Certificates of Innocence for the Exonerated?

Taylor Thornton — March 21, 2018 @ 12:12 PM — Comments (0)

Certificates of actual innocence are the highest form of expunging one’s criminal record. These certificates go beyond just sealing the charge from the party’s criminal record but also recognizes that the charge should have never existed and the party should have never been arrested in the first place. A certificate of actual innocence is only available to those who were convicted of crimes that they were later found innocent of.

A certificate of innocence is important to exonerated individuals because a mark on a criminal record can unfortunately persist to damage their life even following an exoneration. Having charges on one’s criminal record can bar exonerees from many parts of life and can damage their career, their image, and that of their family. A criminal record can keep them from being able to rent a home, from getting a good job, from being approved for a loan, and much more. An exonerated individual should not continue to suffer such struggles after they have already suffered a false arrest or conviction. An innocent person should never suffer the damages for a crime they did not commit.

It seems obvious that those found innocent and exonerated of false convictions deserve certificates of innocence, at the least, as a step to begin rebuilding their damaged lives. However, this is not so simple in many states. Following a massive scandal in Chicago surrounding police Sergeant Ronald Watts, numerous convictions have been overturned. It was found that this sergeant’s corruption was responsible for numerous wrongful convictions and those were subsequently overturned last year with more cases expected to surface as time goes on. A number of men who served time in prison because of these false convictions have received formal certificates of innocence as is laid out in Illinois statute.

However, an issue has come up for some of Sergeant Watts’ victims. According to Illinois statute, certificates of innocence can only be rewarded to those who actually served time in prison for their wrongful convictions. This has left five innocent men, who were only sentenced to probation in their cases, denied these certificates. These men are planning to appeal their cases to a higher court, but as it currently stands in Illinois statute they do not have a right to a certificate of innocence unless they spent time in prison.

This is a serious flaw in the system that allows innocent people to fall through the cracks. While few things can compare to the damage done by serving time in prison, a criminal record of any kind comes with the same stigma and societal damages. Even though these men avoided the harsh punishment of incarceration they still endured the struggles of being on supervision and they can still be barred from access to things like homes and jobs because of their records. An innocent person deserves their innocence regardless of what level to which they have suffered. The state is denying these men a fully cleaned slate simply because they were not damaged enough in the eyes of the courts. Any damage done to an innocent citizen because of a crime they never committed is too much damage. Every exoneree deserves formal innocence declared by the courts.

Innocence Project of Florida, , , , , , , ,

 Print this post —  Share

The “Junk Science” Behind Bite Mark Analysis

Taylor Thornton — March 19, 2018 @ 3:21 PM — Comments (0)

Image result for bite mark analysis

Bite mark analysis is a portion of forensic odontology. It is a way to match marks on a victim’s body with a potential perpetrator’s teeth patterns, based on the theory that the victim was bitten by the suspect. Across the country in many different cases, bite mark evidence has been used at trial. Often, the bite mark evidence is the most powerful forensic evidence going against a defendant.

The problem is, bite mark analysis has no real science or research supporting it. There are a number of reasons why testimony regarding bite mark analysis can be incredibly flawed. One reason is that when comparing a suspect’s teeth to a bite mark on a victim, it is not nearly the same as comparing to an impression made at a dentist’s office. Typically the suspects teeth are being compared to a bite into soft tissue or skin. Human skin can heal, it can swell, the body may have even decayed between the time of the crime and when the body was discovered. All of these things can warp the clarity of the bite mark and damage the accuracy of trying to match up a dental impression with the bite. In addition, the teeth of the suspect are typically being compared to a photo of the bite rather than the actual bite, which further skews the reliability.

Another reason why bite mark evidence can be very misleading is that it is presented in court as being right alongside DNA evidence. This is simply not true, DNA is definitively unique to every individual person but bite patterns are simply not this scientifically unique. In fact, it is not even close. Different analysts have come to vastly different conclusions while evaluating the same bite mark evidence. It is dangerous to present such a subjective opinion as scientific physical evidence in court because that kind of evidence is highly persuasive to a jury.

