Posts Tagged ‘IPF’

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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Guy Spearman to Receive Pro Bono Award at Steppin’ Out 2014

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 02, 2014 @ 11:41 AM — Comments (0)

One of the most difficult truths that an exoneree has to face is the fact that nothing can ever make up for the years they were forced to spend separated from their families. These are weeks, months, years, and often decades, that they can never get back. However, there is one thing that the government can do, and that is give them compensation for the time they spent behind bars, something that Guy Spearman and IPF have worked together on to accomplish.

Guy Spearman, a lobbyist in Florida, will be honored at Steppin’ Out on May 8th, with the Innocence Project of Florida Pro Bono Award. Guy sought out both Wilton Dedge and William Dillon after their exonerations to offer his assistance in getting them compensated for their wrongful convictions. In William Dillon’s case, it took three legislative sessions to get his individual claim bill passed and then signed by Gov. Scott.

William Dillon speaks of Guy’s true heart and his hard work to help him receive compensation,

“Never could I have imagined the work and sweat it would take to make this happen.  Guy’s influence made all the difference the given respect from Government was beyond reproach. His constant work to keep this up front and meaningful was what it took to make it a reality when so many thought it would fail.”

Guy was also very helpful in securing the funding that was essential to convince the Florida Supreme Court to establish the Innocence Commission.

We are grateful for Guy’s efforts to help Wilton and William move forward with their lives after their exonerations.


Guy and Delores Spearman

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Compensation for the Wrongfully Convicted at Home and Around the Nation

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 26, 2014 @ 1:53 PM — Comments (0)

Those who have been wrongfully convicted not only faced with time behind bars. They also faced financial hardships and years stripped from their lives; they lost loved ones – people they will never get back. They deserve compensation for their losses, but not all states have made this happen.

Last week, Wyoming lawmakers took a look at two bills that are aimed at helping those who have been wrongfully convicted, and one of which is a way to receive compensation. This bill will allow wrongfully convicted men and women to receive $100 for everyday they were imprisoned, with a limit of $500,000. Read more.

In a Wisconsin case, Robert Stinson spent over twenty years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. He asked for $129,000 in compensation, but only received $25,000. Since then, the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly have been working to pass a bill to give him the compensation he deserves. In November, the Senate passed a bill for $136,000 in compensation, and last Tuesday, the Assembly answered with a $90,000 version of the bill. Wisconsin legislature should not only be working right now to compensate Robert Stinson, but should be working to pass legislature for all persons who have and will be wrongfully imprisoned. Read more. 

At the end of February, Alaska lawmakers introduced a bill that both prevents wrongful convictions, and aims at compensating those who have been exonerated from wrongful convictions. With this bill, the exonerated would receive $50,000 a year for every year they were incarcerated, up to $2 million. Read More.

In Mississippi, Frank Sanders Tipton was compensated about $41,000 for the 300 days he spent in prison, but was given nothing for the two years he spent under house arrest. Tipton sued the Jackson County Circuit Court for the two years he spent under house arrest because he believes that house arrest is simply another form of incarceration. However, the Mississippi Supreme Court denied Tipton’s appeal. Read more.

In New York, lawmakers are working on legislature to ensure that all who have been wrongfully convicted have a way to receive compensation, something that we have yet to do in Florida. Florida law allows $50,000 a year in compensation, up to $2 million for those who have been wrongfully imprisoned and then exonerated, and additional money for any fees they the exoneree paid and has proof of during trial and conviction. However, there is a limitation in this statute – if the exoneree has a felony conviction prior to or picks one up during his wrongful imprisonment, he is disqualified to receive any compensation from the State. Read more about that here. In contrast, New York  does not offer any money to any exoneree who has pleaded guilty to a crime, even after they have been proven innocent.

It has become apparent that across the country, and here at home in Florida, that all who have been wrongfully convicted should receive compensation for the time spent in prison, and many lawmakers are now beginning to realize this fact. Currently, Florida is working on a new piece of legislature to amend the current compensation statute.

As always, there are steps being made in the right direction, but we are still a long way from where we should be, as only 29 states offer compensation at all. Only one third of exonerees have been compensated in the United States, and most of those have not received any amount close to what was fair for their time spent in prison. However, this issue has proven to be one that we can have faith in, as in 2009, Texas passed a bill to offer $80,000 per year for wrongful imprisonment, which is $30,000 per year more than Florida.

