Category Archives: Opinion

Forensic Science Reform

In September 2016, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released a report calling for forensic science reform, however Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Justice Department would not be adopting the recommendations, and the National District Attorney’s association’s suggested that existing safeguards were adequate.  Adam B. Shniderman of Texas Christian University discusses the issue here.

 

 

John Grisham on the State of Criminal Justice

“There are thousands of innocent people in prison serving long sentences for crimes committed by others; that their convictions could have been avoided and the real perpetrators brought to justice; that many segments of our criminal justice system are broken and must be fixed; that untold millions of dollars could be saved by criminal justice reforms, not to mention the avoidance of human suffering; that mass incarceration is not working at any level; that the death penalty is unfairly used; that the use and possession of most drugs should be decriminalized, not legalized; and that most prisons for women should be closed.”

Full article at https://www.themarshallproject.org/2017/01/02/john-grisham-on-the-state-of-criminal-justice.

A Case for Justice Reform in 2017

Wrongful Convictions Blog

The year 2016 will go down as a good one for Freddie Peacock. But because it was so long in coming, it surely must be bittersweet. His story illustrates the slow pace and enormous hurdles in correcting criminal justice miscarriages post-conviction. It also calls on our individual and national conscience to make 2017 the year responsible citizens send the message loud and clear to all public and criminal justice professionals that this nation must replace the mantra of “tough on crime” with “smart on crime.” In the Peacock case we learn many lessons about wrongful conviction rarely delivered so clearly by a federal judge.

In August 2016 U.S. District Judge Michael Telesca awarded Freddie Peacock nearly $6.2 million long after Peacock’s conviction of and imprisonment for a 1976 Rochester (NY) rape he didn’t commit. Peacock had sued the city of Rochester and Rochester police. Judge Telesca’s decisions in May (

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The presumption of innocence exists in theory, not reality

What is to be done?

Wrongful Convictions Blog

By: Keith Findlay

Keith Findley is an assistant professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he is co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. He represented Steven Avery, subject of the “Making a Murderer” documentary, in the 2005 proceedings that produced DNA evidence to prove Avery’s innocence and exonerate him of a 1985 sexual assault conviction.

If, as the Supreme Court has consistently declared, the presumption of innocence is among the most fundamental principles in our criminal justice system, it is also among the most fragile.

The presumption is under constant assault from jurors’ natural assumption that if someone is arrested and charged with a crime, he or she must have done something wrong. It is also vulnerable to the media frenzy around high-profile cases, the fear-driven politics of crime, the highly punitive nature of our culture and the innate cognitive processes that produce tunnel…

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Supreme Court Corruption

Radley Balko writes:

“The fact that Beach confessed to killing Nees at the same time he falsely confessed to killing three other women should have been a sign that perhaps his confession was due more to coercion from his interrogators. (This is not uncommon.) That didn’t seem to faze then-District Attorney Mark Racicot, who proceeded to trial and won his conviction. Racicot would, of course, go on to become an immensely popular Montana governor as well as chairman of the Republican National Committee, and was initially President George W. Bush’s choice to be U.S. attorney general before withdrawing from consideration.”

“A Montana district court judge threw out Beach’s conviction, ordered a new trial and released Beach on bond while awaiting that trial. Incredibly, 18 months later the Montana Supreme Court reversed that ruling, reinstated Beach’s conviction and ordered him taken into custody. Beach voluntarily turned himself in, and was taken back to prison. (Incidentally, journalist John Adams pointed out at the time that two of the four judges who reinstated the conviction were appointed to the bench by . . . Mark Racicot. One of them worked for Racicot when he was the state attorney general, and Racicot endorsed her when she ran for a position on the state’s supreme court.)”

Systematic corruption of State Supreme courts is I think not limited to Montana. Reform is needed.

Misconduct – an uneven playing field?

The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s penalty for intentionally misleading the defense?

