Ruling marks historic week in Brooklyn D.A.’s Office: Discredited detective’s files to be reviewed by judge

As reported (here) in the New York Daily News, New York Supreme Court Justice Desmond Green yesterday denied a motion by the Brooklyn District Attorney to suppress a subpoena, submitted by lawyers for inmate Shabaka Shakur, to obtain the files of former police Detective Louis Scarcella. The retired detective is implicated in possible tampering in nearly 40 cases that may have resulted in wrongful convictions. In addition to the denied motion, the judge ordered the Brooklyn D.A. to provide the files of all the identified cases, two at a time, to the judge himself for review.

District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes had called for the review of Scarcella’s cases, after his Convictions Integrity Unit had cleared the conviction of David Ranta. Mr. Ranta had spent 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. This blog covered the troubling case of David Ranta (here), (here), and (here).

Detective Scarcella’s aggressive and unorthodox tactics in the Ranta case included, allegedly, coaching a witness, rewarding informants, and utilizing a questionable confession. District Attorney Hynes called for the investigation of Scarcella’s cases when it became apparent that the detective’s tactics might have undermined the integrity of other verdicts.

Justice Green said that he would turn over any information that could help Shabaka Shakur’s defense team.

Attorneys representing the D.A.’s office yesterday included the chiefs of the Appeals Bureau and the Conviction Integrity Unit. The judge’s ruling came during an historic week in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. First elected in 1989, District Attorney Hynes, 78, was regarded by many as an innovator and had sought his seventh term, but he was defeated Tuesday by lesser-known challenger Kenneth Thompson.

Hynes had a history of denying inmates’ public records requests and aggressively defending appellate challenges in Detective Scarcella’s cases, but he had also become Scarcella’s worst nightmare.

Hyne’s Conviction Integrity Unit elevated Scarcella’s dubious tactics in the Ranta case, ultimately resulting in the proposed review of cases investigated by the detective who was once a go-to investigator for New York’s highest profile murders.

But, it may have been too little or too late, as Hynes navigated a rough sixth term. Ironically, among the issues Thompson raised in his campaign to unseat Hynes, was the question of miscarriages of justice, including the wrongful convictions resulting from Detective Scarcella’s alleged perjured testimony and other tactics.

For those concerned about wrongful conviction and committed to elevating the search for truth in criminal justice, regardless of the politics or the outcome in this election, it is a sign of progress when the campaign to lead New York’s busiest prosecutor’s office includes focused attention on the topic of wrongful conviction.

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