Wrongful Convictions Around the World

Samantha Adams — March 2, 2015 @ 4:48 PM — Comments (0)

Some causes of wrongful convictions are intertwined with weaknesses specific to the American criminal justice system. However, wrongful convictions are certainly not unique to the USA. Problems like mistaken eyewitness identifications are symptoms of a normal human memory, and thus can exist regardless of the country where the alleged crime takes place. Further, some country’s criminal justice systems experience the same weaknesses as America’s does, and sometimes the problems may be even worse.

For example, although the Japanese criminal justice system is often lauded for its 99 percent conviction rate, it isn’t surprising that along with such a high conviction rate comes some questionable practices. The BBC wrote an article detailing some of the coercive procedures that Japanese police use when interrogating suspects, explaining that most convictions in Japan are hinged on the defendant confessing, which, given these coercive procedures, are at risk for being false.

A rape case in late 2014 in Afghanistan highlights some of the difficulties the Afghan criminal justice system faces, such as police torture, the public’s desire for “justice”, and political interference.

Post-exoneration law also differs by country. While exonerees in the United Kingdom face stringent guidelines dictating whether or not they can be compensated for their time spent in prison, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, and Spain all guarantee compensation for damages caused by judicial errors in their constitutions.

While the Innocence Project of Florida and other American innocence organizations focus specifically on defendants convicted in the particular states that they represent, there is also work being done in other countries to free the wrongfully convicted. Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and Taiwan all have organizations that are members of the Innocence Network, which you can read about here. China has recently been taking action to reform their criminal justice system to prevent miscarriages of justice. And some exonerees, like Fernando Bermudez, travel internationally to tell their stories and call the world’s attention to the wrongfully convicted. Although wrongful convictions are a worldwide problem, it is comforting to know that the fight against them is worldwide as well.

For further reading, The National Institute of Justice published an extremely informative report describing international practices related to wrongful convictions.

exoneration,legislation,Uncategorized, , , , ,

 Print this post —  Share


Innocent Man Gains Freedom After Nearly 30 Years of False Conviction

Phuc Phan — February 19, 2015 @ 5:15 PM — Comments (0)
la-la-na-illinois-dna-exonerated-wre0026972445-20150211

Image Courtesy : LA Times.

Christopher Abernathy, 48, claimed his freedom one more time after the Cook County State’s Attorney lifted his life sentence. The last year DNA test had excluded Abernathy from previous DNA evidence obtained many years ago. He was 18 when he was arrested in the rape and murder of 15-year-old Kristina Hickey, who disappeared Oct.3, 1984. Back in the ‘80s, Abernathy signed an admission of guilt – which Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez called “quite thin”, since Abernathy has a “diminished mental capacity”. So for now, the killer of Kristina Hickey has still not been identified.

exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida,Press Release, , , , ,

 Print this post —  Share


Thirteen Exonerees Already This Year: The Registry Keeps Count

Samantha Adams — February 11, 2015 @ 3:54 PM — Comments (0)

We are just barely in to 2015, but this year’s exoneration count is already going strong. Filtering by year through the National Registry of Exonerations website, we can see that as of February 11, 2015, 13 people have been exonerated in 2015.

The Registry website also has many other options to help you filter through cases.  For example, you can arrange exonerations by year of conviction, contributing factors to the wrongful conviction, and, whether DNA evidence was used in the exoneration process. The detailed view offers even more information, providing columns that code more specific information about each case. For example, there are codes that signify if a case involved Shaken Baby Syndrome, or if the innocent person was exonerated posthumously. Further, clicking on the last name of each exoneree brings you to a page with a narrative write-up of the crime they were convicted for, what contributed to their wrongful conviction, and how they were exonerated.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of the Registry is its mission to not only record current and previously documented exoneration cases, but to also discover previously unknown exonerations. Exonerations are just the tip of the iceberg of wrongful convictions, as there are certainly many wrongful convicted people that have never been exonerated, but the Registry’s success in uncovering undocumented exonerations proves that even our current exoneration counts cannot even come close to giving us a full picture of exonerations, let alone how many wrongful convictions there are. An example of one such previously unknown case is Kenneth Treadwell, who was exonerated in September 1999, but was not added to the site until January of this year.