Both prosecutors were ordered to be “publicly censured.” A man’s life was on the line, and all the prosecution’s conduct resulted in was a public reprimand. Compare that to the case of an Oklahoma defense attorney accused of suborning perjury.

After a witness was found to by lying when she said that a drug defendant was with her in Mexico on the day of a 2007 drug deal, attorney Mark Clayborne was accused of knowing the witness was lying and knowing she had altered the date on a video to make it appear that she and the defendant were together in Mexico on the date of the alleged offense.

Clayborne contested the witness’s statement that he told her to lie, saying he did not knowingly permit perjury. However, he was convicted of one count of perjury by subornation and one count of false preparation of exhibits as evidence. He was disbarred and criminally sentenced to six years in prison.

Read more at Huffington Post

Writing’s on The Wall – New James Bond theme song

Enjoy the new James Bond theme song, but remember those still in prison or on death row due to a serial killer worse than the worst Bond villain!

Trial by Media

Serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards really did leave writing on the wall, it was one way he signed his crimes. Some of those wrongly convicted for his crimes are still in prison, even on death row. Please share! And enjoy the song below as well 🙂

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The need for reform

Social media is exposing cases of wrongful conviction in the United States and elsewhere where the vast majority of intelligent people who have carefully examined the evidence have concluded innocence, where a court originally concluded guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The case of Richard Glossip is an obvious example.

It’s clear that the problem is not with the general public but with the justice system, which has failed too often.

It’s about time politicians took some notice and initiated reform to:

(1) Reduce the rate of wrongful convictions.

(2) Identify unsafe convictions in a timely way, and release the wrongly convicted from prison.

The role of Junk Science in Wrongful Convictions

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit granted qualified immunity to Lowell Thomas Johnson and Raymond Rawson, the two bite mark specialists whose testimony helped convict Robert Lee Stinson of raping and murdering an elderly Wisconsin woman in 1984. Stinson spent 23 years in prison before DNA testing exonerated him in 2009.

writes Radley Balko.

He goes on

It took more than three decades, but over the past several years, actual scientists have finally started testing the claims of bite mark analysts. And as we’ve pointed out on several occasions here at The Watch, those scientists are showing that bite mark analysis is a fraudulent field.

and also references the case of Ray Krone.

When will it ever end. I left a comment:

There is no end to the bogus evidence that is employed when the State embarks on a wrongful conviction.

Take a look at the Jodi Arias trial : the State changed theory with the sole purpose of contradicting Arias’ claim of self-defense. To accomplish this the Medical Examiner (Dr Horn who has a shady reputation) had to arbitrarily and implausibly suggest there was a “typographical error” in his own autopsy report.

There was no end to the false prosecution claims in the case, they ranged from the ridiculous to the hilarious.

The remedy is for courts to refuse to admit evidence which has no scientifically established basis.

Equal Justice Under Law? . . . Well . . . Just How Much Justice Can You Afford?

Phil Locke writes: “I’ve been involved in more than a few cases in which we truly believe, or downright know, the defendant is innocent, and the family has had to sell their home, and cash in their life savings to pay for legal counsel in what, more often than not, turns out to be a vain attempt to correct the wrong visited upon them by the justice system.”

Wrongful Convictions Blog

ejul

The words chiseled in stone above the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court building say, “Equal Justice Under Law.” A truly noble philosophy – in theory.

But in actual fact, there’s nothing “equal” about justice in this country, and we’re not talking about racial, ethnic, religious, or gender issues here; although they certainly are a factor.  It’s a matter of just plain old “dollars and cents,” coupled with the statistical distribution of human capabilities. That is, the better the lawyer, the more money he/she can, and will, charge. This should not be surprising. It’s Economics 101 – supply and demand – the very bedrock foundation of capitalism. The better lawyers will be in higher demand – for those that can pay for them – and will consequently charge more money for their services. Lawyers are just like any other profession – doctor, mechanic, engineer, carpenter, tailor, chef, etc. – there’s…

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United States Supreme Court questions constitutionality of the death penalty

Although Richard Glossip‘s appeal to the Supreme Court failed today, there are signs that the death penalty may in future be declared unconstitutional.

