Archive for the ‘legislation’ Category

Michigan Senate Unanimously Passes Wrongful Conviction Compensation Bill

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 20, 2016 @ 3:00 PM — Comments (1)

The number of states that do not have legislation regarding compensation for wrongfully convicted individuals is dwindling, which is good news for the innocence movement and those fighting to right the wrongs carried out by our criminal justice system. Recently, Michigan lawmakers unanimously passed Senate Bill 291, also called the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act, which will allow exonerees to receive $50,000 for every year they spent behind bars.

There are some limits to the bill, however, which would be deemed inapplicable if a sentence is upheld for a separate crime that was related to the wrongful conviction. In addition, exonerees seeking compensation for any injuries they suffered while incarcerated must file a separate claim.

Without legislation, many exonerees have had to engage in expensive legal battles in order to seek compensation for the time they spent wrongfully incarcerated. The bill, which will now go to Michigan’s House of Representatives, aims to avoid that difficult process. It also includes aftercare services for exonerees.

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Statutes and Compensation for Wrongful Convictions

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 27, 2016 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (6)

Sandy D’Alembertehttp://www.innocenceproject.orghttp://www.innocenceproject.org who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit experience several injustices. One would think that once these people are finally released from prison, they can easily return to normal lives. However, this is usually not the case; many exonerees experience several issues ranging from trouble finding a job to familial and financial problems. One major issue that has recently come to light in regards to exoneration is compensation for people’s wrongful convictions. While 30 states and the federal government do have compensation statutes in place, many people feel that they are a measly excuse for an apology when it comes to putting a price on the decades some have spent wrongfully incarcerated. In fact, 20 states do not even have compensation statutes, meaning that exonerees are entitled to no money at all for the miscarriage of justice they endured.

According to federal law, those exonerated for federal crimes may receive up to $50,000 for each year they were wrongfully incarcerated. Exonerees may also receive an additional $50,000 for every year spent on death row.

Florida’s wrongful conviction compensation statute, which was most recently amended in 2014, states that exonerees with no prior felony convictions are entitled to $50,000 a year, with a maximum of $2 million. In addition, he/she may be reimbursed for fines or costs imposed during the time of his/her sentence, along with 120 hours of tuition at a career center, community college, or state university. Florida did not have a wrongful conviction compensation statute until 2008. Wilton Dedge, who was exonerated on August 11, 2004 with help from the Innocence Project, spent 22 years in prison for rape and burglary. After being released from prison for the crimes he did not commit, Dedge received no compensation from Florida for his wrongful conviction. After filing a lawsuit against the state that was dismissed by the trial court, he sought a private compensation bill from the Florida legislature. Although the bill originally did not pass, the legislature finally passed the private bill, which led to the creation of a Florida statute for wrongful conviction compensation in 2008. IPF founding board chair, Sandy D’Alemberte was principally responsible for helping Dedge get compensated. Florida’s statute, unfortunately excludes many exonerees who have felony convictions from prior to their wrongful conviction and incarceration.

Like Dedge, many exonerees feel cheated due to these statutes—or lack thereof—because they feel that most monetary maximums defined in them are not enough compensation for the time they wrongfully spent in prison. Because of this, many choose to file civil suits against the city, state, or the authorities that contributed to their wrongful convictions them in order to receive the recompense that they feel they deserve. Often times, these exonerees ask for millions of dollars, which cities and states are often not exactly willing to pay. This is another important issue in terms of wrongful conviction compensation that has gained increasing popularity. All over the United States, exonerees—especially those who have not received a penny for their time spent wrongfully imprisoned—are fighting back in the hopes of getting what they deserve. Alan Newton and David Ayers are just two examples of these exonerees who are still fighting municipalities decades later just to get what they deserve.

Alan Newton was convicted in 1985 for the rape, robbery, and assault of a New York City woman. After spending 21 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, he was finally exonerated on July 6, 2006 with help from the Innocence Project. New York’s statute for wrongful conviction compensation, which was amended in 2007, states that exonerees have two years from the time of their pardon to file a claim and receive compensation in a sum that the state deems fair and reasonable.