Some experts say that bite mark evidence should only be used to eliminate a potential suspect based on the bite mark not being able to have come from them. At best, bite mark testimony should only conclude that the suspect cannot be excluded from the possibility of inflicting that bite. But, according to forensic dentists, if a bite mark is the only physical evidence against the suspect and the claim is that they are the only person who could have made that bite, that is junk not science.

Bite mark testimony has been responsible for numerous wrongful convictions. One notable case is that of Kennedy Brewer. Brewer was convicted of raping and killing a three-year old girl who was found in lake with several marks on her body that forensic odontologists deemed to be bite marks. It is unclear whether these marks could have come from animals or bugs living in the lake or whether the marks had any scientific integrity after the body had decayed in a body of water. Nevertheless, bite mark testimony convicted Kennedy Brewer of capital murder and sent him to death row. When Brewer was exonerated through post-conviction DNA tests, another innocent man was also able to be exonerated. Levon Brooks was serving his sentence for a very similar rape and murder. When the real perpetrator was found through DNA in Kennedy Brewer’s case, he was found to be responsible for the additional rape and murder that Brooks was convicted of.

Another notable case of wrongful conviction due to the influence of bite mark testimony is that of Ray Krone. After testimony in court from a bite mark expert saying that Krone’s teeth matched a bite mark on the victim, Krone was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. This bite mark analysis was the only physical evidence linking him to the crime. Ray Krone was released in 2002, after 10 years in prison, following DNA evidence proving his innocence. These men were fortunate enough to have their innocence proven. But, there are still countless others sitting in jail convicted of crimes because of the power of bite mark evidence testimony.

Innocence Project of Florida, , , , , , , , , , ,

 Print this post —  Share

The Consequences of America’s Opioid Epidemic

Taylor Thornton — March 5, 2018 @ 4:28 PM — Comments (0)

Image result for opioid epidemic

The Opioid epidemic in the United States has reached such extreme levels that it was declared a public health emergency in October of 2017. The focus of most of the attention around this issue lies in the concern for the thousands of lives lost each year to these addictions and the way that doctor prescribed pain killers often lead to a deadly heroin addiction. However, there is collateral damage done by this epidemic that is not spoken about as often. This drug crisis may be responsible for many cases of wrongful conviction in drug related crimes.

When discussing the issues in our crime labs as it relates to the opioid epidemic it is important to first discuss the role of the war on drugs. The repercussions of this country’s flawed attack on drug crimes starting back in the 1980’s can be seen today in the fact that drug crimes still account for the large majority of our prison population. This, of course, means that forensic laboratories across the country are handling a great deal of drugs as evidence. The high demand in labs across the nation also means that the standards are taking a toll. Workers in the lab are often untrained and unsupervised, and unacceptable conditions are allowed to persist. Today, working in a crime lab often means that you have unfiltered access, and typically unmonitored access, to a massive supply of drug samples. Whether that be evidence from a case or samples to test evidence against, you are likely to be handling drugs often.

It is also important to highlight the path that opioid addiction tends to take for it’s many sufferers. The large majority of those addicted to opioids began their problem with a doctor’s prescription. The problem with opioids is that the dosage constantly has to be increased for the same effects to be achieved. This is how regular people become addicts in a frighteningly small window of time. There are two reasons why this piece is important. First being, as this addiction gets its start, sufferers can be highly functional members of society. They can have jobs, even in a crime lab, as their fix is still being legally prescribed to them. The second reason is, these people are not typically the kinds of people who would want to access drugs from an illegal source when their prescription runs out, or even necessarily know how. That makes the readily available stocks of evidence in labs an easy-access source for functioning opioid addicts as opposed to trying to find them on the street.

If it seems shocking that drug addicts could be holding jobs in such a sensitive position and taking drugs without anyone’s notice, that’s because it is shocking. But, unfortunately, it is not untrue or even all that rare. Large scale sensationalized cases, like that of Sonja Farak who, because of her powerful addiction, diluted drug samples after stealing for herself and gave testimony in court while high, are responsible for thousands of wrongful convictions and are definitely more extreme examples.  However, scandals such as these in forensic labs, even if not so extreme, are happening often.

