Professors Bennett Capers and William Hellerstein have been named to a new panel that will oversee changes to the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies. They join 11 other members of the academic advisory council appointed by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who ruled last month that existing stop-and-frisk policies violated the constitutional rights of minorities.
The New York State District Attorneys Association has released a reformed set of guidelines for conducting police lineups and photo arrays that many defense lawyers are calling too strict. The new regulations require stand-ins to resemble the suspect and bar law enforcement officials from gesturing or guiding witnesses toward the suspect. Critics cite the countless false eyewitness identifications that have led to wrongful convictions. Professor William Hellerstein, head of the former Second Look Clinic at BLS, told the New York Times that the reforms "eliminate the comparison factor," allowing witnesses to "assume somebody in there must be the guy. So they take the guy who looks more like him than the others."
Many claimed the New York Supreme Court was playing partisan politics when it granted Gov. David Paterson the right to elect his lieutenant governor. However, several ex-judges have defended the decision, saying that the parties under which they were appointed did not reflect their choices in court. Professor William Hellerstein, who has argued many cases at Supreme Court added, "The fact that Judge Read was with the majority I think supports my own feeling that this is not a political decision."
The New York State Court of Appeals will soon decide whether Gov. David Paterson legally appointed Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor. The case will settle a constitutional question whether the governor has the authority to choose his lieutenant if the position is vacant. Professor William Hellerstein was quoted in the New York Times about the potential outcomes of the case, which could be a huge setback for Gov. Paterson in the event the court rules against him. Professor Hellerstein told the Times, “Any opinion that comes down that might rule against the governor could be properly viewed as a slap-down of the governor… Cases that go the heart of a government structure and that involve separation of powers are cases in which judges would like to have unanimity. These are the kinds of cases that if one can get unanimity, they can have greater acceptance in the body politic.”
Professor William E. Hellerstein testified at a New York State Assembly joint committee legislative hearing in Albany on a bill by Governor Elliot Spitzer proposing an expansion of the State’s use of DNA evidence to solve crimes and exonerate the innocent. The bill, which has already been approved by the Senate, has drawn fire for including a proposal to set a deadline for convicted criminals to challenge their convictions, except for claims of newly discovered evidence, like DNA, proving innocence.