Justice Breyer wrote:

“In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional infirmities in the death penalty could be healed; the Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those constitutional problems. Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed. Today’s administration of the death penalty involves three fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.”

He goes on to give an excellent analysis of the many problems with the death penalty, including the statement:

“In light of these and other factors, researchers estimate that about 4% of those sentenced to death are actually innocent.”

and concludes:

“For the reasons I have set forth in this opinion, I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. At the very least, the Court should call for full briefing on the basic question.”

I agree. It’s time to end the death penalty once and for all. It is both cruel and unusual punishment.

See here for some points in response to Justice Scalia.

More reaction at DPIC.

The End of the Death Penalty? By Robert J. Smith, Slate.com, July 2015

The Intercept Article by Liliana Segura.

Waiting is a Beast

I hadn’t heard of this approach before “Present to prosecutors, victim’s families.”

Wrongful Convictions Blog

Below is a link to a 17 minute video. This is Prof. Theresa Newman giving a recent TED Talk. She is co-director of the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic.

I have had the distinct honor and privilege of working with this lady on a number of wrongful conviction cases in North Carolina. She is one of those people who we should have many, many more of in this world.

Interestingly, I was deeply involved in both the cases she talks about. And I can say that, for all of us, the decision in Derrick’s case was truly a gut punch, as you will see. Unfortunately, this came at the same time that we lost “Al’s” case here in Ohio. Al had documentation and witnesses to prove he was in NY City at the time the murder was committed in Lorain, OH; but because of false eyewitness testimony, he was…

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Can Jodi Arias’ Sentencing Be Fair?

Good summary of the recent hearing in this featured case.

Dare to Think

arias3-largeIt took a three day evidentiary hearing and three weeks of arguing for a Mesa, Arizona police technician to admit that there was pornography present on Travis Alexander’s computer.  That might not sound like much, but it is at the center of a disturbing question in the capital case, were files deleted from the victim’s computer?

Judge Sherry Stephens must now decide whether prosecutorial misconduct in the case was egregious enough to dismiss the prosecution’s intent to seek the death penalty.

She has a few questions to answer:
1.  How is it possible for there to be pornography on the computer when police testified in court that there was none?
2.  Who deleted tens of thousands of files?
3.  Was it a deliberate act of misconduct?

Arias’ defense attorneys Jennifer Willmott and Kirk Nurmi and their forensic expert Bryan Neumeister explained to the court the computer contained viruses that had…

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Are Prosecutors Above the Law?

Great article on probably the underlying reason for most wrongful convictions : prosecutors being above the law. My view is direct elections are bad : justice and politics need to be well separated.

Wrongful Convictions Blog

From the DailyKos.com:

By Susan Grigsby

There is something terribly wrong with a justice system that allows an inordinate amount of power to reside in the hands of one office that not only has no real accountability or oversight, but is insulated from the consequences of its actions by court-granted immunity. And no, I am not talking about Supreme Court justices, but about prosecuting attorneys.

The prosecuting attorney—whether local, state, or federal—has an incredible amount of authority and discretion in how to exercise that authority. The prosecuting attorney decides how many, and what kind of charges are brought in criminal prosecutions. The prosecuting attorney has the ability to directly charge a crime, or to use a grand jury for more serious crimes, to indict a defendant. The prosecuting attorney has the authority to offer plea bargains.

And while there should be some type of accountability other than election, and…

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How the “system” is cruel to the innocent – killing them three times over

The system can be so cruel to the innocent.

First, the innocent are told to plead guilty.. or they may be executed or receive a heavier sentence.

Then, they are told to show remorse for something they didn’t do.. or they will be executed.

Then, if they are not executed, they are told to show remorse.. or they cannot be paroled.

They are tortured three times over. It is cruel.

See also Inspiration and comment and Innocent prisoner’s dilemma.