In a decision filed Friday by Federal Magistrate Judge William Wall, the NY State Attorney General’s Office was ordered to turn over its files in the Marty Tankleff case to Tankleff’s civil lawyers. To the lay person , it must seem like a simple request – Now that my conviction has been overturned, can I please see the files of your investigation that helped overturn my conviction? But nothing is easy for those who were wrongfully convicted. The State system for compensation, The Unjust Conviction Act, allows only a paltry sum to be paid to the innocent men who faced years of prison time for something they didn’t do. If you want to get more than the Act allows (approx. $50,000 per year for each year of false incarceration) you have to prove that the DA or police or both intentionally acted improperly to obtain your conviction., A tough thing to prove especially when the DA and police hold all the cards- the records, files and information about the investigation.
Tankleff is suing the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office (and others) over their false arrest and imprisonment of him in connection with his parents’ murders. His diligence in seeking an independent review of his criminal case after a Suffolk Judge rejected all of the new evidence his team uncovered resulted in the NY State Attorney General’s Office opening up its own investigation. The AG’s office conducted an extensive review into the case which resulted in the AG’s motion “for the dismissal of Tankleff’s indictments in the interest of justice.” The Tankleff team now wanted to examine the files for evidence it could use in the civil trial against the local authorities.
But the AG opposed the application, arguing a host of privileges that it claimed protected the material from disclosure. In a victory for open government advocates, the court held that the AG’s general, vague and non-specific concerns about the impact disclosure would have on future investigations were insufficient to block Tankleff’s strong need for the material. The court ordered the material to be turned over by April 12, 2011.
The material should shed interesting light on the evidence secured by the AG and its examination of the work done by the Suffolk DA’s office all those years ago. The embarrassing spectacle of the Suffolk DA”s attempts to keep Tankleff in jail despite all the evidence of his innocence have long been documented elsewhere, so I won’t repeat the history. What this decision highlights is the need for persistence, perseverance and diligence in first overturning a wrongful conviction and then in trying to obtain compensation for the harm done to the wrongfully convicted. I suspect the Suffolk DA’s office will be none too pleased about this decision and the light it may shed on the office.