Now, how do these addicts working in labs contribute to wrongful convictions? The accused always have a right to a fair trial and a fair trial cannot include forensic testimony given while high, regarding evidence tested in the lab while under the influence as well. Even if the vast majority of those convicted of crimes based on the testing done by addicts are truly guilty, they did not receive a fair, honest trial. Drug labs that are so out of control that employees are getting high at work, with samples that they should be testing, cannot be giving testimony. This irresponsible behavior by crime labs and by prosecutors who cover up the extent of this misconduct, calls into question tens of thousands of what would be regular undisputed drug convictions.

What’s more, these poorly run and poorly monitored labs can also give way to the intentional tampering of evidence. Something as simple as adding extra weight to drug samples can raise a charge from possession to distribution to trafficking. Whether it’s an addict filling in what they’ve taken for themselves from a drug sample or someone with intent to help the prosecution snatch a larger conviction, its unjust.

As we watch opioid addiction turn into a national crisis and more and more scandals like these come to light, the question is begged what good, if any at all, has the war on drugs done for this country. The millions incarcerated in this country are overwhelmingly addicted to drugs and they are not shaking these addictions. Rather, they are getting out, going back to the same lifestyle, and re-entering the revolving door of our criminal justice system when they inevitably get arrested again. Incarcerating drug dealers and addicts in droves clearly has not positively impacted drug addiction in American families. As we stand almost 50 years into this unwinnable war, we stand in a nation under a health crisis of drug addiction. This has spiraled into the corruption that we see today in forensic labs and now wrongful convictions on behalf of drug-addicted chemists.

Innocence Project of Florida, , , , , ,

 Print this post —  Share

Exoneration Anniversary: Jason Krause

Taylor Thornton — March 1, 2018 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

Image result for jason krause innocent

Happy One Year Exoneration Anniversary to Jason Krause!

On June 24, 1994 an 18 year old man named Charles Thurman was shot and killed in his Jeep alongside his three friends Terry Eckerman, Amanda Miller, and Stacy Clark in Arizona. His friends testified that he had been causing his Jeep to backfire intentionally at the time when he was fatally shot. The shooting occurred near the home of 39 year old Jason Krause who at the time was out hunting skunks with his .22 caliber rifle. When he heard the car backfire he believed that he heard gunshots so he dropped to the ground at which point he believed that his gun accidentally fired. At least 12 people in the area that were interviewed by police said they heard gunshots that they believed to be coming from the Jeep. But when police told Krause that Thurman’s friends in the car with him reported that there was no guns in the car he told them that he must’ve been the one to shoot Thurman.

Krause was charged with second-degree murder and three counts of attempted second-degree murder. Eckerman, Miller, and Clark all testified in court that there were no guns in the car despite the .22 caliber shell casings found on the floor of Thurman’s Jeep. Another important piece of testimony came from FBI Special Agent Earnest Peele who testified as an expert in comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA). Peele testified that the bullets found in Thurman’s body and his tires were indistinguishable from those found in Krause’s home.

When it came time for Jason Krause to take the stand he admitted that he had been out hunting skunks with his .22 caliber at the time. He said he heard what he believed were several gunshots and the sounds continued to get closer. Krause testified that he was terrified and he hit the ground, at which time his riffle fired while the Jeep passed by. He admitted that he “must have shot that boy” but he did not recall how it happened.

In May of 1996 Krause was acquitted of second-degree murder but convicted of manslaughter and three counts of attempted manslaughter. He was sentences to 10 years and 6 months in prison and served his entire sentence.

In 2007, one year after Krause’s release, the FBI started a CBLA task force after shredding any validity of CBLA as a credible forensic science. In 2008 they sent a letter to the County Attorney’s office stating that the testimony Peele gave in Krause’s trial could not be supported by the FBI because it was not supported by science. Thus, Jason Krause reached out to the Arizona Innocence Project.

A post-conviction petition was filed by his attorneys in 2012 to overturn his conviction based on the invalid CBLA testimony. At an evidentiary hearing, one expert testified that it would have been impossible for Jason Krause to have been the one to fire the fatal shot that killed Thurman. Another expert testified that the fatal shot came from the back seat. The defense argued at the hearing that it simply was not possible that Jason Krause fired the fatal shot to Thurman’s head from 50 feet away as his Jeep sped by. His trial attorney argued that if he had known the lack of validity for CBLA, he would not have argued for an accidental shooting at trial.

