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Wrongful Convictions Around the World

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 02, 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.

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Can Our Criminal Justice System Accurately Detect Lies?

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 09, 2015 @ 4:10 PM — Comments (1)

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.

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Fraud Warning: Taking Money from the Vulnerable

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 30, 2014 @ 12:16 PM — Comments (0)

There are unscrupulous folks out there posing as legitimate innocence organizations who are targeting people in prison and their vulnerable mothers, wives, and other family members in order to take their money.  If this sounds harsh, consider the flyer below that was received by the Innocence Network.

Flyer received from Project Innocence of America

There is no such “Project Innocence of America,” or the other group to which the flyer asks for $1,000 checks to be made out, “Probable Grounds For Action.”  Another known imposter is “The Innocence Network at Bailey Law.” To incarcerated people and their anxious and distraught wives, mothers, children, and grandmothers, these bad guys guarantee release from prison in “five to eight years.” What the prisoners and their families will be is $1,000 poorer with no results.

Please NEVER SEND MONEY for legal services to anyone claiming to be an innocence organization.  ALL legal services provided by organizations like the Innocence Project of Florida, who are bona fide members of the Innocence Network, are FREE.

Please note the warning on our website and on most innocence organizations websites: “Fraud Alert: We have heard that there are people who fraudulently represent themselves as working for the Innocence Project of Florida, promising legal representation in exchange for money. These people do not work for the Innocence Project of Florida. If you believe you have been contacted by such a person, please contact us. The Innocence Project of Florida provides all legal representation for free. While we rely on charitable donations to support our work, we never solicit money for our services from our clients.”

If you or a loved one are approached by an organization posing as an innocence organization and asking for money to represent an incarcerated person, contact us or the Innocence Network so that we can take appropriate action against these dishonest endeavors.

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Florida Exoneree Finds Success Post-Exoneration

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 03, 2013 @ 12:41 PM — Comments (0)

Congratulations to Florida DNA exoneree Chad Heins, who graduated from Fox Valley Semi-Truck Driving Program in Appleton, Wisconsin. Upon graduation, he received numerous calls from companies interested in hiring him. He chose instead to work with his father who has a lifetime of experience driving semis. He has logged tens of thousands of miles on the in the last two months. He recently delivered 46,000 tons of lumber to Kentucky.

Heins lives in Wisconsin with his children and family. We wish him the best of luck in his new career path and the rest of his endeavors! Keep up the hard work!

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Court Certifies Innocence of Man Wrongfully Convicted of Arson

Alejandra de la Fuente — August 14, 2013 @ 11:12 AM — Comments (1)

James Kluppelberg, who was wrongfully convicted of arson that killed six people and sentenced to life in prison, was granted a certificate of innocence.

CT freedom03.JPGKluppelberg was convicted and spent 24 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit only to be exonerated on May 30, 2012 after  a Cook County Judge vacated his conviction. He was delighted to be released just in time to celebrate his 47th birthday as a free man.

An exoneration after proclaiming innocence since the inception of a case is ideal, but to walk around with a mistake on your record is hurtful not to mention a large reminder of the negligence of another.

Kluppelberg’s attorney opted for a certificate of innocence after his exoneration; however, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office fought the issuance of the certificate.

Now 14 months post exoneration, Kluppelberg has been issued his certificate by Judge Michael McHale and can finally put the past behind him and move on.

Congratulations James and we wish you luck in all of your future endeavors as a free man.


exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida,judicial,post-conviction,Uncategorized,

Washington Man Eligible for Compensation Due to New Law

Alejandra de la Fuente — August 07, 2013 @ 10:51 AM — Comments (0)

Innocence Project Northwest exoneree, Alan Northrop, is now eligible for compensation for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment under a new state law that went into effect Sunday.

Northrop, 49, spent 17 years in prison for rape until his exoneration in 2010 due to DNA evidence.

Under House Bill 1341, Northrop is eligible to receive $50,000 for each year he was imprisoned plus payment of all child support debt. According to the bill, if Northrop receives restitution for all 17 years he will receive a total amount of $850,000.

alan-northropThe amount of money provided by the state is a large amount, but  will never make up for the time stolen from Northrop and his children; however, it is a step in the right direction to correct this terrible wrong.

As of now, only 27 states plus Washington D.C. have statues providing compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Under the new Washington bill about a dozen more exonerees will be eligible for restitution.

Since his exoneration, Northrop has been working to rebuild his life and reconnecting with his three children. The new bill also provides his three children with free tuition at state universities until age 26.

20110402-223457-pic-34351494_t640Congratulations to Alan Northrop, and his children; their daddy is finally home.

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Exoneree Compensation Lawsuit Sandbagged When City Declares Bankruptcy

Alejandra de la Fuente — August 07, 2013 @ 10:49 AM — Comments (0)

After spending nearly a decade behind bars for a crime he did not commit, Dwanye Provience sued Detroit in 2010 in a lawsuit that includes a cop accused of withholding evidence and would likely have made Provience a millionaire. But on July 18, just as his lawsuit was gaining momentum, the city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, effectively freezing all lawsuit cases against it and leaving Provience facing the prospect of waiting years for an uncertain payday, or worse, collecting pennies on the dollar in bankruptcy court.

Provience and his lawyer have been working on this case for three years now. The bankruptcy filing may add one more. “It seemed like a slap in the face,” Provience says, “because when I was released, there wasn’t even an apology from the City of Detroit or the police department….”

Provience’s case serves to highlight the importance of having a state compensation law for the wrongfully convicted on the books. Michigan is one of the twenty-one states that still does not have any sort of compensation law. States are urged to pay the wrongfully convicted a fixed amount or range for each year spent in prison and it is worth noting that then-President George W. Bush supported a congressional recommendation that paid $50,000 for each year a wrongfully convicted federal prisoner spends behind bars.

