Posts Tagged ‘Innocence Project of Florida’


False Confessions: What are the Consequences?

Taylor Thornton — April 13, 2018 @ 3:04 PM — Comments (0)

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In the previous posts in this False Confessions series, we discussed the causes that lead to an innocent person giving a false confession. We broke down what kind of tactics used and errors made by interrogators can lead to falsifying a confession and what certain groups can be the most vulnerable to these. What we have not really delved into, however, is what the consequences of this are. The obvious answer, of course, is that a false confession will likely result in a wrongful conviction. But, the consequences of a false confession can persist even after the exoneration of an innocent person. We will discuss these consequences in this post.

A confession is the most powerful piece of evidence that can come before a court. Social science has shown us that confessions are extremely persuasive to a jury. Confessions are especially persuasive when they include descriptive details of the crime. As was discussed in the last post in this series, confessions can also be infected by leading questions or even insertions of information that make the confession even more convincing and believable. Social scientists can present in court the research behind how often and why false confessions may occur. The defense can use these social scientists to try to lessen the powerful persuasive effect of a defendants false confession. But, it is hard to take the images out of a jury’s head of the defendant sitting in front of them saying in their own words that they are guilty. This is why, as stated earlier, false confessions will likely result in a wrongful conviction.

What is even worse, false confession can still follow an innocent person even after they have been exonerated and have had their innocence (supposedly) earned back. When someone has given a false confession of guilt, or even worse entered a guilty plea, when they are innocent, that can threaten their right to monetary compensation for their suffering. An example of this can come from the 2004 Supreme Court Case of Taylor v. Smith. Lola Ann Taylor falsely confessed to rape and murder, along with five others, of Helen Wilson. Taylor gave this false confession after repeated interrogations, including being interrogated by her former psychologist Dr. Wayne Price. When Taylor was exonerated by DNA evidence she had to fight for her compensation under the Nebraska Wrongful Conviction Act. This is because it stipulates that the complainant must be innocent of the crimes as well as have not made a false statement that brought about their conviction, unless that statement was coerced by law enforcement. Taylor had to prove to the court that she was psychologically coerced and did not intentionally give false statements.

Lola Ann Taylor was fortunate to have won her case and be granted her compensation, although some might say she should not have been put through all of that when she was innocent, but some exonerees are not this fortunate. Some exonerees are denied their compensation because of their false confessions, despite the fact that they were coerced, psychologically manipulated, and suffered the same amount as a result of the same failures of the criminal justice system. To deny an innocent person compensation for their time spent suffering behind bars because of a crime that they never committed is unjust, false confession or not.

To wrap up this series on wrongful convictions, there are a number of ways that future damages can be avoided by preventing false confessions from happening in the future. A major solution that we have discussed here before is video taping the interrogation. With a taped confession, investigators can view what lead to the confession and where the details of the confession might have come from. The tapes of these confessions can also be used in court by the defense to delegitimize the confession. However, this is not a full solution. The taping of confessions can be manipulated by using deceptive camera angles or not taping prior interrogation sessions that may be relevant. Also, the taping of a false confession does not catch the suspects whole life on camera, meaning that it would not capture events prior to the interrogation that might effect their mental health or current mental state.

Another method that has been promoted by the Nebraska Innocence Project is not allowing investigators to threaten suspects with the death penalty. The threat of execution can result in an innocent suspect giving a false confession in exchange for a lesser sentence. When presented with the threat of death, the influence to lie to avoid this is too strong to yield a just and truthful confession.

When it comes to false confessions, the consequences are clearly damaging and long-lasting. A false confession and thus wrongful conviction is a loss and an injustice for everyone involved. Not only will an innocent person have a piece of their life stolen, but the police will have failed their mission and failed the victims by leaving the true assailant on the streets.

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Exoneration Anniversary: Derrick Williams

Taylor Thornton — April 04, 2018 @ 11:54 AM — Comments (0)

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Happy 7 year exoneration anniversary Derrick Williams!!

In March of 1993 Derrick Williams was found guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, grand theft auto, two counts of battery and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison. Williams’ conviction was based strongly on the misidentification of the victim in court.

