Henry Thompson — October 25, 2013 @ 11:50 AM — Comments (0)
Daniel Larson’s innocence was declared more than three years ago after spending 10 years in prison, and yet he still awaits his freedom. The circumstances surrounding Larson’s delayed release are complicated; his lawyer is believed to be at fault for submitting documents to the court later than he should have. Larson’s fiancee’ has started a petition for his immediate release from a California state prison that she will send to the Attorneys General. The petition can be viewed here, and more information about Larson and his case can be found at the LA Times.
The co-founder of the Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions Rob Warden is set to retire next year. Warden founded the Center in 1999 and helped 25 people regain freedom after being wrongfully convicted. Warden also played an instrumental role in the creation of the National Registry for Exonerations. Rob’s retirement is a huge loss for the community of lawyers and groups doing innocence work. He is a founder of our movement and he will be sorely missed. Yet, some are taking pot shots at him on his way out the door. When asked about Warden’s retirement, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said “It is our hope that the new leadership there will display a more respectful and fair-minded view of the work of the prosecutor, rather than the cynical ‘Us versus Them’ theory disseminated by Mr. Warden throughout the course of his tenure.” More information about Warden’s retirement can be found at the Chicago Tribune and the Wrongful Convictions Blog.
In the waning days of September, Clark County, Washington, agreed to settle a lawsuit over wrongful conviction with Larry Davis and Alan Northrop for $10.5 million. The two men were wrongfully convicted of rape in 1993. The men were exonerated thanks to DNA evidence proving that they were innocence and the stellar work of our friends at the Innocence Project Northwest. More information can be found at the National Police Accountability Project.
Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen spent almost 15 years in prison for the supposed molestation of children. Smith and Allen were due in court in 2009 for a records update. Upon their court date, the Judge realized that they were innocent thanks to the convoluted and clearly perjured evidence and they were freed. Unfortunately Mr. Allen’s freedom was taken from him again in 2011 as prosecutors appealed Mr. Allen’s acquittal to the Supreme Court of Ohio. Mr. Allen lost his right to appeal and may never be free again. Mrs. Smith must continue to fight for her own freedom. More information can be found at the Wrongful Convictions Blog.
Compensation,exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida,judicial,justice,legislation,policy, Alan Northrop, Anita Alvarez, clark county, joseph allen, larry davis, nancy smith, national registry of exonerations, ohio supreme court, retirement, Rob Warden, wrongful convictions blog
Henry Thompson — September 30, 2013 @ 2:01 PM — Comments (0)
A man has waited on death row in Texas for his exoneration for twenty years. Hank Skinner was convicted of murdering his then girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in January of 1993. The police failed to investigate another potential suspect, Twila’s uncle, who had a history of violent activity and molestation. At the trial, there was little mention of exculpatory evidence due to the fact that Skinner was at the scene of the murder. Upon his conviction, the jury recommended the death penalty. Skinner has been languishing on death row in Texas for twenty years all the while maintaining his innocence.
Now thanks to DNA testing Skinner may have a shot at regaining his freedom. Twila Busby’s uncle had often worn a jacket that was similar to the jacket found next to her body. Upon testing some hair on the jacket and in Twila’s hand it was found that the hairs belonged to her uncle. The District Attorney had made a promise to Hank Skinner that DNA testing would be allowed and taken into account though upon the test results being revealed the D.A was reticent to fulfill that promise.
After years of appeals and Skinner’s lawyers unsuccessfully fighting his case, Hank was to be executed, though at the last minute the state of Texas issued a stay of execution. Just one year later, the courts ruled that he would have access to the biological evidence in his case and justice would be served. Unfortunately for Hank and conveniently for Texas the original jacket that had already been tested was lost. However the hairs were still available. DNA testing on the hairs excluded Skinner and revealed a potential match to Twila’s uncle.
While the legal wrangling and testing has been going on, Hank was living on death row. Spending the majority of his days in a cramped small cell eating terrible food has begun to take its toll. Hank Skinner was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis recently and is back on death row while a resolution to his case is pending. What’s worse is that Twila Busby’s uncle, the only other suspect in the case, has been deceased for years and his body must be exhumed for Hank Skinner to be freed.
