The Criminal Appeals Bureau

The Criminal Appeals Bureau handles direct appeals of State Court convictions to the Appellate Division and Appellate Term of Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals, conducts post-conviction proceedings in State trial courts and brings habeas corpus petitions in the Second Circuit federal courts. It is the largest provider of post-conviction services to indigent criminal defendants in the City of New York. In recent years, the Bureau's vigorous advocacy has led to reversals of numerous wrongful convictions as well as the vindication of innocent clients.

In discharging its responsibility to provide first-rate representation to its clients, CAB has, throughout its history, had a significant impact on criminal law and procedure in New York and nationally. The Bureau has been a frequent litigant in the United States Supreme Court, where its successes include: Payton v. New York, requiring the police to obtain a warrant before arresting people in their homes; Baldwin v. New York, guaranteeing defendants who face more than six months in prison the right to a trial by jury; Herring v. New York, securing a defendant's right to summation at a bench trial; Lefkowitz v. Newsome, ensuring the right to appellate review of suppression decisions even after a defendant pleads guilty; Cruz v. New York, rejecting the interlocking-confessions exception to the Bruton rule; and Vignera v. New York, one of the companion cases to Miranda v. Arizona.

Today, CAB has a highly experienced staff of creative and highly-skilled advocates, who spend their careers zealously safeguarding their clients' constitutional rights without regard to questions of factual guilt. Nonetheless, some of the Bureau's signature successes involve attorneys successfully exposing wrongful convictions and vindicating the rights of innocent clients. Representation in these cases spans years and consumes resources. Experts must be retained. Painstaking factual re-investigations are required. Trial litigation skills must complement appellate and post-conviction talent. CAB's position within The Legal Aid Society enables its attorneys to work closely with colleagues from the criminal trial practice and with volunteer attorneys from the Society's participating law firms. Accordingly, CAB is uniquely positioned to handle these onerous, but extraordinarily important, matters.

In a powerful example of the vigorous investigation and advocacy typically required to overturn unjust convictions, two CAB attorneys assisted by volunteer lawyers successfully completed their long-term efforts to exonerate Napoleon and Carlos Cardenas, two brothers who had been wrongfully convicted of robbery. Their fruitful re-investigation required them to locate a skilled surgeon willing to perform delicate surgery on Napoleon's hand, which contained exculpatory ballistics evidence, and to persuade a court to order the Department of Corrections to permit and facilitate the surgery. Before it was complete, the Cardenas brothers' legal odyssey, which was later catalogued in the New York Times, took their CAB lawyers to Queens County Supreme Court, the Second Department of the Appellate Division, the Bellevue prison hospital, the Bureau of Immigration Control and Enforcement, immigration court, federal district court, the Second Circuit and the United States Supreme Court.

In a recent case, CAB attorneys persuaded a unanimous Court of Appeals that the Society's clients could not be held in custody for violating the terms of a post-release supervision sentence that had been administratively added by the Department of Correctional Services or court clerks and had not been imposed by a Judge. Literally thousands of individuals who had post-release supervision imposed unlawfully are affected by this landmark decision.

CAB attorneys have successfully litigated important constitutional issues and issues of first impression on behalf of our clients in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and in New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals. In a series of cases in the Second Circuit, CAB attorneys have persuaded that court to take a hard look at the quality of representation afforded some New York defendants. Indeed, in one of those cases, Henry v. Poole, the court questioned whether New York's ineffective assistance of counsel jurisprudence provides defendants adequate protection under the federal constitution's Sixth Amendment right to counsel. CAB attorneys have also successfully litigated numerous ground-breaking cases before New York's highest court. In one recent high-profile example, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of Andrew Goldstein, concluding that the trial court had violated the Sixth Amendment right to confrontation as defined in the landmark Supreme Court decision of Crawford v. Washington by allowing a State psychiatric expert to testify about the out-of-court statements of non-testifying witnesses.

CAB lawyers have also represented clients at approximately hundreds of hearings mandated by the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA). These cases have required lawyers to develop expertise in an entirely new and developing area of law and CAB has devoted significant resources to providing the requisite training. They also require the kinds of mitigation inquiry and re-entry planning that has proved crucial in the drug re-sentencing cases. CAB currently has two cases before the New York State Court of Appeals concerning a first-impression issue about the scope of SORA, namely, whether the statute applies to offenders who have been convicted of kidnapping, but who engaged in absolutely no sexual misconduct.

Spurred by the passage of the Drug Law Reform Act of 2004, which focused attention on sentence mitigation and the re-entry plans of defendants returning to the community, and its involvement with SORA clients, CAB has sought to create a more comprehensive model of appellate defense by expanding the range of post-conviction services that we provide. Spearheading this effort is Shreya Mandal, who joined CAB in March, 2005 as its in-house mitigation specialist. She provides sentence mitigation services, clinical assessments, in-court testimony and re-entry planning and assistance.

In October 2009, key elements of the Rockefeller Drug Law reform went into effect, giving judges discretion to divert people suffering from drug dependency into treatment and other service programs instead of prison. Nearly 1,500 people who are currently incarcerated for low-level, nonviolence drug offenses under the Rockefeller Drug Laws can petition the court for re-sentencing and, if approved by the judge, will be released.