Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez Announces Dedicated Post-Conviction Justice Bureau that Will Include Parole and Clemency Unit, Sealing Unit and Nationally Recognized Conviction Review Unit

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez Announces Dedicated
Post-Conviction Justice Bureau that Will Include Parole and Clemency Unit,
Sealing Unit and Nationally Recognized Conviction Review Unit

Initiatives Will Include Significant Changes to the Office’s Parole Policies and Robust
Participation in Parole Proceedings, Including Recommending Release After Defendants
Serve the Minimum Sentence as Default Starting Position for Cases That Ended in Guilty Plea

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced the creation of the first dedicated Post-Conviction Justice Bureau in the country. It will be anchored by the nationally recognized Conviction Review Unit and include two new Units: A Parole and Clemency Unit charged with implementing new policies governing the Office’s participation in parole and clemency proceedings for incarcerated individuals, and a Sealing Unit to encourage and facilitate applications to seal criminal convictions.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “Our obligation to do justice and to strengthen community trust in the criminal justice system does not end when a conviction becomes final. For many years, this principle has animated the work of our Conviction Review Unit – a national leader in identifying and vacating wrongful convictions – but I believe we need to go even farther in taking second looks and considering second chances. That is why I created a Post-Conviction Justice Bureau. I believe it is the first stand-alone bureau of its kind in the nation, and it has the potential to impact and change thousands of lives.

“If we want to decrease mass incarceration, as I am committed to doing, we cannot only be forward thinking. We must also look at the past and give people second chances.

“One of the game-changing elements of this new Bureau is our approach to parole. For too long, prosecutors across the country have automatically and reflexively opposed release when individuals become eligible for parole. I am committed to stopping this practice and engaging more substantively in parole proceedings to determine whether they should be considered for parole earlier in the process.

“Our CRU started with a recognition that we, collectively as an office, did not always get it right and we have an ongoing obligation to do justice. As views have changed in the communities we serve and in our Office with regard to what we consider just outcomes, we are taking second looks at cases with those new values in mind. Prosecutors have a role not only in addressing wrongful convictions, but in addressing the problems of mass incarceration and mass supervision and in helping eligible people move on with their lives and seal past convictions.

“To that end, I’ve also created a Sealing Unit because I am concerned that more of our Brooklyn residents are not taking advantage of the opportunity to seal their criminal records and find relief from the many collateral consequences of a conviction under CPL 160.59, the statute that went into effect in October 2017.”

The Post-Conviction Justice Bureau will consist of three separate Units:

  1. The Parole and Clemency Unit, led by Executive Assistant District Attorney for Court Operations Paul Burns, is charged with directing the Office’s participation in parole proceedings for incarcerated individuals through the analysis of individual cases and the development of policy positions that apply across various categories of cases. Those policy positions are:
  • For cases that ended in a guilty plea, our default position will now be that the defendant generally should be released at his or her first parole opportunity (subject to his or her record in prison and other considerations).
  • For cases in which juveniles (defined as age 23 or younger at the time of the offense) were sentenced to an indeterminate life sentence, special considerations must go into their parole determinations so that there can be a meaningful inquiry into whether they have matured into appropriate candidates for release.
  • We will be developing partnerships with transitional services to bring to our attention defendants whose cases for early parole merit a closer look.
  • The Unit will train and guide Assistant District Attorneys throughout the Office on their parole recommendations.
  • The Unit will also advise the Office on what position to take on mass supervision contributors such as probation and post-release supervision. Going forward, in plea agreements, the default position on probation for general crimes will be three years (rather than four or five) in felony cases and two years (rather than three) for A misdemeanors. The default position for post-release supervision for general crimes will be the minimum where options are one-and-one-half to three years for D and E violent felonies and two-and-one-half to five years for B and C violent felony offenses. Assistant District Attorneys who wish to deviate from these default positions will be asked to justify their decision in writing.
  • It will also serve as the principal contact with the Governor’s Office and advise him on applications for clemency.
  1. The Conviction Review Unit, led by Unit Chief Mark Hale, will continue to conduct painstaking, thorough and intensive investigations into cases to determine whether convictions should stand. The CRU has moved to vacate 25 convictions since its creation in 2014 and reviewed approximately 85 cases. It recently also began the practice of publishing detailed reports, available on the DA’s Office’s website, of the wrongful conviction and lessons learned from it.
  1. The newly-created Sealing Unit, led by Unit Chief Lisa Perlman, encourages and facilitates applications to seal criminal convictions under CPL 160.59, the New York State statute that went into effect in October 2017. The Unit has been working with the Office of Court Administration on methods that would make it easier for applicants to apply for sealing on their own, including addressing mandatory fees and creating a more user-friendly application. It also will partner with our own Office of Public Engagement to spread the word in our communities, to encourage more applications and to help resolve them expeditiously.

The Post-Conviction Justice Bureau is also charged with studying and facilitating opportunities for reviewing excessive sentences. The Bureau will also work with our Legislative Counsel Diem Tran to develop and support legislative solutions for post-conviction justice.

The District Attorney announced that Mark Hale will serve as the Chief of the Post-Conviction Justice Bureau, with Eric Sonnenschein serving as Deputy Chief, and will report to the District Attorney’s General Counsel Tali Farhadian Weinstein, who led the design and creation of the new Bureau as part of Justice 2020, District Attorney Gonzalez’s action plan for criminal justice reform.