Archive for the ‘justice’ Category


Press Release: IPF Client Andre Bryant Exonerated

Seth — October 01, 2015 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (0)

Andre Bryant, Innocence Project of Florida Client, Exonerated and Released

Bryant has Served Over 8 Years for a Robbery He Did Not Commit

Tallahassee, Florida—On Thursday, October 1, 2015, Andre Bryant was released from the Franklin Correctional Institution in Carrabelle, Florida following his exoneration for a 2006 armed robbery, which occurred at a Walgreen’s in Manatee County, Florida. On the same day, Twelfth Judicial Circuit Judge Diana Moreland vacated Bryant’s conviction and 30-year sentence, pursuant to a joint stipulation filed by the State Attorney and Bryant’s attorneys, paving the way for Bryant’s release.

“This is a great day for Andre and this outcome is a testament to his consistent belief that the truth of his innocence would eventually be known and lead to his freedom. Everyone at IPF is so pleased to reunite him with his family after this ordeal and are excited to work with him to ease his transition from wrongful incarceration back into free society,” said Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida and one of Bryant’s attorneys

On July 20, 2015, attorneys from the Innocence Project of Florida (“IPF”), along with local counsel Derek Byrd, filed an amended motion for postconviction relief, following the release of an investigative report on Bryant’s case by the Sarasota Herald Tribune. In the motion, IPF detailed the evidence already existing in the record demonstrating Bryant’s innocence and brought forward additional new evidence of innocence, including a recantation by one of the child victims who identified Bryant as the perpetrator and expert opinion that Bryant was not the perpetrator depicted on the newly enhanced Walgreen’s surveillance video at the time of the crime.

The State Attorney performed its own investigation into the case and determined that reasonable doubt existed as to Bryant’s involvement in the crime. Based on this conclusion, the State Attorney agreed to vacate the conviction and drop all charges against Bryant.

“The folks at the State Attorney’s Office, particularly assistant state attorney Bruce Lee, deserve tremendous credit for completely reviewing the evidence, old and new, and viewing it through an objective lens. We are thrilled that Mr. Brodsky and his team came to the same conclusion we had come to already: that justice demanded Andre Bryant’s conviction be vacated and that he be freed from his wrongful incarceration,” said Miller.

Bryant was convicted in 2007 primarily on eyewitness identifications by the victims. According to the Innocence Project of Florida, witness misidentification is the leading causes of wrongful convictions, contributing to 75% of the known exonerations nationwide. Bryant is the 57th exoneration in Florida since 1989, and IPF’s second Manatee County, Florida client exonerated in four years. Derrick Williams was exonerated of a 1993 Manatee County rape in 2011, after DNA testing proved he did not commit the crime.

The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to finding and freeing innocent people in Florida prisons. IPF, along with local counsel Derek Byrd represent Andre Bryant. IPF’s website is www.FloridaInnocence.org.

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Can Our Criminal Justice System Accurately Detect Lies?

Samantha Adams — 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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More Than a Mistake: The Manipulation Inherent in False Confessions

Samantha Adams — January 27, 2015 @ 10:22 AM — Comments (1)

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.

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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

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Alabama v. Arthur or Conviction v. Science

Marianne Salcedo — November 07, 2014 @ 11:15 AM — Comments (0)

Our recent Facebook link of a February 2014 Atlantic Monthly article by Andrew Cohen, “Why Some States Still Fight the Exoneration of the Innocent,” is only the latest in Mr. Cohen’s years-long examination of the Thomas Arthur case in Alabama.

Thomas Arthur was convicted of murder in 1982 in Alabama. Arthur has consistently said that he is innocent of the crime. He was convicted solely based on eyewitness testimony that evolved after an eyewitness to the crime had been arrested and convicted for the murder. After serving 10 years in prison, the “eyewitness” decided to cut a plea deal and implicate Arthur. He has been on death row for 30 years.

In 2008, another man, Bobby Ray Gilbert, confessed to the murder under oath. At that time, a DNA test was conducted and was inconclusive for either man. However, since 2008, new and more accurate tests have been developed, and Arthur’s defense team has requested that the newer test be done. The Alabama courts have declined the request even though it would cost the state nothing to turn over the evidence for testing because Arthur’s family will pay for it.