A judgement or settlement with Detroit would help Provience provide for his three children and maybe allow him to open a gym one day, a personal goal of his. It is possible U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes could lift the automatic stay that halted all pending lawsuits against the city. And while Provience’s future is uncertain, he is grateful to finally be back on the outside, living the life he chooses for himself.

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Innocent Children Fall Victim to Wrongful Convictions

Alejandra de la Fuente — July 30, 2013 @ 10:19 AM — Comments (1)

In recent years with a growing number of exonerations of innocent individuals, there needs to be a discussion about who is effected by wrongful convictions. Of course the individual who is incarcerated for a crime he or she did not commit is considered victim number one, but where do the victim’s children fall on that extensive list?

sad_black_girlAccording to the the KIDS COUNT Data Center, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation providing information regarding the well-being of children and families in the United States, 24,718,000 children live in single parent households. That number represents 35 percent of the children in the nation. In Florida, 1,493,000 kids are living with a single parent, which is 39 percent of the children in the state and the number continues to grow yearly.

In 1980, Luis Diaz  – father of three – was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a crime he was adamant he was innocent of. Twenty-five years later, with the help of the Innocent Project of Florida and the Innocence Project, Diaz was exonerated. At the time of of his conviction, Diaz’s three children were ages 6, 8 and 14.

white and black girlCHAT First: Children and Teens First, a website developed by the Children and Families in Transition Project, reports the ages of Diaz’s children were crucial ones for their development. Children in the age group 5 to 8 frequently miss the parent they are not spending time with deeply and can become highly emotional resulting in early depression, and teenagers between the ages of 12 to 18 are more likely to react in anger due to the absence of a parent.

It would be an immense reach to blame wrongful convictions as the primary cause of children growing up with single parents, because numerous circumstances play a part. However ripping a father away from his children at such an acute time in their development to have him labeled as a murderer or rapist is more than cruel; it is also avoidable. Children of Diaz and many of the exonerees were robbed of the chance to have their fathers watch them in school plays, congratulate them for A’s on report cards, send them off to school dances and to create lifelong memories during family vacations; the question remains why.

Imprisoned at age 22, William Dillion had the opportunity to have children of his own ripped away from him after spending 27 years in prison due to a miscarriage of justice. As Dillion mentions the injustice of fatherhood being hijacked from the palms of his hands in Unlock The Truth, his voice cracks, his chin drops, and his eyes water with emotion, and the questions remains, why?

On April 4, 2011, Derrick Williams became the 13th Florida DNA exoneree, but not before serving 18 years in prison for a crime he was innocent of, and almost two decades away from his son Omar Edwards.

Why should innocent children grow up without a parent if they don’t have to? Why should a man be robbed of the the opportunity to be a father if he is willing and able to take on that responsibility? The answer to these questions are buried beneath bad lawyering, prosecutorial misconduct, eyewitness misidentification, unreliable or limited science as well as other elements that make up the body of causes of wrongful convictions. Unlocking the truth can no longer be the job of one, but must be the duty of many. It is truly a myth that only innocent prisoners are effected by wrongful convictions and now that we are aware of the far reach of wrongful convictions, we must do our part to help correct this growing issue, if not for ourselves, then for the innocent children.

Preschool Daycare




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NPR Shines Spotlight on Exoneree

Alejandra de la Fuente — July 24, 2013 @ 3:33 PM — Comments (0)

This past week’s Weekend Edition on NPR featured Oklahoma exoneree Dennis Fritz, who was wrongfully convicted of rape and murder and served eleven years of a life sentence before DNA confirmed he was innocent and implicated another man for the crime.

Fritz talks about his experiences and how his wrongful incarceration affected him and his life – prior to his conviction, he was raising his twelve year old daughter alone. When he was released she was twenty-four.

You can listen to the segment and read an overview here.

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Daniel Taylor Exonerated in Chicago After Two Decades

Alejandra de la Fuente — July 02, 2013 @ 3:05 PM — Comments (0)

On June 28th with the help of the Center On Wrongful Convictions, Daniel Taylor was released from Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois after spending more than two decades behind bars for a 1992 double-slaying that, according to police records, would have been impossible for him to commit.

CT  MET-AJ-1-DANIEL-TAYLORTaylor was 17 when he and seven other young men were arrested in December 1992 for the murders a month earlier of a couple in their Chicago apartment. Police and prosecutors alleged that four men acted as lookouts while four others killed the couple at around 8:45 pm. But after Taylor (falsely) confessed, he told detectives he had been in police custody the night of the murders and therefore, did not commit the murders. Police records indeed showed that he was arrested for disorderly conduct at 6:45 pm and was not released until 9:45pm. Nonetheless, Taylor was convicted when prosecutors still tried him and convinced the jury that the confession was more credible than the police records supporting Taylor’s alibi.

Despite such strong evidence, over the two decades after his arrest, he experienced setback after setback and was repeatedly rebuffed by Cook County prosecutors who put more stock in his lengthy confession than in police records and even the testimony of police officers demonstrating the accuracy of his alibi.

This past Friday, though, during a brief court hearing, a prosecutor announced that the office was finally dismissing Taylor’s conviction. He walked out of the maximum-security prison into a hot and sunny late afternoon with $41 in his pocket into the embrace of his brother, his brother’s fiancee, and his mother, whom he had not seen since his trial in 1995.

There is a long road ahead of him as he is facing a society that is wholly changed from the one he left. “My eyes are registering freedom,” he said, “but inside my body still feels the prison tension.”

Best of luck, Daniel!

And congratulations to everyone who work so hard to ensure him his rightful freedom!

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