We all hope that Hank Skinner can stay healthy enough to see his family and friends again. More information about Hank Skinner’s case can be found at The Huffington Post and HankSkinner.org.
Constitution,exoneration,justice,legislation,litigation,policy,prison, Chicago Innocence Project, death row, DNA, exonerate, freedom, Hank Skinner, Murder, Texas
Ileejah Hutchinson — 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.
The 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.
Congratulations to Alan Northrop, and his children; their daddy is finally home.
Compensation,exoneration,justice,litigation,policy,post-conviction,Uncategorized, Alan Northrop, compensation, DNA evidence, Innocence Project Northwest, Washington State
Anna Fitzpatrick — 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.
exoneration,policy,Uncategorized, bankruptcy, compensation lawsuits, Detroit, Dwanye Provience, Michigan, wrongful convictions
Anna Fitzpatrick — July 23, 2013 @ 3:33 PM — Comments (2)
A review of more than 21,000 cases has revealed twenty-seven death penalty cases in which the FBI’s forensic experts may have exaggerated the scientific conclusions that could be drawn from a so-called “match” between a hair found at the scene of a crime and hair of the defendant. It is not known how many cases involve errors, how many led to wrongful convictions, or how many mistakes may now jeopardize valid convictions. Those questions will be explored as the review continues.
The discovery of the more than two dozen capital cases promises that the examination could become a factor in the debate over the death penalty. Some opponents have long held that the execution of an innocent person would solidify doubts about capital punishment. But if DNA or other testing confirms convictions, it would strengthen supporters’ arguments that the system works.
At least three Florida men, including DNA exonerees Wilton Dedge and William Dillon, were convicted based on, among other things, testimony provided by John Preston, who claimed that his dogs could perform feats of forensic detection far beyond the abilities of other investigative dogs. Preston testified in each case that his dog picked up the scent of the defendant at the scene of the crime, testimony that all but sealed their fate. By now, though, his claims have been thoroughly discredited by experts in the field of scent tracking, media reports, multiple state supreme courts, police training manuals, and law review articles. This leads to the question of why Preston was ever considered reliable in the first place and why more was not done to do a re-review of all cases in which Preston and fraudulent dog handlers like him have testified.
Advocates for defendants and the wrongly convicted called the FBI’s reexamination of possibly faulty forensic conclusions a watershed moment in police and prosecutorial agencies’ willingness to re-open old cases because of scientific errors uncovered by DNA testing. “We didn’t do this to be a model for anyone,” said FBI general counsel Andrew Weissman. “When there’s a problem, you have to face it, and you have to figure how to fix it, move forward and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” FBI Laboratory director Chris Hassell has said that the review will be used to improve lab training, testimony, audit systems, and research.
The review is a huge step forward to improving the criminal justice system and the rigor of forensic science in the United States. Faulty forensics and science is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions, and a revised approach to forensics could help to reduce that number of miscarriages of justices before the occur. Hopefully we’re not far off from reforms in other leading causes, such as eyewitness identification or snitch testimonies.
Innocence Project of Florida,policy,Science, death penalty, DNA, FBI, forensics, John Preston
Anna Fitzpatrick — June 26, 2013 @ 10:59 AM — Comments (1)
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court held that you remain silent at your own peril in a case called Salinas v. Texas. The Court’s move to cut off the right to remain silent is wrong and also dangerous – it encourages the kind of high-pressure questioning that can elicit false confessions.
The details from the case are nuanced and complex: two brothers were shot at home in Houston. There were no witnesses – only shotgun shells left at the scene. Genovevo Salinas had been at a party at that house the night before the shooting, and police invited him down to the station, where they talked for an hour. They did not arrest him or read him his Miranda rights. Salinas agreed to give the police his shotgun for testing. Then the cops asked whether the gun would match the shells from the scene of the murder. According to the police, Salinas stopped talking, shuffled his feet, bit his lip, and started to tighten up.
