Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Washington State Passes Wrongful Conviction Compensation Law

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 16, 2013 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)

Last Wednesday Washington became the 28th state to pass a wrongful conviction compensation law with Gov. Jay Inslee signing a bill that will take effect in July. Under the new law, a wrongfully convicted person would be eligible to file a claim against the state once their conviction is reversed. After a judge or jury determines the claim is valid, the courts can award up to $50,000 for each year of imprisonment, including time spent awaiting trial and an additional $50,000 for each year spent on death row.

Money will come from the new state liability fund, which can also provide education aid and pay past child support for those who qualify. The state estimates that at least 15 wrongly convicted former inmates are likely to file claims in the first three years, with one to two each year thereafter.

The bill, which passes through the Washington state House and Senate with bipartisan and nearly unanimous support, was championed by Representative Tina Orwall and the Innocence Project of Northwest Legislative Advocacy Clinic.  We want to congratulate them as well as IPNW Policy Director Lara Zarowsky and her students who worked tirelessly to advocated the passage of the bill even during a year with tight budgets.  Way to go “Team Compensate!”

Nationwide, one-third of people exonerated after proving their innocence have not been compensated for the injustices they suffered and the time they spent incarcerated.

Governor Inslee shakes hands with ICP exononree Alan Northrop, who served over 17 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.

Governor Inslee shakes hands with ICP exononree Alan Northrop, who served over 17 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.

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Dillon Got What He Needed & Deserved: An Apology and Compensation

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 15, 2012 @ 10:10 AM — Comments (1)

March 1, 2012 will be a day William Dillon will always remember. William served 27.5 years for a murder he did not commit. He was proven innocent using DNA testing in 2008. He waited 3.5 years for the State to do the right thing and they have.

Gov. Rick Scott apologized multiple times to William during the signing of the bill that will compensate William for his wrongful conviction and wrongful incarceration.

Read more coverage of the day: here, here, here, and here.

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Weekly Update: Coincidence Is Not the Standard and DNA Database Expansion

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 03, 2012 @ 10:10 AM — Comments (2)

Missouri Man, Clayton Price, Exonerated.

Clayton D. Price of Taney County, MO, served seven years for a sexual assault he did not commit until his conviction was overturned last Thursday. Price was wrongfully convicted in March 2004 for sexually abusing his fiancée’s six-year-old daughter.  According to the Innocence Project, these allegations stemmed from the little girl’s paternal grandmother, who was seeking full custody of the child. Price’s conviction was overturned by St. Louis Circuit Judge J. Edward Sweeney, leaving Price free. The Midwest Innocence Project assisted Mr.Price in getting his conviction overturned. Read more here.

NY State Senate Passes DNA Database Expansion Bill

We have mentioned the DNA database expansion  bill suggested by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo several times in recent weeks (see here and background on the bill here). Governor Cuomo said of the bill, “this critical crime fighting resource embraces technology to help protect the innocent and convict the guilty. I call on the Assembly to [pass the bill] so I can sign this bill into law immediately.”

While the measure is a step in the right direction for justice system reform it is not enough in the eyes of New York State Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III. Doyle released a statement January 31 saying, “we agree with the Governor that expanding the DNA database would help exonerate the innocent and convict the guilty. However, a State Bar report found that wrongful convictions are caused by a number of other factors as well.” Doyle went on to suggest that the Legislature consider instituting more reforms. He listed the following as measures he hopes the Legislature will pursue:

  • requiring the videotape recording of police interrogations;
  • addressing mistaken-identity testimony with changes in how police lineups are conducted; strengthening a prosecutor’s obligation to turn over evidence favorable to the defense;
  • allowing a defendant who had pled guilty to a crime he or she did not commit to petition a judge to obtain a DNA test

The Nation’s 140th Death Row Exonoree Goes Free

Joe D’Ambrosia was finally exonerated last week in Ohio. D’Ambrosio was the 140th person to be exonerated from U.S. Death Rows.

While the proof of his innocence is wonderful, the detail of D’Ambrosia’s case isn’t very uplifting. According to Amnesty International, “Mr. D’Ambrosio’s exoneration came about because of a chance meeting with a Catholic priest who was visiting another inmate.  The priest, Rev. Neil Kookoothe, happened to have legal training and decided to look into the case himself.  As Kevin Werner, executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions, put it: ‘Coincidence is not the standard we should be comfortable with when our justice system is seeking to execute people.'” Amnesty noted that Ohio conducts the second-most executions of any state in the U.S., but because of issues with “botched executions and wrongful convictions” the state has formed a special task force to investigate the way Ohio conducts capitol punishment.

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Weekly Update

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 19, 2012 @ 11:56 AM — Comments (1)

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo called for an expansion of the DNA database in his State of the State speech this month. His call would expand DNA collection to include all felony convictions and all penal law misdemeanors, expanding the DNA database which currently only collects samples for less than half of all criminal convictions in New York state.