In 2010, a jury awarded Newton the $18 million he sought in a lawsuit against New York City. The following year, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin set aside that verdict because she felt that the city was not responsible for Newton’s wrongful conviction, and therefore he was not entitled to the money. On February 26, 2015, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Scheindlin’s judgment, subsequently rejecting New York City’s request to rehear the appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court also declined to hear the case after the city Law Department attempted to fight the case in that court.

Despite these rulings, New York City still will not pay Newton, citing that the decision of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals focused on whether the city was responsible for Newton’s wrongful incarceration rather than the appropriateness or the excessiveness of the $18 million. The city Law Department will once again turn to Judge Scheindlin in the hopes that he will reduce the amount of the compensation, arguing that they have no issue with the verdict, just the amount of damages sought by Newton based on similar cases. Despite these court losses, the City just doesn’t want to pay.

Another man in Cleveland faces the same problem as Newton. David Ayers was convicted in 2000 for aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, and aggravated robbery. He was exonerated on September 12, 2011 with help from the Ohio Innocence Project after spending almost 12 years in prison for crimes that he did not commit. Ohio statute for wrongful conviction compensation states that as long as an exoneree did not plead guilty, he/she has two years to file a claim in which he/she is eligible to receive $40,330 a year along with lost wages, costs, and attorney’s fees. The state amended this statute in 2010 to allow eligible claimants to receive 50 percent of the $40,330 within sixty days of being determined to have been wrongfully imprisoned.

Ayers rejected two plea deals offered to him by prosecutors and plead not guilty, making him eligible to sue for compensation under Ohio’s statute. In 2013, a federal court jury awarded Ayers the $13.2 million he sought in damages. The appeals court then upheld this verdict. However, just like New York City with Newton, Cleveland still will not pay Ayers. Cleveland officials argue that the two detectives who helped convict Ayers are responsible, not the city, and that the judgment of both courts was removed when one of those detectives filed for bankruptcy.

Thanks to cases such as those of Newton and Ayers, many states have recognized the need for reform in regards to wrongful conviction compensation statutes. Kansas, which is among the 20 states that still do not have these statutes, had a bill introduced to the legislature almost two weeks ago that would compensate exonerees for their time spent in prison. The bill was inspired by Floyd Bledsoe, who was exonerated in Kansas last month on December 8 with help from the Midwest Innocence Project after spending 16 years in prison for murder, child sex abuse, and kidnapping that he did not commit. Although the bill does not yet have a number or hearing scheduled, it is a step in the right direction towards the necessary reforms our justice system needs when it comes to compensating the innocent people who spent years behind bars.

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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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Letting the Guilty Walk Free

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 19, 2014 @ 9:42 AM — Comments (1)

When the American system of justice allows an innocent person to be wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, someone else is getting away with murder. Murder or another crime — but the point is that laws and policies throughout the United States limit access to state-of-the-art DNA testing for inmates who claim innocence. On September 18, 2014, the Newark Star-Ledger Editorial Board published an editorial titled, “End the absurd bureaucracy around DNA testing.”

Given the incredible power of DNA to exonerate the innocent and expose the guilty, it’s alarming that a mountain of red tape still impedes its use.

The fact that, out of the 317 exonerations due to exculpatory DNA crime scene test results cited in the editorial, 153 of those results enabled police and prosecutors to identify and catch the real perpetrator, barriers to current DNA testing only serve to destroy innocent lives and let the guilty walk scot-free. As the Star-Ledger editorial notes:

This is not only a problem for the wrongly imprisoned, it’s a threat to public safety.

In Florida, past laws impacting post-sentence DNA testing were fraught with time limits for filing petitions and limitations on how long physical evidence from crime scenes was preserved. In 2006, Florida legislators removed those time limits and extended the time period for preservation of evidence. And to this state’s credit, all DNA test results conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have the ability to be run through both the state’s DNA database and the FBI’s CODIS. In New Jersey, the reliance on private labs for post-sentence testing means that the real perpetrator’s DNA may not be run through CODIS for a possible match ensuring that the true culprit will never be identified.