At trial, Salinas did not testify, but prosecutors described his allegedly uncomfortable reaction to the question about his shotgun. Salinas argued this violated his Fifth Amendment rights: he had remained silent, and the U.S. Supreme Court had previously made clear that prosecutors can’t bring up a defendant’s refusal to answer the State’s questions.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, posited that Salinas was “free to leave” and did not assert his right to remain silent. He was silent; apparently, though, that was not enough. Without a lawyer and without being told his rights, he evidently should have affirmatively “invoked” his right to not answer questions. Now people have to somehow invoke the right to remain silent even when they’re not formal suspects and they haven’t heard the Miranda warnings.
The Court’s ruling in Salinas is all the more troubling because during such informal, undocumented, and unregulated questioning, there are special dangers that police may, intentionally or not, elicit false confession from innocent suspects. Of the people exonerated by DNA testing, approximately 25% falsely confessed, and many supposedly admitted their guilt even before formal interrogation. This new ruling simply opens another avenue for police to pressure suspects into confession, regardless of innocence. The likely result of the Court’s embrace of shoddy interrogation tactics: more wrongful convictions.
justice,policy, False Confessions, Fifth Amendment, Salinas v. Texas, Supreme Court, wrongful convictions
Anna Fitzpatrick — June 12, 2013 @ 9:14 AM — Comments (4)
About once a year, Florida makes national headlines for righting a wrongful conviction. In recent years alone, more than a dozen men have been exonerated, most serving decades behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit. Florida also leads America in the number of people sentenced to death, only to later be exonerated – 24 people in the past three decades.
Florida may not be a leader in many things, but we are when it comes to stealing lives. We must do better; we must reform our systems.
There is a cost to reformation, but the cost of wrongful conviction is much, much higher. Millions of dollars are spent on holding and caring for innocent inmates, as well as the restitution paid once innocence is proved. There is the mental anguish the wrongfully incarcerated suffer, not to mention that their earnings and social interactions will forever be impaired – it almost like being thrown into a time warp. Scarier still is the fact that wrongful convictions mean the true criminal remains at large.
As Circuit Judge Belvin Perry says, “the consequence of inaction is injustice.” Perry chaired the Florida Innocence Commission, which spent two years studying the issue. The group of experts made concrete suggestions for improving justice:
- Record suspect interviews so there is no question about technique used to solicit confessions.
- Get neutral parties to conduct photographic lineups to avoid investigators encouraging witnesses to choose certain suspect, subconsciously or otherwise.
- Implement stronger guidelines for relying on jailhouse snitches.
The reasons for fixing this are obvious and plentiful, yet politicians have dragged their feet. The wrongfully convicted, you see, are not a powerful lobby. They don’t cut campaign checks, and their stories rarely win votes. But this issue is important, both financially and morally. Encourage your legislator to follow the recommendations of the Innocence Commission.
justice,legislation,policy, cost, injustice, Judge Belvin Perry, reformation, wrongful incarceration
Anna Fitzpatrick — June 05, 2013 @ 10:13 AM — Comments (1)
Last week the Supreme Court ruled on two cases of defendants fighting for the chance to present evidence that could call into question their convictions, even though they have both missed deadlines to make their claims.
Under the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, defendants are required to ask the courts to review their case within a year of discovering new evidence. One defendant, Floyd Perkins, failed to file for a federal court review until nearly eight years after three new witnesses provided testimony that incriminated an acquaintance of his; the other defendant, Carlos Trevino, claims his lawyer failed to represent him adequately during trial – a failure that may mean the difference between life and death. While the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held that Trevino missed his opportunity to make this claim during his appeal, his new lawyer has argued that the new evidence should be reviewed by courts since his trial attorney failed to investigate thoroughly.
The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4 in both cases, to widen what it called the “gateway” to reviewing claims actual innocence that are made after the one-year deadline, though that claim of innocence must meet high standards for the gateway to open. It also allowed for new claims to be raised in federal reviews that were unable to be made during the state appeals process.