On the other hand, the most recently exoneration listed is that of Michael Waithe, who was exonerated on January 30, 2015, for a burglary he was falsely accused for that never actually occurred.

Besides providing a wealth of information about specific exoneration cases in the U.S., the National Registry of Exonerations website also offers general information about wrongful convictions and exonerations. And recently, Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, has noted the increased willingness of prosecutors to investigate claims of innocence, and the increase in numbers of conviction integrity units, which are designed “to prevent, to identify, and to remedy false convictions”.

To learn more, you can visit the Registry’s website yourself and browse around. You can also follow the National Registry of Exonerations on Facebook and Twitter to get updates on news relating to exonerations.

Innocence Project of Florida,

 Print this post —  Share


Can Our Criminal Justice System Accurately Detect Lies?

Samantha Adams — February 9, 2015 @ 4:10 PM — Comments (0)

The ability to accurately assess the veracity of statements is an important component of the criminal justice system. We depend on police officers to determine if a suspect is lying or telling the truth; we depend on juries to determine if the defendant’s case or the prosecutions’ case is more believable; we depend on parole boards to determine if a prisoner is ready to be returned to society. In other words, we place a great amount of trust in people’s ability to differentiate between a truthful statement and a lie. The question is, do we place too much trust in this ability? Are humans able to function as accurate lie detectors, or are our attempts to determine the truth just a shot in the dark?

Psychological research suggests that some people are certainly better than others at detecting whether someone is lying or telling the truth; we call these people “wizards”. Research has also shown, however, that employees of the criminal justice system, from judges to police to FBI agents, are no better than the average person at detecting lies, and that the commonly used Reid interrogation method is detrimental for lie detecting abilities.

Rachel Adelson has published an informative article on indicators of lying and on training of law-enforcement officers to be better at detecting liars, and Richard Gray has published a similar article, pointing out many common misconceptions about our ability to detect lies. These articles show a glimmer of hope that lie detecting abilities can be improved and honed. However, psychologist Maureen O’Sullivan advises that efforts be reserved for refining the talents of “wizards” and other individuals who already show some innate talent at determining truthfulness, and cautions that even those who are naturally good at lie detecting still need to put in a considerable amount of work to improve their skills to a useful level.

Another important research finding is that police officers and other authority figures tend to have great confidence in their ability to detect lies even if their lie detecting abilities are no better than the average person’s. Further, jurors place a great amount of trust in the decisions of police officers, believing law enforcement to be more accurate in lie detecting than the average person. So while police can be wrong just as often as you or I would be, police officers themselves and jurors that listen to the police officers’ findings are much more convinced that the police’s conclusion is the right one.

And while the status of human’s lie detecting abilities is still up for debate, it’s now commonly accepted that the polygraph, a machine invented by Leonarde Keeler in the 1930s designed to detect lies, is not up to par. Polygraph tests are no longer admissible as evidence in federal court, and most states have followed suit. Although many people are still under the impression that the polygraph is always able to tell if someone is being deceitful, at best, the polygraph functions as a measure of psychological intimidation designed to push suspects towards confessing.

Weaknesses in lie detecting can largely contribute to wrongful convictions. Police mistakenly determine that an innocent suspect is lying about their innocence, and are confident in their determination. They may administer a lie detector test that further bulks up their confidence and may even produce a confession. Prosecutors, juries, judges, and sometimes even defense attorneys often end up being convinced by the police, rather than assessing the evidence and facts for themselves and “checking the police’s work”, and an innocent suspect ends up convicted and sentenced. Our justice system is based on the assumption that we can accurately determine the truth, but does not have enough safeguards in place to ensure that the truth is always actively sought. This is just another example of how wrongful convictions are not a problem that is easily solved, and require changes at all levels of the criminal justice system.

judicial,justice,Uncategorized, , , , , ,

 Print this post —  Share


More Than a Mistake: The Manipulation Inherent in False Confessions

Samantha Adams — January 27, 2015 @ 10:22 AM — Comments (0)