Writer Andrew Cohen titled his first article about this, “Another Death Row Debacle: The Case Against Thomas Arthur,” and the title continues to fit this case. As Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project in New York said when Arthur was at one point given a stay-of-execution:

“This indifference to the power of DNA to determine the truth through hard science is unconscionable. It is nothing short of a national scandal that Governor Riley is repeatedly refusing DNA testing before executions when testing could confirm guilt or innocence. With this 45-day window of time, Governor Riley has an opportunity to restore faith in the system and restore credibility to his office.”

As the Innocence Project of Florida has long contended, actions that strengthen the American system of justice, that ensure prisoners behind bars are the real criminals, and that do not allow the guilty to roam society while the innocent are imprisoned, are what we are fighting for. If a more sophisticated DNA test might exonerate Arthur OR prove him guilty once-and-for-all, then reason dictates the testing should be done — and done as soon as possible to ensure the honor of the justice system in the State of Alabama.

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Browsing the National Registry of Exonerations

Marianne Salcedo — October 30, 2014 @ 9:29 AM — Comments (0)

The National Registry of Exonerations is an outstanding source of information about exonerations in the United States since 1989. It is searchable, and recently, we took some time to create a short summary of exonerations in the State of Florida.

There have been 50 exonerations listed for Florida, including capital cases, since 1989. Fifteen have been based on new DNA evidence.  Florida leads the nation in exonerations for death penalty cases.

The factors contributing to Florida exonerations range from mistaken witness identification, official misconduct, perjury, false accusation, inadequate legal defense, and false or misleading forensic evidence. By far, the leading factor in Florida cases is perjury of false accusation.

Once you search for the exonerations you wish to examine, links will take you to case summary pages. Here are some examples. Click on the last names to learn more about these cases on the Registry website.

Neely, Todd; Florida; Exonerated 1989; Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct.

Townsend, Jerry; Florida; Exonerated 2001; Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession.

Britt, Cheydrick; Florida; Exonerated 2013; False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense.

Mr. Britt was exonerated with assistance from the Innocence Project of Florida just last year. In the coming months, we anticipate up to three more exonerations. Stay tuned and take some time to read about all of Florida’s exonerees, many of whom IPF has helped to free, and learn about all of the cases of injustice throughout the United States.

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Motivated by Innocence, Jabbar Collins Awarded $13 Million

Marianne Salcedo — October 22, 2014 @ 10:56 AM — Comments (0)

Jabbar Collins was wrongfully convicted at age 20 of the murder of a rabbi in New York.  Highly motivated by his innocence, Collins, who dropped out of school when he was 16, spent countless hours in the prison library learning what he needed to know to request case documents and trial transcripts and represent himself pro se.  Last summer, with the help of his lawyer, Collins was awarded a $10 million settlement by New York City and another $3 million by the State of New York.

Attorney Joel Rudin, who represents Collins, says the $13 million total ties the record amount for a wrongfully convicted defendant in New York City.

In 1994, Collins was arrested for the murder of a rabbi in Brooklyn, New York, during a robbery.  The three witnesses who testified against him had been coerced and bribed by the prosecutor, although during Collins’ trial, the defense was assured that these confidential informants received nothing in exchange for their testimony.

Although a rogue prosecutor eager to “solve” a high-profile slaying is blamed for Collins’ conviction, his case provided support for claims that the office of former Brooklyn district attorney Charles J. Hynes didn’t adequately rein in prosecutors who broke the rules.

Under Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who ran his election campaign on the promise that he would clean up the string of wrongful convictions and other shenanigans that occurred during Hynes tenure, the City and State of New York have paid out nearly $20 million and are currently being sued for more than $200 million.

 

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California Woman Exonerated After 17 Years

Marianne Salcedo — October 13, 2014 @ 5:08 PM — Comments (0)

On Friday, October 10, 2014, Susan Marie Mellen was formally exonerated of murder in Torrance, California, after spending 17 years wrongfully incarcerated.  A combination of an unreliable witness, who was well known as a habitual liar by the police, and mistakes made by the police detective, who was also responsible for a 1994 case that resulted in the convictions of two men who were subsequently exonerated.

“I believe she is innocent,” California Superior Court Judge Mark Arnold said. “For that reason I believe in this case the justice system failed.”

Despite what Mellen called a “cruel punishment” where she cried herself to sleep each night, she did not give up hope.  Amazingly, she holds no grudge against those who wrongfully convicted her with a sentence of life without parole.  She said, “I always forgave my enemies.  Even your haters, you have to forgive them and sometimes you have to thank them because they bring you closer to God.”