While these rulings are a victory for protecting the innocent, they do raise questions about the necessity and validity of these deadlines. No rational person would believe that someone innocent should be locked up, or even sent to their death, because the courts made a rash ruling or ignored new evidence that was submitted “too late.” Although in 2009, Justice Scalia wrote that
“this court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”
These chilling words point perhaps to too strong of faith in a flawed justice system wrought with corruption and misconduct. Allowing a “gateway” past the deadline is not an attempt to create opportunities for the guilty to squirm through the fingers of justice, but rather a much needed path to redemption for the wrongly imprisoned.
justice,policy,post-conviction, AEDPA, Carlos Trevino, Floyd Perkins, habeas writ, Justice Scalia, Supreme Court
Anna Fitzpatrick — May 24, 2013 @ 2:17 PM — Comments (0)
Fifty years ago, in the landmark Brady v. Maryland case, the U.S. Supreme Court established a fundamental principle about the duty of prosecutors – to seek justice fairly, not merely win convictions by any means. This meant that due process required prosecutors to disclose any exculpatory evidence that was likely to affect a conviction or sentence. Known as the Brady Rule, the case was meant to lead to more transparency and equity in criminal proceedings; however, its power has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who skirt around the rule.
It is impossible to know how often prosecutors violate Brady since this type of misconduct, by definition, involves concealment. But there is good reason to believe that violations are widespread. The National Registry of Exonerations has compiled detailed data for about 1,100 exonerations for the period 1989-2012. Of those cases, a whopping 42% were caused by what has been deemed “official misconduct.” Allowing for a 50-50 split between police and prosecutorial misconduct, the number still hovers around 21%, and when one considers that prosecutors are meant to seek justice rather than convictions, that is a rather alarming rate. The court has long agreed that individual prosecutors should be protected from civil liability so that they may freely pursue criminals; unfortunately, that allows for almost complete unaccountability for wrong-doings in judicial proceedings.
Recently the “Michael Morton Act” was passed in Texas, a law meant to decrease the amount of wrongful convictions within the state. The bill’s namesake spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife before DNA evidence finally exonerated him in 2011. The prosecutor in his case has been accused of deliberately withholding a substantial amount of evidence that would have led to an acquittal, including an account from the defendants three-year-old son who witnessed the murder and explained that “Daddy wasn’t home” at the time, neighbor testimonials who saw a man park a green van outside the house the morning of the murder, and a police officer in San Antonio who stated he could identify a woman who had used the victim’s stolen Visa card in a jewelry store – all of which were withheld from the defense.
The case of John Thompson represents another example of atrocious prosecutorial misconduct and the Supreme Court’s refusal to hold the prosecutor accountable. Mr. Thompson spent 14 years on death row before he was exonerated following the discovery that lawyers in the New Orleans district attorney’s office had kept more than a dozen pieces of evidence secret, even destroying some. Yet the Supreme Court overturned a $14 million jury award to Mr. Thompson, ruling that the prosecutor’s office had not shown a pattern of “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights.
One root of the epidemic of misconduct may stem from prosecutors positions as pseudo-politicians. The position of “prosecutor” is imbedded with an incredible level of power, and as Lord Acton wrote 126 years ago, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Not only do prosecutors have power, but they are essentially free from accountability. The outrageous breaches of due process discussed here are merely illustrative of a deep-rooted indifference towards the assurance of justice.
But what can be done? One example of a better approach that has been adopted in North Carolina and now Ohio is to adopt an open-files reform to make criminal cases more efficient and fair. The state statute require prosecutors in felony cases, before trial, to make available to the defense “the complete files of all law enforcement agencies, investigatory agencies and prosecutors’ offices involved in the investigation of the crimes committed or the prosecution of the defendant.” The Justice Department insists that is has solved the problem by tightening requirements for disclosure, but numerous misconduct scandals show that is not sufficient. The best way to fulfill the promise of Brady is with open-files reform, which addresses the need for full disclosure of evidence that could show a defendant’s innocence.
exoneration,justice,legislation,policy, brady rule, John Thompson, Michael Morton, national registry of exonerations, open-files, prosecutor discipline, prosecutorial misconduct, Supreme Court