Gerald Richardson, a 2013 exoneree who was represented by the Innocence Project in New York, will testify before the legislature in New Jersey advocating that the state require post-sentence DNA tests to be compared with CODIS. Not only would identifying the real perpetrator speed the timeframe in which the falsely convicted are released from prison, but public safety would be improved by getting the true criminal off the streets. Our laws and policies should enhance Americans’ safety, not endanger it.

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Michigan Man Exonerated After 17 Years in Prison

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 09, 2014 @ 9:01 AM — Comments (0)

Jaime Lee Peterson was exonerated today after spending 17 years in custody and in a Michigan prison for the rape and murder of a elderly woman that he did not commit. He was serving a life sentence. The cause of his wrongful conviction stems from his false confession during the interrogation process which happened four months after the murder. Despite knowing that DNA testing of the victim’s rape kit excluded Peterson as the rapist, the jury convicted Peterson at a 1998 trial. The prosecutor led the jury to believe that semen found at the crime scene that was, at that time, untestable most likely belonged to Mr. Peterson. Along with his initial confession, this was enough to sentence him to life in prison. New DNA testing was conducted last year at the urging of Mr. Peterson’s new attorneys, the testing sought to prove that the previously untestable DNA belonged to the same person whose DNA was found initially with the rape kit. All of the male DNA  tested in this case was found to match a man named Jason Ryan (who was actually interviewed during the initial investigation).  Ryan was arrested last year for this decades old crime and currently is awaiting trial. Petersen’s case was led by the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

This case is just another one to add to the troubling ever growing list of coerced false confessions. After initially confessing Jaime (who is cognitively impaired) recanted his statements, but that usually does the person in such a situation no good. Roughly a fourth of those exonerated in America falsely confessed to crimes at some point during their interrogation. Jaime is the fourth man in Michigan to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

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DNA Evidence Clears Two men in 1983 North Carolina Murder Case

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 03, 2014 @ 4:03 PM — Comments (0)

After spending 30 long years in prison, two brothers in North Carolina were exonerated Tuesday by a North Carolina Judge. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown were both released from prison today They had been found guilty of the heinous rape and murder of an 11-year old girl. The two African American men were 15 and 19 at the time of the murder are both considered intellectually disabled. After long hours of unethical interrogation with no lawyer present each separately confessed to the crime, by signing statements written for them by police officers. But when they were sent to trial they recanted all of their statements confessing to the crime. Key evidence was left unaccounted for at the time of the trial. A similar murder had been committed in the same town within a month of the brother’s arrest, and a local man, Roscoe Artis, had confessed to the rape and murder of an 18-year old. Artis lived just a block from where the victim’s body had been found yet he was not seen as a suspect. A cigarette butt found near the vicitim’s body was tested  to see whose DNA would show up on it — there was not a match for either of the exonerees — but their was a match for Roscoe Artis’s DNA. Artis is currently serving a life sentence for his other rape and murder.

Leon Brown was sent away for life and Henry Lee McCollum received the death penalty with no evidence connecting them to the crime, but because they confessed to it under duress they had a huge chunk of their lives stolen. This just furthers the evidence that just because someone confesses to a crime when they are under immense pressure, that does not mean they are guilty of said crime. Roughly 25 percent of those wrongly convicted of crimes have admitted guilt during their initial interrogation, the only way we can stop this cruel treatment is to change the way we interrogate suspects and make sure all interrogations are videotaped. Over the past 23 years there have been over 2,000 exonerations in the United States and with the great news of today we can add two more to that ever growing list.

McCollum and Brown were defended in their search for the truth by Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

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Small Victory For Innocence in Washington State

Alejandra de la Fuente — August 28, 2014 @ 10:44 AM — Comments (0)

Last week, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled, in a 6-3 decision, that DNA testing requests from convicts should be favorably considered. Specifically, judges should presume that the test results would favor the convict in making their decision, instead of denying them the chance to prove there innocence through DNA testing because the chances of exonerative results are remote. This decision spurs from the case of Lindsey Crumpton, who in 1993 was convicted of repeatedly raping a 75-year old woman. He was arrested running from the woman’s house with a bunch of incriminating items, including bedding smeared in blood among other things that the woman all identified as belonging to her. Crumpton is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.

