A New York judge dismissed 133 felony convictions on Thursday tied to a disgraced former police officer accused of fabricating evidence.
Bronx Supreme Supreme Court Justice David Lewis dropped the cases, as prosecutors sought to undo convictions based off the work of former NYPD detective Joseph Franco, who was indicted in 2019 for lying in testimony and police work about witnessing drug deals that never took place. He has pleaded not guilty.
“His compromised credibility suggests a lack of due process in the prosecution of these defendants, and we cannot stand behind these convictions,” Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said on Thursday in a statement.
“We did not want to dismiss or vacate out of hand all cases he was involved in; we investigated those that hinged on his testimony and sworn statements.”
A total of 257 felony convictions tied to Mr Franco’s testimony have been thrown out so far, and officials are examining another 250 cases for potential removal. The mass erasure of these convictions is one of the largest in state history.
Legal advocates celebrated the step as an important piece of accountability, when police rarely face discipline for misconduct.
“This unconscionable and inexcusable behavior corrodes the public’s trust in law enforcement, and it has also caused harm and hardship to real New Yorkers, particularly Black and Latinx New Yorkers who are disproportionately targets of harassment and abuse from police officers,” Elizabeth Felber, Director of the Wrongful Conviction Unit at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement, adding, “All prosecutors must be willing to investigate these issues of misconduct within law enforcement, even in the absence of headlines or public pressure.”
Mr Franco, who was fired by the NYPD in 2020, spent years as an undercover narcotics agent, where he allegedly perjured himself by lying about drug deals that didn’t take place. In his 2019 indictment, on 26 counts, authorities said he went as far as claiming to see drug transactions that security could prove did not occur.
The detective has pled not guilty, and his lawyer said in April that Mr Franco would be “vigorously defending” himself in the case.
“I would therefore ask that the public withhold judgment until all the facts are heard,” the detective’s attorney, Howard Tanner, told The New York Times.
Prosecutors in the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx are all reviewing the detective’s work for further cases that might merit dismissal.
Civil rights advocates note that even those who’ve been able to drop their tainted convictions still have had to experience time in prison, and the numerous emotional, health, and career challenges that come during and after incarceration.