Hello all. We are getting back into the swing of things on the blogging. Between a vacation and an increased frequency of hearings, blogging has taken a back seat. We apologize for that.
I wanted to point you to a story from a few weeks back that is sort of emblematic of the backwards thinking of institutional actors after a wrongful conviction. The Orlando Sentinel reports:
As head of the Florida Innocence Commission and chief judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, Belvin Perry took a special interest in the wrongful conviction and jailing of Haitian-born Malenne Joseph.
In fact, Perry called for a round-table discussion in early February with all the key players involved in taking Joseph to trial and getting a guilty verdict on a third-degree felony, a crime she never committed and yet spent three months for in the Orange County Jail last summer.
Chief Judge Perry is the not only the Chief of his Circuit Court but he is the Chair of the Florida Innocence Commission, a group designed to look at the causes of wrongful convictions and design reforms for preventing wrongful convictions in the future. So Judge Perry would be a natural candidate to convene a discussion about what went wrong in the Malenne Joseph case, given his experience on the Commission and the fact that he runs the darn circuit court in Orlando.
So Lawson Lamar, State Attorney in Orlando, FL, gladly accepted his Chief Judge’s invitation, Right? Wrong:
That meeting will not take place, however, in large part because Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar’s office was not interested in discussing what everyone familiar with the case has acknowledged was a severe injustice and a mistake those in the criminal-justice system should want to avoid in the future.
. . .
Less than three hours after that e-mail went out, Chief Assistant State Attorney Bill Vose politely declined the invitation with an e-mail of his own.
“Thank you for the kind invitation but we have already conducted an extensive review internally and the State Attorney participated and encouraged closer intake scrutiny of eyewitness cases,” Vose wrote. “We will not participate however in any group public discussion and feel that each entity should review their own policies and procedures to assure that justice prevails.”
When asked to discuss this decision further, Vose said that his initial response “said it all.”
So let me get this straight. Your chief judge asks you to do something so minor and so easy as getting together to discuss a case that your office clearly messed up, causing someone to spend time locked up wrongfully, and you say no? And your excuse is that you have done your own internal review, which you haven’t made public, and you have fixed all problems with witness misidentification in your office’s handling of cases?
This just doesn’t pass the laugh test. Prosecutor offices here in Florida all proclaim that they understand the problem of witness misidentification and that they have internal policies to not prosecute cases with bad IDs. But is this even true? Where are the policies? And if they have them, are they being followed? How come misidentifications still persist? How come there is resistance to employing updated best practices for performing witness identification procedures such as lineups and photopaks that are based on thirty years of sound social science?
The reality is that a witness identification, whether correct or not, is powerful evidence in front of a jury. If a prosecutor has a witness ID, they are going to trial to present that ID to get a conviction. So there is little incentive for prosecutors to do much of anything to weed out bad IDs because it may cause them to lose convictions that a more just process may prevent. It is truly a hear no evil, see no evil approach to criminal justice that exemplifies the opposite of justice.