It is difficult to learn that people are convicted for crimes they did not commit. Accepting the existence of wrongful convictions means facing the fact that America’s criminal justice system is not infallible. But we must acknowledge that while our legal system portrays itself as only punishing those who are guilty, there are many weak areas where the innocent can mistakenly slip through the cracks. For example, it is extremely common for eyewitnesses to inadvertently identify an innocent person, as did Jennifer Thompson when she wrongly identified Ronald Cotton as the man who raped her. The jury, strongly influenced by the eyewitness testimony, thus convicts the innocent man. In such a case, neither the jury nor the eyewitness intends to be unjust; they mistakenly believe that they have correctly identified the criminal.

Unfortunately, there are also instances where wrongful convictions are more than a mistake. While some wrongful convictions can be at least partially explained away by human error, other cases show signs of outright manipulation. A strong indicator that some sort of deception or coercion was inherent in the wrongful conviction is the existence of a false confession.

Police interrogations are a common source of manipulation leading to false confessions. In a recent study, psychologists Stephen Porter and Julia Shaw found that not only is it surprisingly easy to create false memories of committing crime, but also that many of the methods that lead to the creation of these false memories are commonly employed in police interrogations as part of the Reid technique. For example, interrogations following the Reid technique are designed to be accusatory and to elicit a confession from the suspect, and often make use of false evidence and social pressures. All of these methods were employed by Porter and Shaw in their study, and contributed to the creation of the participants’ false memories. In other words, police interrogations are not always intended to correctly identify the culprit; rather, the police often assume that the suspect is guilty and do whatever it takes to force a confession out of him or her, including manipulating the suspect’s memory and producing a false confession.

Eddie Joe Lloyd’s case provides an even more straightforwardly deceitful example of how police interrogations can lead to false confessions. Police convinced the mentally ill Lloyd that by incriminating himself in the 1984 murder of a 16-year-old girl, he would influence the real culprit to confess and thus be helping the police solve a crime. Of course, police instead used his confession to implicate Lloyd himself, and he was sentenced to life in prison, which he served until being exonerated with DNA evidence in 2002. It’s clear, then, that the manipulation involved in police interrogations is not harmless. Confessions are extremely powerful evidence that often lead to conviction, and police who use these sorts of coercive strategies to encourage suspects to falsely confess are a major player in wrongful convictions.

Police are not the only ones guilty of manipulative techniques, however. Prosecutors also play a role in encouraging false confessions through the practice of plea bargaining. Judge Jed S. Rakoff has written an informative article about how prosecutor’s offers of a plea bargain can lead innocent people to plead guilty. While it may seem like plea bargains actually offer defendants a good deal, for example, serving life in prison instead of being charged with the death penalty if they simply plead guilty to the crime without a trial, we must remember that these bargains can be a deal with the devil. If an innocent person has been so far implicated in a crime that he or she is forced to go to court, he or she may believe there is no possibility of being proved innocent, and will instead resort to taking whatever scraps the prosecutor throws at them in the form of a plea bargain. The innocent person is then stuck with a charge and prison time, and faces the obstacle of going against his own confession if he ever wants to prove himself innocent. Rakoff notes that an estimated 2 to 8 percent of convicted felons are actually innocent and plead guilty to avoid harsher sentences, and that 10 percent of the Innocence Project’s exonerations had previously plead guilty to their charge. Plea bargains can certainly be a temptation that is hard to avoid.

Too many innocent people are being manipulated to falsely confess and subsequently convicted based on these false confessions. The fact that players in the criminal justice system are actually working in ways to encourage these false confessions is an unfortunate truth that must be recognized in the fight against wrongful convictions.

exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida,judicial,justice,Prosecutorial misconduct,Science, , , ,

 Print this post —  Share


Challenges Experienced by the Innocent After Exoneration

Samantha Adams — January 14, 2015 @ 3:15 PM — Comments (0)

For any released prisoner, regardless of guilt or innocence, the transition from jail to freedom is difficult. Ex-prisoners must re-adapt to the demands and social norms of every day life, all while dealing with the stigma that having been incarcerated brings. Yet, while many prisoners who are released on parole or at the expiration of their sentence have access to social workers, parole officers, halfway houses, and other services designed to guide them through this difficult transition, prisoners who are found innocent and exonerated are not eligible for these services. Keith Findley of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, in regards to the case of Forest Shomberg, who was exonerated in 2009 without access to any transitional services, sums up the issue nicely—

“If you’re guilty of a crime, you get more support from the state when you’re released than if you’re innocent.”