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Anthony Caravella Celebrates 4th Anniversary of Exoneration

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 25, 2014 @ 9:29 AM — Comments (0)

Today, Anthony Caravella celebrates four years of freedom. On March 25, 2010, he was exonerated of the 1983 rape and murder of a 58-year-old woman in Broward County. At the age of 16, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Caravella was arrested a month and a half after the crime occurred when he did not appear in court for a juvenile auto theft charge. He gave four statements implicating himself of the murder, all of which were different and inconsistent with the physical evidence. Less than a year later, Caravella was convicted with no physical evidence, based solely on his story. Nearly 26 years later, DNA proved that Caravella did not rape the victim.

For the last two years, Anthony has been working for his uncle’s construction company in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and is planning to attend IPF’s STAND UP FOR INNOCENCE,a night of comedy benefitting the Innocence Project of Florida, on April 12th. Congrats Anthony!


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What to Expect at Steppin’ Out 2014

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 21, 2014 @ 11:10 AM — Comments (0)

We are proud to announce the official lineup for our annual Steppin’ Out for Innocence gala on May 8th, 2014.

The night of festivities begins with a silent auction, followed by the dinner and program at 7:00 pm.

Many of our 14 DNA exonerees will be in attendance at the event. And we will honor these men for “stepping out and moving forward” with their lives after they collectively spent more than 268 years wrongfully imprisoned. We will honor the Hon. Nancy Daniels with the Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award, for her tirelessly efforts to prevent or reverse wrongful convictions through the trial and appellate courts. We will also honor Guy Spearman with the Innocence Project of Florida Pro Bono Award for his efforts to help Wilton Dedge and William Dillon receive compensation from the State of Florida for their wrongful convictions.

Follow Brian Banks on Twitter.We are also very excited to announce our keynote speaker for the gala this year: Brian Banks. Brian is a California exoneree who spent more than five years in prison for a crime he did not commit and then five years on parole before being exonerated in 2012. Currently he is an NFL free agent and a motivational speaker.

We can’t wait to welcome Brian, our exonerees, our honorees, and most importantly, our sponsors, to Tallahassee on May 8th, 2014 for the annual Steppin’ Out gala.

Click here to download the sponsorship commitment form.


Tickets include silent auction, dinner, and awards program.
General Public – $100
Judges, Public Interest Lawyers and Students – $75

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Louisiana’s Longest Death Row Prisoner Exonerated

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 21, 2014 @ 10:38 AM — Comments (0)

Glenn Ford became a free man last week after being on death row for 30 years, making him the longest serving death row prisoner in Louisiana.


Ford was exonerated after the real killer confessed to the murder that happened three decades ago to an unidentified informant, who then came forward to investigators. Ford says the hardest part about his imprisonment was the fact that he can’t do things that he should have been doing at 35, 40, and 45, like being there when his grandchildren were born. This is over half of his life he cannot just take back.

Glenn Ford became Louisiana’s 10th death row exoneration and is also one of the longest serving death row prisoners in the United States.

Congratulations Glenn, and we hope you take this chance to reconnect with old friends and family, as well as your new ones.

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The Changing Nature of Exonerations

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 11, 2014 @ 12:49 PM — Comments (0)

Across the country the “face of exonerations” are changing, and changing quickly. Last year in the United States there were 83 exonerations. Only 13 of these were based on DNA evidence. Ultimately, DNA is useful in only 5-10% of all cases, usually the ‘who dunnit’ type cases. Surprisingly, women make up the fastest growing population in prisons, and most cases involving female crimes are not DNA case, according to an article by TIME Magazine.

So what can we do to help the other 90% of cases?

Well, Texas has taken on this problem by passing legislature recognizing faulty forensic evidence as a basis for post-conviction release.

In Chicago, a federal judge issued a ruling finding “actual innocence” in a case based on shaken baby syndrome. Without the presence of DNA evidence, Jennifer Del Prete proved that it was impossible a jury could have found her guilty of murdering the child in her care. This has developed the idea that shaken baby syndrome is “more of an article of faith than a proposition of science”, according to U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly. Del Prete has not yet been exonerated, but it is likely she will be. When this happens her case is expected to follow in the footsteps of the non-DNA exonerations we had in 2013.

Recognizing the fact that not all wrongful conviction cases involve DNA, everyone in the criminal justice process must understand that wrongful convictions involve misidentifications, false confessions, and invalid forensic science, and be open to other avenues to prove actual innocence. While many states have taken this first step, there are also many who haven’t.

Check out this article from TIME Magazine by Deborah Tuerkheimer, Professor of Law at DePaul University College of Law, that goes more in-depth on this particular exoneration topic and was used as a resource for this blog post.