In 2013 the petition was denied by Judge Rick Williams because, in his opinion, this information would not have changed the jury’s opinion. He stated that Krause’s confession led the jury to convict. However, the Arizona Court of Appeals granted Krause a new trial in 2015. The prosecution tried to appeal this decision but they were denied. Finally, on March 1st 2017, the charges against Jason Krause were dismissed when the prosecution denied to retry the case.

Innocence Project of Florida, , , , , ,

 Print this post —  Share

False Confessions: Who is Most Vulnerable?

Taylor Thornton — February 26, 2018 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

It is hard for most people to wrap their mind around why anyone would ever confess to a crime that they didn’t commit. It seems impossible to the average person to imagine themselves ever doing such a thing. Yet, a quarter of those exonerated after being wrongfully convicted of a crime gave some sort of confession. This shocking statistic begs the obvious question: why would someone ever confess when they are innocent? In this series of posts on false confessions, we will look at the circumstances that lead to a false confession and the powerful consequences they can have.

While anyone can find themselves in this situation, there are a number of factors that make individuals more likely to give a false confession. People vary in their ability to withstand the psychological pressures of interrogation. One of these factors is age. Social scientists have found that juveniles are overrepresented when examining the demographics of exonerees that once gave confessions. Juveniles are two to three times more likely to give false confessions than adults. They are often more susceptible to the pressures of coercion involved in police interrogation tactics. It is also likely that juveniles do not often fully understand the serious long-term consequences of giving that false confession. It may not to be clear to them that they will not be returning home to their families or going back to school the following day after giving these confessions.

The harsh psychological tactics that police officers use to yield confessions, isolation, the promises of help and leniency in return for a confession, and the relentless insistence that the accused is lying to them, are simply intended for adult criminals. It is a fact that juveniles’ minds are not fully developed yet. Particularly, the prefrontal cortex, notably responsible for problem-solving and decision making, is not fully developed until their early twenties. Meaning that, juveniles are often impulsive, lacking in reason and decision-making abilities, and most importantly they are motivated by short-term rewards. This makes it quite obvious why juveniles will confess to a crime they did not commit so that they can just go home like the detective makes them believe that they will, rather than weighing the long-term consequences of this short-term release from the pressure and stress of interrogation.

Another population that finds themselves just as vulnerable as juveniles are those with intellectual disabilities. For obvious reasons, people with mental handicaps often lack proper judgement, the ability to reason and make decisions, and the ability to understand the powerful implications of a false confession. They are susceptible to the pressures of interrogations in a similar way to juveniles as they can lack intellectual capabilities in similar areas. Additionally, however, social scientists have concluded that those with intellectual disabilities also have a high need for approval, and therefore often seek to give people what they want. This need is heightened in the presence of an authority figure. Because of their desire to please they are much more likely to submit to the demands of others and give the authority figure what they want.

Finally, they simply lack the same ability to cope with high levels of stress that others possess. Those with intellectual disabilities tend to find even regular levels of stress to be overwhelming and a police interrogation is extremely stressful for anyone. They tend to want to avoid conflict and are much more likely to just comply with the requests of the interrogators, even if that means giving a false confession, so that they can end the situation sooner.

One last population that is highly susceptible to the pressures of police interrogations is the mentally ill. The baseline for a coerced confession in people who are mentally ill is much lower than for other people. They may lack social skills such as assertiveness, the ability of executive functioning, have high anxiety, and lack the ability to separate reality from fantasy. What might not even seem like coercion to others, can serve to coerce a confession from someone who is mentally ill because they tend to be much more susceptible to the slightest amount of pressure. Thus, like the other populations that we discussed, the mentally ill are much more vulnerable to making false confessions and not understanding the consequences of making these confessions.

While these special populations do not necessarily make up the majority of false confessions, it is important to understand how they may be unfairly affected by interrogation tactics used by police. It is often the detectives only goal to yield some sort of confession. However, a false confession is the opposite of justice, it traps the innocent in the justice system and leaves the true guilty party on the streets. It is vital for police to have an understanding of who they are questioning and what kind of deficits the suspect may have that would bar them from responding in a regular way under the pressure of an interrogation.

