Wrongful Conviction Exoneree Ponders Running for Congress

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April 20, 2015; CBS News Blogs

What are the skills or set of experiences our representatives in Congress should have in order to best promote the country’s interests? Eloquence? A relationship to his or her constituency? Seventeen years behind bars for a crime they should not have been convicted for?

That criterion seems to fit Martin Tankleff well, who at the age of 17 was convicted for the grisly 1988 double murder of his adoptive parents, Seymour and Arlene. Tankleff’s murder conviction was vacated in 2007 when an appellate court determined new evidence in the case warranted another trial. Prosecutors decided against pursuing a second trial, indicating it was “no longer possible to reasonably assert that the case against Tankleff would be successful.” Tankleff went on to win a $3.4 million settlement for his wrongful conviction against the state of New York.

“I’m looking at it right now,” Tankleff told the CBS radio station in New York City. “It would be a Democratic or Independent, but more likely as an Independent. This way my allegiance is to the people; it’s not to a political party.”

Of course, a wrongful conviction does not a congressman make, and Tankleff hasn’t been sitting on the couch following his release from prison. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2009 with a degree in sociology, and last year he earned a law degree from Touro Law School on Long Island. Through his own personal experiences, Tankleff believes he understands the victimization one can endure through an unjust justice system.

“Think about the impact I could have on the criminal justice system by being in Congress,” said Tankleff.

And what is a campaign without trusted appraisals? Last year, Barry Scheck, director of the Innocence Project, which helped bring about Tankleff’s exoneration, appears to have been planning to cofound an organization with Tankleff with a similar function to the Innocence Project.

“The terrible injustice he endured has no doubt given him a unique understanding of the flaws in the system that will make him a powerful advocate for those trying to prove their innocence,” said Scheck. “As he knows all too well, we can certainly use more great litigators willing to take on this extremely difficult work.”

Tankleff has not officially announced that he is running, but given the public perception of the judicial system currently, as someone with a very different perspective of governance, he might make an interesting addition to Congress. What do you think—would you want Tankleff to be your congressman?—Shafaq Hasan