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Stepping Out and Moving Forward Becomes a Reality for Johnathan Montgomery

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 28, 2014 @ 7:12 AM — Comments (0)

It may have taken 2,258 days, but Johnathan Montgomery became a free man in 2013 when he was released from prison for a crime he did not commit. Now residing in Panama City, Florida, Montgomery is working to move past all of the hardships he has faced in the last six years. In his trial for rape there was no evidence or witnesses, and yet, based on victims word, he was convicted of all charges.

Montgomery claims that he is acclimating to his new life well. He has bought a car and now has a full time job. He enjoyed Thanksgiving with his family this past year and was thrilled when his cat remembered who he was, even after being gone for over 6 years. WKTR in Hampton Roads, Virginia, covered Montgomery’s journey out of prison and has said, “Now, Montgomery is looking to the future. He has a full-time job and is about to become an uncle.He’s planning on buying a house soon and wants to settle in Florida.

As for the many who have followed his journey and have known him as the wrongfully convicted man who was failed by Virginia’s legal system, Johnathan Montgomery wants you to know this:‘It doesn’t matter where you’re at, it’s how you get there and I can’t be mad.’” Here is what the Mid Atlantic Innocence Project has to say about Johnathan.


Montgomery hugs his mom as they are finally reunited after 6 years in prison.

We are so proud of all the exonerees who are moving forward with their lives that they were forced to leave behind at the time of their wrongful conviction. We hope you join us to “step out and move forward” at our annual celebration, Steppin’ Out, on May 8th 2014, in Tallahassee, Florida, and support the amazing efforts made by these amazing men at one time had lost so much.

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Hon. Nancy Daniels To Be Honored With Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 28, 2014 @ 7:05 AM — Comments (0)

Sometimes it is not just about what we can do to reverse wrongful convictions, but instead what we can do to stop them. A public defender is someone who, at the forefront of a trial, can help to prevent a wrongful conviction before they happen. Nancy Daniels was the first female elected public defender to serve in the Second Judicial Circuit, and this years’ recipient of the Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award. Nancy will be honored at Steppin’ Out 2014 because of her hard work and dedication entire legal career ensuring justice is carried out and wrongful conviction prevented.
Hon. Nancy Daniels

Nancy works everyday to help the innocent and the guilty through the trial process. During her tenure as the elected public defender, Nancy has been a strong advocate for the cause of justice, not only in supervising the activities of lawyers, paralegals, and support staff, but in representing clients at all levels of court.

She has served as the president of the Florida Public Defender Association. Public defenders are prohibited from being involved with any cases post conviction. Nancy’s work is done at the forefront of the process in the trial and appellate courts, preventing or reversing wrongful convictions that thankfully do not have to await the tedious post conviction lottery.

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Is Forensic Odontology Too Unreliable?

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 25, 2014 @ 10:33 AM — Comments (2)

Surprisingly, forensic errors are one of the leading causes for wrongful conviction. Bite marks, specifically, have been known to be misleading and unreliable in most convictions, many of which have been overturned for this reason. Many reasons such as the fact that skin is malleable and permeable make it obvious that we should not rely on this specific type of forensic evidence in cases. Yet, we still do and it constantly turns up in cases across the country.

In 1995, Gerald Richardson was sentenced to 30 years in prison based on evidence presented by bite marks on the victim. However, 19 years later, DNA from the saliva left on the same victim proved that Richardson was innocent. The DNA belonged to an unidentified person and Richardson was exonerated.

Additionally, there have been 25 exonerations so far in the United States of prisoners who were convicted based on bite mark evidence. Bite mark evidence, also known as forensic odontology, has never been validated by any type of government entity. So, why do we continue to use forensic odontology as a viable form of evidence?

One of the most famous bite mark cases in history was that of Ted Bundy, who raped and killed three women who were a part of the Chi Omega sorority at Florida State University as well as more than 100 others in 30 states across the country. In his case, there were bite marks left on one of his victims and, conveniently enough, Bundy had very crooked teeth, making the identification simple for investigators and the jury.

Ted Bundy’s conviction has since then created a bias in the use of bite mark evidence, despite the fact it has proved unreliable. This is because teeth do not always make the same bite marks every time, bite marks can be prone to bias, and bite marks can be skewed based on the violent act being performed.

It only took one case for forensic odontology to be viewed as a reliable source of evidence in thousands of cases to follow. Twenty-five cases of wrongful conviction later, we are still using this as evidence in trials around the country. So the question remains, is there a place for bite mark evidence in the realm of forensic identification? In the case of wrongful conviction, it is safe to say that bite mark evidence is not always accurate and is not a reliable form of identification. In certain cases, Bundy’s case for example, there is a more straightforward answer for forensic odontology.

Check out this article from the Innocence Project and see what they have to say about forensic odontology and the case of wrongful convictions.

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