Mellen was arrested in 1997 for killing a homeless man who was staying in the same house where Mellen was living.  A woman known for giving baseless tips to the police testified that Mellen had confessed to the crime — and it was on her testimony that Mellen’s conviction rested.  Through representation by Innocence Matters, Mellen’s conviction was overturned and she was at long last exonerated.

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IPF Director Seth Miller Presents at One Book Event

Marianne Salcedo — October 07, 2014 @ 9:45 AM — Comments (0)

The annual One Book Thomas County celebration of learning in Thomasville, Georgia, has chosen as its focus book, Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption, by Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino. On Friday, October 17, 2014, at 6:30 p.m., the Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida, Seth Miller, will be presenting a lecture and discussion on wrongful convictions and eye witness misidentification at Thomasville On Stage and Company, 117 South Broad Street in downtown Thomasville.

“The story of Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton teaches us the vital lesson that a misidentification can haunt not only the wrongfully convicted individual, but also the well-meaning victim who has to live with the consequences of the mistaken identification,” said Miller. “It is up to policy makers to make modest, evidence-based reforms to prevent misidentifications before they happen, find the true perpetrators, and allow the public to feel confident that the justice system has worked.” This presentation is free and open to the public.

This presentation will be especially timely, concurring with the recent publication of “Identifying the Culprit,” a comprehensive report by the National Academy of Sciences on the shortcomings and limitations of eye witness evidence.

On Saturday, October 18, Ronald Miller and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino will share their true stories of witness misidentification, wrongful conviction, exoneration, and forgiveness. They will be available to sign books. Admission to Saturday’s event is $10.

For more information, go to the One Book Facebook page at www.facebook.com/onbookthomascounty or call Annie Jones at The Bookshelf, 229-228-7767.

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Exoneree Compensation Across the United States

Marianne Salcedo — October 03, 2014 @ 3:17 PM — Comments (0)

A Planet Money story from NPR that we missed last summer (June 2014) entitled, “When Innocent People Go to Prison, States Pay,” provides an excellent overview of compensation for wrongfully convicted exonerees in all fifty states.

Twenty-one states provide no money — though people who are exonerated can sue for damages. Twelve states and the District of Columbia award damages on a case-by-case basis. Another 17 states pay a fixed amount per year of imprisonment.

Amounts vary from $80,000 per year behind bars in Texas, to $5,000 per year in Wisconsin. Florida and six other states match federal compensation of $50,000 per year.  Not that any amount could make up for the horror and humiliation of being an innocent person wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, but it is something — especially considering that very few exonerees get any sort of an apology from the state.

Even more appalling, as this article notes, is the fact that states are willing to pony up some limited annual compensation in order to prevent innocent exonerees from suing for much greater amounts.  Many states require exonerees to give up the right to sue as a condition of receiving compensation.

At the Innocence Project of Florida our concern is that our state’s compensation law has a loophole known as the “clean hands” provision.

961.04 Eligibility for compensation for wrongful incarceration.A wrongfully incarcerated person is not eligible for compensation under the act if:

(1) Before the person’s wrongful conviction and incarceration, the person was convicted of, or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, any felony offense, or a crime committed in another jurisdiction the elements of which would constitute a felony in this state, or a crime committed against the United States which is designated a felony, excluding any delinquency disposition;

(2) During the person’s wrongful incarceration, the person was convicted of, or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, any felony offense; or
(3) During the person’s wrongful incarceration, the person was also serving a concurrent sentence for another felony for which the person was not wrongfully convicted.

So not only will a prior felony of petty theft or possession of marijuana make any exoneree, no matter how unjustly he or she was treated, ineligible for compensation, but if the inmate gets caught up in something while in prison–say badly injuring another inmate who has attacked or tried to rape them, they are also ineligible for compensation in the State of Florida.

In the best of all possible worlds, as Voltaire would say, states would show some recognition of and remorse for their mistakes that led to wrongful convictions and incarcerations of innocent men and women.  Instead, states begin by putting up roadblocks to protect their convictions, right or wrong, issue no apology to the men and women whose lives they have ruined, and then provide limited compensation to spare them from multi-million dollar lawsuits  And Florida adds another insult to the injury with its “clean hands” provision.  We ask the convicted to show recognition and remorse for what they have done; it is only fair to expect the states to do likewise.

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