Innocence Project of Florida, , , ,

 Print this post —  Share

After Exoneration: The Value of a Life

Taylor Thornton — February 22, 2018 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

It’s hard to put a price on the time lost behind prison walls. It is impossible to determine the monetary value of strained and broken relationships, birthdays and Christmases spent alone, years of lost wages, mental and physical suffering, or the missed opportunities to raise your own children or grandchildren. When a human life is so deeply damaged by such a grave injustice, it is necessary for the state to repair that damage to the best of their ability.

Only 32 states and the federal government have laws in place that define exactly how much money is awarded for wrongful convictions. Often this comes in the form of set amounts for each year served, but that number can vary greatly from state to state. The amount will also cap at a certain amount in some states and in many cases these cap at much too low a number. In Wisconsin, for example, there is a bill currently in state legislature aimed at fighting the very low cap of $25,000 for their wrongful conviction rewards.

As far as the other 18 states that make up our country, individuals in these states must fight for their own compensations by passing private bills or filing civil lawsuits if the former fails. This can lead to the incredibly unjust result of these exonerated people receiving no compensation at all if they are unable to get a bill passed or succeed in a civil suit. Even for those who do not win, they must still venture into this battle for justice after they have already had to battle for their own freedom. This is simply unjust and adds insult to injury.

In addition to money, they need help when they are released. Money does play a large role, if the compensation is large enough they can secure a place to live and not have to worry about seeking out employment, at least not for a while. But, they are still being thrown back into a new and unfamiliar world to start essentially from scratch. The average time served for a wrongful conviction is 14 years, and a lot can change in that time. While the freedom of being released is undeniably wonderful, for many of those released that is simply the beginning of a new set of struggles and problems for them. It is more than enough of a hardship to try to readjust to life in the real world outside of the horrors endured behind prison walls. But, for many innocent people, they have no time to think about this upon their release because they have to worry about where they are going to live, how to get a job as many of them still remain with criminal records despite proving their innocence, many have to battle to earn back the custody of their children, and unfortunately many have to fight for any sort of compensation for their wrongful convictions, something that should come automatically.

Along with a substantial monetary compensation for the time taken away from the victims of wrongful convictions, the state needs to provide additional services. Mental and physical health services are needed for those leaving prison. Therapy is essential to help deal with the psychological damage of years spent away from family and friends for a crime they did not commit. In addition, prison presents a high risk for the spread of diseases and proper health services are necessary to evaluate the conditions of these people upon their release. Services are also needed to help them find affordable housing and a job that will employ them in spite of their records. The scars of their wrongful convictions often still serve as roadblocks for them to achieve these basic human necessities, despite their exoneration.

These services are needed to help victims to just initially get back on their fight. But, they need to go even more in-depth. These victims will need to be provided legal assistance to help them get their criminal records clear of their charges once they have been proven innocent. These charges will continue to hold them back from jobs, housing, and relationships as long as crimes that they are not guilty of remain on their record. They will also need legal assistance to fight for monetary compensation in many cases, to regain access to their children, or to sue if their constitutional rights were violated in the process of this wrongful conviction.

For those wrongfully convicted of a crime, finally being released from prison is likely to be the best day of their life. But, it is unfortunately not the end of their nightmarish experience.

Innocence Project of Florida, , , , ,

 Print this post —  Share

Exoneration Anniversary: Darryl Adams and Ronald Eubanks

Taylor Thornton — February 8, 2018 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

Happy Exoneration Anniversary to Darryl Adams and Ronald Eubanks!

On August 12, 1992, Darryl Adams and Ronald Eubanks were woken from their sleep on the street near a Salvation Army shelter by a police officer around 2 a.m. The officer had been sent over by a citizen who reported seeing a woman being raped nearby. Upon the officer waking the two men and the woman sleeping close by, the woman had initially denied being raped. But, once pulled away from the two men she told officers that Adams had, in fact, raped her and that Eubanks had attempted to as well. The two were arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault.

A month later, both men pled guilty to the charge in Dallas County Criminal District Court. They were each initially sentenced to 10 years of probation. But after being charged with a burglary Adams had his probation revoked and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Eubanks had his probation revoked as well and was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being caught using marijuana.

