One person who is not so thrilled about theÂ prospective elevation of Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court is a man named Jeffrey Deskovic. Mr. Deskovic spent 16 years in prison for a crime he didnâ€™t commit — the last six years, Deskovic claims, being a direct result of the actions (or, rather, the inaction) of Judge Sotomayor. Surprisingly, he chose to tell his story last night to, of all people, Amy Goodman, the far-left host of Democracy Now!
Deskovic saysÂ heÂ was falsely charged and convicted of rape and murder at the age of sixteen and was sentenced to life in prison. A number of years later, after DNA tests showed that semen found in the victimÂ did not match his own, he appealed his conviction to Judge Sotomayor and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Despite the strong evidence that seemed to exonerate him, SotomayorÂ let the conviction stand. According to Deskovic, this was mainly the result of two factors:Â pressure from a District Attorney with political aspirations, and the fact that DeskovicÂ filed hisÂ appeal four days late.
I had a very strong argument of innocence: DNA showed that semen found in the victim didnâ€™t match me. I was also arguing that the police had violated my Fifth Amendment rights by the manner that they had interrogated me when I was sixteen years old, which is how they managed to coerce the false confession out of me, which is the only evidence that they had. So, the court, at the urging of then-Westchester [County] district attorney candidate Jeanine Pirro, they ruled that I was late [with my appeal], without even looking at my issues.
In her opinion, which Judge Sotomayor signed, she said that she was un-persuaded that my position was unique and that my petition had substantial merit or that it was caused by the court clerk. She was un-persuaded that those three things should trump the fact that my petition arrived four days late.
As a result of her ruling, I ultimately served six more years in prison wrongfully.
Judge Sotomayor and her colleague, Judge Rosemary Pooler, explained the Courtâ€™s refusal to reverse the original conviction this way:
The alleged reliance of Deskovic’s attorney on verbal misinformation from the court clerk constitutes excusable neglect that does not rise to the level of an extraordinary circumstance. Similarly, we are not persuaded that â€¦ his situation is unique and his petition has substantive merit.
Sotomayorâ€™s ruling,Â says Deskovic,Â was based on procedure and politics, not on the law. If true, this calls into question Sotomayor’s fitness for the nation’s highest Court.