In 2011, he requested to have DNA testing done on the womans’ rape kit, her bedsheets and other pieces of evidence. A superior court rejected his request on the grounds that DNA testing would most likely not show that he was innocent. The case went all the way to the state supreme court and they reversed the ruling on the grounds that judges should presume that DNA testing will be in favor to convicts. Justice Mary Fairhurst when writing for the majority hit the nail on the head with this great statement: “Many innocent individuals have been exonerated through postconviction DNA tests, including some who had overwhelming evidence indicating guilt… and there is no direct evidence showing that labs have in fact been overburdened by an onslaught of postconviction testing.” This ruling is positive news for anyone falsely imprisoned in the State of Washington, because it now means their request for post-conviction DNA testing  cannot be denied just because the chances of them being proven innocent seem “slim” or “bleak”.


News Roundup From Around the Nation

Alejandra de la Fuente — 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.

Rob WardenThe 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.

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Hank Skinner Continues to Languish on Texas’ Death Row

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 30, 2013 @ 2:01 PM — Comments (5)

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.

Hank SkinnerWhile 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

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News Roundup From Around the Nation

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 18, 2013 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)

Legislative action passed in California last week will improve the process by which wrongfully convicted Californians will receive compensation for their time served. Senate Bill 618 will streamline the process allowing those who are exonerated to receive their funds quicker and with less hassle. The Bill’s author, Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said “[t]his effort helps prevent the state’s faulty administrative process from perpetrating yet another wrong on these innocent individuals who deserve and need our help to get back on their feet and on with their lives.” For more information visit the California Senators news page here.

Recently, the wrongfully convicted man Carl Chatman was released from prison after serving nine years for a rape he did not commit. Many citizens have expressed outrage at the lack of response from the justice system in regards to Chatman’s accuser. The woman who accused Chatman of raping her had a previous experience in which she accused another man of the same crime. Unfortunately, Mr. Chatman’s situation is not a unique one. Due to the statute of limitations regarding perjury in Illinois, Chatman’s accuser cannot be punished. For more information about Carl Chatman visit the Chicago Sun-Times.

Barri White, a wrongfully convicted man, served six years in high-security jail for the murder of his girlfriend in 2002. In 2005, the BBC investigated his case and found the forensic evidence used to convict him was false and his case had been one of false accusations and demonization. Mr. White stated “I am still fighting, I have had enough of fighting, I deserve a life back. Getting compensation and an apology from the police, that would be my justice. It was six years of my life, my whole 20s, pretty much. They’re supposed to be the best years of your life but I was rotting in jail. Nothing can make up for that. No amount of money is going to bring my six years back.” The BBC program ‘Life after life: Barri and Keith’s story’ aired Monday Sept. 16th in the UK and will be available later online. Information can be found at the BBC.

Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Canino

Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Canino

Ronald Cotton was mistakenly identified and wrongfully convicted of raping Jennifer Thompson-Canino in 1984. Cotton was exonerated in June 1995 after DNA testing proved he was not the rapist. In an unusual turn of events, he and Jennifer have become friends and often appear together talking about wrongful convictions and incarceration. The two have written a book, “Picking Cotton“, and are to the keynote speakers at the centerpiece of Miami University (of Ohio) Regional Campus’ upcoming Criminal Justice Week. More information about the talks can be found at the Journal News.

They are also scheduled to be in Jacksonville at both of the Florida State College campuses in March 2014.

In Louisiana recently an exonerated man who was cleared of rape charges finds himself in court again. Darrin Hill, a 47 year old man who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, had been in prison for more than ten years for a rape he did not commit. His accuser pointed him out in a lineup and he was convicted quickly. Over the past 13 years Hill had been in and out of mental hospitals and jails. In 2010, a sexual assault kit that was used by doctors to examine Hill’s accuser was found by staff members of the federal National Institute of Justice-funded Orleans Parish Post-conviction DNA Testing Project. DNA testing revealed that Hill’s DNA was not present but rather the testing revealed the DNA of another man. Hill was exonerated with the help of Innocence Project New Orleans and charges were dropped. Now Hill has to face his accuser again as she refutes her earlier claim that he was her rapist. More information can be found at The Advocate.

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