told PIX11 News she is “reviewing the legislation.”

Advocates said this is not just about the men and women in prison for a crime they did not commit. They add that every wrongfully convicted and imprisoned person – the actual perpetrator- is still on the streets.