The co-defendants sought DNA testing over the next 20 years. Finally, with the help of the Innocence Project of Texas, a series of DNA tests were performed. A test of the rape kit done in 2014 uncovered a male DNA profile that did not match Adams nor Eubanks. Adams’ and Eubanks’ lawyers subsequently sought to vacate their convictions by filing similar state law petitions.

Adams’ writ was granted and petition vacated in March of 2016 by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the same occurred for Eubanks in December of 2016. One year ago today, on February 8, 2017 the prosecution dismissed the charges against Adams and Eubanks.

Innocence Project of Florida, , , , , , ,

 Print this post —  Share

Reasons for Exoneration: Witness Misidentification

Victoria Inzana — November 14, 2017 @ 10:48 AM — Comments (0)

In the past Reasons for Exoneration posts, we have focused on perjury and false accusations. These statements are typically made by a witness in an intentionally malicious manner. However, this is not always the case. These statements are known as a mistaken witness identification. According to Innocence Project research, eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful conviction. It has been found to have had a hand in wrongfully convicting about 70% of exonerees.

Despite the fact that research has proven that the human mind does not record events exactly as we see them, or recall them in exact chronological order, courts tend to find witness identifications to be very persuasive. This is why it makes up such a large percentage of wrongful convictions.

Some witness misidentification cases that the Innocence Project has worked on include a witness in a rape case being shown a photo array where the photograph of the suspect was the only photograph was marked with an “R”. Other cases include witnesses who “thought” the person “might be” the perpetrator when later, at trial, the jury was told that the witness had never wavered in their identification.

Because witness identification can be quite unreliable, there are many reforms which could be adopted to make it more accurate. Several procedures have been shown to significantly decrease the number of misidentifications such as:

  • Double- Blind/Blinded administration, where the officer administering the lineup is unaware of who the suspect is
  • A proper lineup composition, where the non-suspects in the lineup resemble the eyewitness’ description of the perpetrator, and the suspect appears similar to the fillers so he is not the only one of his race or facial hair
  • Standard Instructions, where the person viewing the lineup should be told that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup at that the investigation will continue regardless of the lineup result
  • Confidence Statements, which is a document that law enforcement will collect regarding the level of confidence the witness has in the identification made at the same time the identification is made.
  • Finally, a recording of procedures should be done whenever possible.


So far, 21 states and multiple jurisdictions have implemented these reforms.

The Innocence Project of Florida, partnering with the Innocence Project headquarters in New York, was also able to successfully pass a bill in April 2017 to reform eyewitness misidentification error here in the Florida Legislature. There is now a requirement that lineups are conducted using a double-blind or blinded procedure, and witnesses are instructed that the perpetrator may or may not be present. Should these practices be omitted, a court can consider noncompliance when deciding whether the identification can be admitted into evidence. The court must also instruct the jury that it consider whether law enforcement followed the eyewitness procedures when determining the reliability of a witness’s identification.

Innocence Project of Florida, , ,

 Print this post —  Share

Reasons For Exoneration: Inadequate Legal Defense

Victoria Inzana — October 27, 2017 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

On October 14th, 2016, Jules Letemps was exonerated from prison. He had been charged with sexual assault and kidnapping. At trial, his defense attorney failed to analyze the deposition of the forensic expert during the trial. This deposition contained details of the testing of semen which was found not to have belonged to Letemps, although the forensic expert could not be sure due to the amount of dilution the semen had undergone. During his incarceration, Letemps obtained the help of Centurion Ministries who fully examined this deposition, where experts in serology concluded that the forensic expert had applied an incorrect standard of testing the dilution of the semen. The experts employed by Centurion also excluded Letemps as the source of the semen- which was supposed to have been obtained by the attacker. The new evidence found by Centurion Ministries, combined with Letemps’ original alibi created so much doubt around his conviction that two days before Letemps’ retrial, he was exonerated.

A large problem that defendants have when at trial is obtaining an adequate defense. This post in the blog series Reasons for Exoneration, will focus on the inability of defense lawyers to properly represent their clients. Often states employ inexperienced, overworked, and sometimes incompetent defense lawyers due to a lack of funds to compensate lawyers for their work.