The victim was attacked inside of her car in her driveway in Palmetto, Florida at 6pm on August 6, 1992. The attacker drove the victim to an orange grove where she was raped, robbed, and beaten before she managed to escape. When the victim worked with police to create a composite sketch, one officer thought that the sketch looked like Derrick Williams. The officer recognized Derrick from his acquittal in a very similar 1981 case of abduction and rape in a Florida orange grove. Williams’ photo was placed in a photo lineup where the victim identified him and she subsequently identified him in a live lineup. Despite his alibi which was corroborated by many witnessed brought by the defense, and the holes in the prosecution’s case, Derrick Williams was convicted on March 19, 1993.

Following his conviction, with the help of the Innocence Project of Florida, Derrick was able to request DNA testing of a shirt that the attacker had worn and later used to cover the victim’s face during the attack. The t-shirt was found in the victim’s backseat after the incident. Despite the negligent destruction of much of the physical evidence in Williams’ case by incineration, they were able to test sweat and skin cells on the collar of the t-shirt. These tests were able to exclude Williams as a possible contributor of this DNA. The Innocence Project of Florida filed a motion for post conviction relief based on the new DNA evidence and the unlawful destruction of exculpatory by the police. Following a two day evidentiary hearing Derrick Williams was granted a new trial on March 29, 2011. On April 4, 2011 the prosecution dismissed the charges and Derrick Williams was released.

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False Confessions: Why do the Innocent Confess?

Taylor Thornton — March 28, 2018 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

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In the first post in this series, we discussed which particular groups of people were more vulnerable to giving false confessions and should thus receive special protection from such a thing. But, the truth is, giving a false confession is something anyone can fall victim to. To the average person, this concept seems baffling. It is difficult to wrap the mind around why someone would ever claim guilt for a crime they were not guilty of, especially the more heinous crimes like murder and rape. But, the fact is, hundreds of innocent people have confessed to crimes they’ve later been exonerated of. So, why does this happen?

Explaining why a false confession occurs can be categorized into three components. The first is the misclassification error. Misclassification occurs when police and detectives decide that the innocent party is definitely the guilty party that they are searching for. A false confession always starts, of course, with the police landing their targets on an innocent suspect. Police are trained in interrogation tactics that involve observing very specific body language cues almost as though they are human lie detectors. Research has shown that these are not the most accurate or reliable evaluations of whether someone is telling the truth. However, detectives might use these bodily cues to decide among themselves that this suspect is lying and proceed to an interrogation. Other mistakes can influence police to choose their guilty suspect, like that person fitting a given description of the perpetrator or simply being a person who would have motive like a family member. When investigators decide early on who they think is guilty, other errors will follow as they move forward determined to yield a confession.

The second component is the coercion error. When investigators have misclassified the guilty party, they need to yield a confession from them. The confession is incredibly important when an innocent person has been wrongly presumed guilty because there will likely be little or no other evidence to support a case against this party if they are truly innocent. Thus, investigators begin an interrogation often marked by tactics to coerce the suspect into giving the confession. One strategy is extremely long interrogations. A common theme among false confessions is having sat in interrogation rooms for unimaginable amounts of time before finally giving the confession. Suspects are physically and mentally exhausted, this weakens their ability to stand up to the interrogators. Detectives can use this weakness to their advantage in a number of ways. Investigators sometimes make promises that the suspect can go home if they simply confess, which can become shockingly enticing after 16 hours straight in an interrogation room. Often the suspect just wants to go home, so they give in and tell the interrogators whatever it is that they want to hear so that they can leave. Bad interrogators might also use methods of psychological coercion. This can include promises of leniency, threats of harsher treatment, and making the suspect believe that they have no other choice but to confess. They are often convinced that their guilt is so established that no one will ever believe them and, sometimes and most shockingly, innocent people can even be convinced that they are truly guilty of the crime when they are not. As we discussed in the first False Confessions, these tactics can be particularly effective and damaging for certain groups of people.