Although there are methods in place for exonerees to receive monetary compensation, either through state wrongful conviction compensation statutes or by filing civil rights claims, this is often a lengthy process that may not prove to be fruitful (as discussed in this previous blog post). In the meantime, the exoneree is left penniless and without the ability to support themselves. Frank Graves, exonerated in 2010 after being incarcerated for 18 years, laments

“I walked out from solitary confinement out onto the streets with nothing.”

This scenario is all too common for the wrongfully convicted in Florida, as the state releases exonerees with nothing more than the possessions they had on them when they entered the prison and a one-way bus ticket. The state does not acknowledge their own wrongdoing, or the difficulties that the exoneree will soon be facing in the outside world.

For example, exonerees often struggle to afford legal fees, medical bills, counseling, and other services that are necessary to get back on their feet. They face emotional challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder or feelings of alienation from society and family members, as exemplified in this New York Times article about exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic. And because records are not always expunged and the charges for which the exonerees were wrongly convicted often received much public attention, exonerees face difficulties proving themselves worthy of employment, making it even more difficult to succeed.

In other words, the battle isn’t over once the innocent are exonerated; there is still much to be done to ensure their successful reintegration into society. One step being taken by the Innocence Project of Florida is the Exoneree Support Fund, which provides exonerees with support, food, clothing, shelter, and health services during their transition from incarceration to freedom. IPF was the first innocence organization to have a full-time social worker on staff to provide assistance to exonerees and to manage the Exoneree Support Fund. We have been fortunate to have been funded for the next three years by the Archibald Foundation of Tallahassee in support of the Exoneree Support Fund. By recognizing and addressing the difficulties inherent in the transition to freedom, we assert that we still care about the wrongfully convicted even when they are no longer behind bars.

Compensation,exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida, , ,

 Print this post —  Share


Please Give Generously to the Innocence Project of Florida

Marianne Salcedo — December 16, 2014 @ 5:27 PM — Comments (0)

My end-of-year appeal to you is short and heartfelt. Through your generous donations, the Innocence Project of Florida frees innocent men and women from Florida prisons.

Today, our exonerees shout the joy of freedom, but most were serving life sentences. Without you and the Innocence Project of Florida, they might have died in prison with no one ever to hear them or help them.

All of them were young with their lives ahead of them; all of them had mothers and fathers; all were shackled and locked up. Collectively, Florida’s 14 DNA exonerees were imprisoned for more than a quarter of a millenium (268 years) for crimes they did not commit. For a very long time, no one heard their cries.

We hear them. The Innocence Project of Florida currently has more than 30 cases in litigation and we are anticipating up to three new exonerations in 2015. We receive hundreds of requests from prisoners each year — but we cannot help them without you.

For the sake of every innocent man and woman who is spending this holiday season locked up in prison hoping for a miracle, please donate generously to the Innocence Project of Florida. Do not let them spend another year behind bars.

Thank you. I wish you a happy and peaceful New Year— and one that is filled with miracles!

Sincerely,
Seth Miller, Esq.
Executive Director

Charitable Giving,exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida,justice,prison, , , , , ,

 Print this post —  Share


Giving Tuesday: Support the Innocence Project of Florida

Marianne Salcedo — December 1, 2014 @ 12:23 PM — Comments (0)

On the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, December 2, 2014, is Giving TuesdayGiving Tuesday was begun in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York and the United Nations Foundation as a way to honor the holiday season and counter the tedious commercialism that threatens to take over our most sublime holidays.

Giving Tuesday reminds us all to take a moment to do something meaningful by making a donation to support our favorite charitable nonprofit organization.  As you know, the Innocence Project of Florida relies on charitable contributions to pursue its mission to:

Find and free the innocent in Florida prisons, help those who have been released rebuild their lives, and work to prevent wrongful convictions from happening in the future.