Should a defendant be convicted of a charge and request post-conviction help on the grounds of inadequate defense, and if an Innocence Project representative has the ability to prove inadequate defense (failure to investigate or sins of omission, for example), then the exoneree has not received a fair trial, has had their rights violated, and it is possible that they will be granted a new trial or the charges against them could be dropped altogether, as in the case of Jules Letemps.

The American Bar Association (ABA) has just recently completed an investigation into the Louisiana Public Defender system in February of 2017. During this investigation, the “Delphi Method” was used to determine the number of hours a defense lawyer should be spending on cases in order to present an adequate defense in court. This method consists of expert panels of public defenders and private defense lawyers estimating the amount of time that should be spent on a case. For a low-level felony case, lawyers should be spending an estimated 21.99 hours to investigate. For a felony case carrying a sentence of life without parole, the consensus was that a defense lawyer should be investigating the case for 200.67 hours. At their current rate, Louisiana state Public Defenders only have the capacity to be handling 21 percent of their workload effectively.

Due to this serious issue of inadequate defense, states such as Louisiana and Utah are currently being sued for a failure to meet the constitutional rights of their low-income defendants.  For example, in Louisiana Orleans Parish Chief District Defender Derwyn Bunton and Lousiana State Public Defender James T. Dixon Jr. are being sued after the creation of a waiting list for cases, since there are not enough public defenders to “ethically, constitutionally, or within standers handle those cases” which fall beyond the limited number set by Bunton. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana are suing on the grounds that this waiting list violates defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the 14th Amendment right to due process and equal protection of the laws. In the past, other states have been sued such as New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Idaho, California, and Missouri on similar grounds. Should the problem of inadequate defense remain unresolved, there will likely be more states to be sued in the coming future.

Some proposals to reform this broken system include increased funding for Public Defender’s offices and court-appointed attorneys, and to enact and abide by standards set for workload limits, professional independence, and training requirements. In 2004, Virginia led the nation in the number of executions per capita. Reform was passed after a study completed by a law professor tied the decline of death penalty cases to lack of defense lawyers. This prompted the state legislature to create a system of regional defense offices to handle trial-level capital cases. Since 2005, the average sentencing for a death penalty case doubled from one to two days, to four days. On top of that, Virginia hasn’t executed anyone since 2011. The “new” Virginia death penalty is never imposed, a death sentence is so freakish that it raises constitutional concerns. The reform in Virginia and other evidence presented in this article reinforces the words of Stephen Bright, “[The death penalty is] not imposed upon those who commit the worst crimes, but upon those who have the misfortune to be assigned to the worst lawyers.”


Innocence Project of Florida, , , ,

 Print this post —  Share

Reasons for Exoneration: Perjury or False Accusation

Victoria Inzana — October 20, 2017 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

Most people believe that the only reason innocent individuals are exonerated is due to new DNA evidence being revealed in their case. This blog series, Reasons for Exoneration, is intended to highlight the work that the Innocence Project accomplishes on cases that do not focus solely on DNA evidence.

This post is intended to focus on the role of perjury or false accusations in an exoneree’s trial. Perjury is known as the offense of willfully telling an untruth in a court after having taken an oath or affirmation. False accusations are when someone knowingly makes a charge of wrongdoing against another person. These perjury claims are usually proven based on a discrepancy between an initial deposition of a witness and their testimony on the stand. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, there have been 73 total exonerations in the year 2016 where perjury played a heavy role in the exoneration.

An example of a case occurred in Miami-Dade County. The defendant, Derrick Robinson had fit the description of a murderer, and so was arrested. During trial, there was an eyewitness who declared that Robinson was the killer. Robinson, who had claimed his innocence until trial had pled guilty to second-degree murder in 1989. After his conviction, another eye-witness came forward and identified a different man as the perpetrator. He revealed the actual perpetrator had threatened his family which leads to his false eye-witness report. After this new information was revealed, Robinson was exonerated in 1991.

If the testimony of the witness who had committed perjury or made a false accusation was an extremely large contribution to the initial conviction of our exonerate, and if it is possible for the representative of the Innocence Project to prove that perjury or a false accusation has happened, it is essential to an exoneree’s case.

Innocence Project of Florida, , , , ,

 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.