Finally, there is the contamination error. A very simple admission of guilt is not enough for a convincing confession. A powerful confession provides details, motives, and emotions that will convince a jury that this suspect must be guilty. Once interrogators have successfully yielded a confession of guilt from their suspect, they now need them to provide those convincing details for the confession to be powerful. This is where the contamination error can come in. In a proper interrogation, police might ask vague questions about the circumstances of the crime, without being leading, that result in the truly guilty party providing details that only they could know. This helps the police prove to a jury that a truly guilty party had to have committed this crime if they go back on their confession later on. However, when interrogating an innocent person interrogators may ask specific and guiding questions in order to get the details that they desire. This can be unintentional on the part of the investigator who truly believes that this suspect is guilty and truly wants to see justice by getting a thorough confession. This can also be more malicious on the part of a truly corrupt interrogator that desires to pin a crime on a person that they know is innocent. Interrogators may insert certain information and attempt to shape the suspects responses in order to create the narrative that they need. This can go so far as implying or even overtly providing details that only the perpetrator of the crime could know. They contaminate the confession by implying or even blatantly inserting information to strengthen their perceived narrative of events. This creates an extremely convincing confession.

When such interrogations are recorded in full, social scientists can study the exact steps taken for an innocent person to admit guilt to a crime they did not commit. Attorneys, of course, can also use this at trial to deny the validity of such a confession. But, when police do not record every part of it, and only have taped evidence of the admission of guilt itself, this can be devastating for the innocent party. With no way to provide an explanation to a jury as to why the accused would confess if they were in fact innocent, that false confession can be the most powerful piece of evidence, and sometimes the only real piece of evidence, against them that can take their life away from them. A video taped confession can protect both the accused and the investigators questioning them. It shows the full truth of the circumstances of the confession and protects the integrity of police officers who are performing their job properly by yielding real confessions without coercion.

A false confession, while it may close a case, is not justice. A wrongful conviction always leaves a guilty party on the streets free to offend again and takes away the life of an innocent. It is important to understand why someone might falsely confess in order to make proper and truthful confessions the goal over just any admission of guilt.

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The “Junk Science” Behind Bite Mark Analysis

Taylor Thornton — March 19, 2018 @ 3:21 PM — Comments (0)

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Bite mark analysis is a portion of forensic odontology. It is a way to match marks on a victim’s body with a potential perpetrator’s teeth patterns, based on the theory that the victim was bitten by the suspect. Across the country in many different cases, bite mark evidence has been used at trial. Often, the bite mark evidence is the most powerful forensic evidence going against a defendant.

The problem is, bite mark analysis has no real science or research supporting it. There are a number of reasons why testimony regarding bite mark analysis can be incredibly flawed. One reason is that when comparing a suspect’s teeth to a bite mark on a victim, it is not nearly the same as comparing to an impression made at a dentist’s office. Typically the suspects teeth are being compared to a bite into soft tissue or skin. Human skin can heal, it can swell, the body may have even decayed between the time of the crime and when the body was discovered. All of these things can warp the clarity of the bite mark and damage the accuracy of trying to match up a dental impression with the bite. In addition, the teeth of the suspect are typically being compared to a photo of the bite rather than the actual bite, which further skews the reliability.

Another reason why bite mark evidence can be very misleading is that it is presented in court as being right alongside DNA evidence. This is simply not true, DNA is definitively unique to every individual person but bite patterns are simply not this scientifically unique. In fact, it is not even close. Different analysts have come to vastly different conclusions while evaluating the same bite mark evidence. It is dangerous to present such a subjective opinion as scientific physical evidence in court because that kind of evidence is highly persuasive to a jury.

Some experts say that bite mark evidence should only be used to eliminate a potential suspect based on the bite mark not being able to have come from them. At best, bite mark testimony should only conclude that the suspect cannot be excluded from the possibility of inflicting that bite. But, according to forensic dentists, if a bite mark is the only physical evidence against the suspect and the claim is that they are the only person who could have made that bite, that is junk not science.