Your generous donations to the Innocence Project of Florida elevate our cause and enable us to help free more and more innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated in the State of Florida.  Your gift will make that happen.

To make an online donation, go to IPF’s donation website by clicking here.  You may also send a check to IPF at 1100 East Park Avenue, Tallahassee, FL 32301.

Thank you for your wonderful support of the Innocence Project of Florida!

.

 

Innocence Project of Florida, , ,

 Print this post —  Share


Press Release: Seth Miller Elected President of Innocence Network

Marianne Salcedo — November 19, 2014 @ 12:30 PM — Comments (0)

Tallahassee, FL (November 18, 2014) — On November 14, 2014, Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) was elected President of the Innocence Network. Miller has served on the Innocence Network Executive Board since 2012.

The Innocence Network is an affiliation of 69 organizations around the globe dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted and working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions.

“The Innocence Network is comprised of brilliant and skilled individuals at innocence organizations in the United States and abroad, who are fighting every day to rectify miscarriages of justice in the criminal justice system. Without their collective work, hundreds of innocent individuals would still be languishing in prison and we would not have a vital window through which to identify the myriad causes of wrongful conviction. It is an honor and privilege to be chosen by my colleagues to lead the Innocence Network in the coming years,” said Miller.

As executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida since 2007, Miller litigates post-conviction innocence cases, supervises the organization’s internship program, and regularly lectures to students, lawyers, and community groups on issues related to wrongful convictions. He also teaches Post-Conviction Remedies and Wrongful Convictions as an adjunct professor at the Florida State University College of Law.

“Seth’s election to the presidency of the Innocence Network will serve to nationally highlight innocence work in Florida and provide a broader platform to the Innocence Project of Florida and its mission,” said Robert Cromwell, retired FBI Special Agent and Chairman of IPF’s Board of Directors.

 ###

 

Press Release,

 Print this post —  Share


Press Release: Extreme Injustice — A Presentation by Exoneree William Dillon

Marianne Salcedo — November 18, 2014 @ 12:09 PM — Comments (0)

Extreme Injustice: A Presentation by Exoneree William Dillon

At Tallahassee Community College

Tallahassee, FL (November 10, 2014) — On Tuesday, November 18, 2014, the sixth anniversary of his release from prison, exoneree William Dillon will present a talk at Tallahassee Community College in the Center for Workforce Development Ballroom. Dillon will be joined by Attorney Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida. This event begins at 1:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

On November 18, 2008, William Dillon was freed from prison after 27 years when post-conviction DNA testing demonstrated his innocence of a 1981 murder. At the time of his release, Dillon’s 27 years was the longest time served by any of the DNA exonerees nationwide. He is the third man to be exonerated in Brevard County in recent years.

The State’s case against Dillon was based largely on the testimony of four key witnesses — an admitted perjurer, a fraudulent dog scent expert, a snitch whose charges were dropped in return for his testimony, and a half-blind eyewitness — as well as a t-shirt worn by the killer, which revealed through DNA testing that Dillon was not the murderer.

In March 2012, the State of Florida awarded Dillon $1.35 million ($50,000 for each year he spent wrongfully imprisoned), and he received a formal apology from Governor Rick Scott. “On behalf of the state of Florida, I apologize for what’s happened to you,” Scott said. On the Today Show, Dillon told Ann Curry, “I’m very blessed. It’s beyond anything anybody can really imagine.”

Today, Dillon has taken up professionally the music that helped him to survive as an innocent man in prison. He has been compared by many to Johnny Cash, and his single, “Black Robes and Lawyers” is available for download on iTunes. Most recently, William Dillon’s story was optioned by the Motion Picture Corporation of America. For more information, contact Marianne Salcedo at the Innocence Project of Florida at 850-350-1004.

 

###

Innocence Project of Florida,Press Release,

 Print this post —  Share

Older Posts »
© Copyright Innocence Project of Florida, Inc. This web site is supported in part by grants from The Florida Bar Foundation.