Bite mark testimony has been responsible for numerous wrongful convictions. One notable case is that of Kennedy Brewer. Brewer was convicted of raping and killing a three-year old girl who was found in lake with several marks on her body that forensic odontologists deemed to be bite marks. It is unclear whether these marks could have come from animals or bugs living in the lake or whether the marks had any scientific integrity after the body had decayed in a body of water. Nevertheless, bite mark testimony convicted Kennedy Brewer of capital murder and sent him to death row. When Brewer was exonerated through post-conviction DNA tests, another innocent man was also able to be exonerated. Levon Brooks was serving his sentence for a very similar rape and murder. When the real perpetrator was found through DNA in Kennedy Brewer’s case, he was found to be responsible for the additional rape and murder that Brooks was convicted of.

Another notable case of wrongful conviction due to the influence of bite mark testimony is that of Ray Krone. After testimony in court from a bite mark expert saying that Krone’s teeth matched a bite mark on the victim, Krone was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. This bite mark analysis was the only physical evidence linking him to the crime. Ray Krone was released in 2002, after 10 years in prison, following DNA evidence proving his innocence. These men were fortunate enough to have their innocence proven. But, there are still countless others sitting in jail convicted of crimes because of the power of bite mark evidence testimony.

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Today in Wrongful Conviction History: April 4

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 04, 2016 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (1)

Happy exoneration anniversary Cornelius Dupree, Derrick Williams, and Randall Mills!

Cornelius was exonerated in Texas in 2011 with help from the Innocence Project.

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Derrick Williams is one of the Innocence Project of Florida‘s very own exonerees. He was exonerated in 2011 after spending 18 years in prison for kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, grand theft motor vehicle, and battery that he did not commit. More can be read about Derrick’s case here. He was exonerated through the great efforts of IPF attorneys Melissa Montle and Mike Minerva.

DNA EXONERATE

Randall was exonerated in Tennessee in 2014 with help from the Innocence Project.

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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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Steppin’ Out 2015 is coming soon!

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 13, 2015 @ 11:04 AM — Comments (1)

Steppin’ Out 2015 is just around the corner, on Thursday, April 16th, at Mission San Luis. The silent auction, as well as the VIP reception for exonerees, sponsors, and award recipients will start at 6 PM, and the dinner and program will run from 7 to 9:30 PM.

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Jennifer Thompson, co-author of the NY Times bestseller Picking Cotton, will be honored with  the Frank Lee Smith Innocence Award, recognizing her significant contribution to advancing the cause of innocence. Jennifer has used her experience as a crime victim involved in a wrongful conviction case to affect positive change in the criminal justice system and has served as a Commissioner on the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.

Walter McNeil, former police chief, will receive the Innocence Project of Florida Partner in Justice Award, recognizing the non-traditional collaborations he has formed with the innocence community to reform the criminal justice system to prevent future wrongful convictions.

To get an idea of what is in store this year take a look through some of the highlights from 2014’s Steppin’ Out.

Individual tickets are $125, or $100 for public defenders and students, and can be purchased online here. More information about event sponsorships can be found here.  For more information, please call 850-561-6767 or email at jpugh@floridainnocence.org.

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Please Give Generously to the Innocence Project of Florida

Alejandra de la Fuente — 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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Giving Tuesday: Support the Innocence Project of Florida

Alejandra de la Fuente — December 01, 2014 @ 12:23 PM — Comments (0)

On the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, December 2, 2014, is Giving TuesdayGiving Tuesday was begun in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York and the United Nations Foundation as a way to honor the holiday season and counter the tedious commercialism that threatens to take over our most sublime holidays.

Giving Tuesday reminds us all to take a moment to do something meaningful by making a donation to support our favorite charitable nonprofit organization.  As you know, the Innocence Project of Florida relies on charitable contributions to pursue its mission to:

Find and free the innocent in Florida prisons, help those who have been released rebuild their lives, and work to prevent wrongful convictions from happening in the future.

Your generous donations to the Innocence Project of Florida elevate our cause and enable us to help free more and more innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated in the State of Florida.  Your gift will make that happen.

To make an online donation, go to IPF’s donation website by clicking here.  You may also send a check to IPF at 1100 East Park Avenue, Tallahassee, FL 32301.

Thank you for your wonderful support of the Innocence Project of Florida!

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Browsing the National Registry of Exonerations

Alejandra de la Fuente — 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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