Not surprisingly, both the District Attorney’s office and other law enforcement offices support this plan. But according to an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, “civil libertarians oppose the legislation because they believe it would infringe on people’s rights and they don’t think there is enough oversight and quality control in the system.”  While the focus of this proposed expansion seems to be that an expanded DNA database would allow for greater and more effective prosecution, the revelation of wrongful convictions that this would bring about was also mentioned. Read more here.

A week has passed without any movement on William Dillon’s Compensation Bill. The bill was passed by the Senate last week, and was read in the House last Tuesday but has made no progress since then. We’re hoping that the House will take up and pass this bill soon, to get Dillon the compensation owed to him.

Thomas E. Haynesworth of Richmond, VA, is facing a similar battle with obtaining the compensation that he expected after serving 27 years for a rape he did not commit. Haynesworth has received a proposal for a compensation package, one that could potentially be worth more than $800,000, but he was disappointed with this amount. In Virginia, exonorees are not entitled to compensation but must have that compensation approved by the General Assembly. They may receive up to $40,000 per year served in prison, but there is a cap of 20 years. So, Haynesworth cannot receive compensation for the full amount he time he spent as an innocent man in prison. While this situation is not ideal, Haynesworth is lucky at least to be dealing with this issue in Viginia, one of only 27 states that provides compensation to their exonorees. Read more here.

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January 2012 Video Update

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 11, 2012 @ 5:35 PM — Comments (0)

In this video update, Executive Director Seth Miller provides a summary of several bills that will be addressed during the 2012 Florida legislative session. Seth also gives information about two upcoming Innocence Project of Florida events.

Four bills, all dealing with the death penalty, will be looked at during this legislative session. Three bills deal with the way the juries decide on giving the death penalty. Senate Bill 772, sponsored by Senator Thad Altman, Senate Bill 352, sponsored by Senator Oscar Braynon, and House Bill 29, sponsored by Representative John Patrick Julien all seek to require a unanimous decision by the jury to send someone to death row. Currently, Florida is the only state in the nation that allows people to be sent to death row with a simple majority vote. Someone convicted of a capitol offense can be executed with a vote of 7 to 5. The three above bills would change that and bring us in line with other states and make the justice system more fair.

The fourth bill is House Bill 4051 and is sponsored by Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda. The bill seeks to abolish the death penalty in Florida.

While the Innocence Project of Florida does not take an official stance on the death penalty, we hope that you will call your senators and representatives and encourage them to support these bills. In a system that so often gets it wrong giving the death penalty by simple majority is risky.

The Innocence Project of Florida also has some exciting events coming up in the next several months. On January 19 from 2-4 p.m. Seth and one of our exonorees, Alan Crotzer, will be at the Selby Library in Sarasota, FL, speaking about the Innocence Project of Florida and Alan’s experiences. On April 26 the Innocence Project will hold Steppin’ Out with the Innocence Project of Florida, its first annual gala. The gala will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Miami, and will honor IPF’s exonorees and several other special guests. More information is here.


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Compensation Bill for William Dillon Passed by Florida Senate

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 11, 2012 @ 12:07 PM — Comments (1)

William Dillon is now one step closer to getting the compensation that he deserves for spending 27.5 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit.

This bill seeks to provide Dillon with $1.35 million, and while no monetary amount can make up for the decades that Dillon lost as a result of the flawed justice system it would certainly be a step in the right direction. Many people think that getting out of prison is the hardest part of wrongful conviction battles, but in reality the exonorees’ struggles follow them out of the jailhouse doors. How is someone who spend nearly thirty years in prison supposed to adjust to a world full of computers, cell phones, facebook? How are they supposed to get a job with a decade-long gap in their employment history? And how, then, are they supposed to survive without any savings or any way to earn a living? This bill, and other compensation bills, gives the exonorees a fighting chance once they are freed.

Senate Bill 2 was overwhelmingly passed and is now in the hands of the Florida House of Representatives. A similar bills was passed in the Senate last year, but did not make it through the House.

My eyes are now on the House with fingers crossed that they will get it right this time and give Dillon the compensation that he so rightfully deserves.

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Witness Misidentification: Costs, Causes, and Cures

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 09, 2012 @ 10:39 AM — Comments (0)

Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions web site states that, “erroneous eyewitness testimony — whether offered in good faith or perjured — is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions in the U.S. criminal justice system. According to The Innocence Project’s site, eyewitness misidentification plays a role in over 75 percent of cases that are overturned by DNA evidence. Looking at these numbers, it seems a bit ridiculous that the justice system would consider eyewitness testimony to be sacrosanct pieces of evidence, and yet they are.

Why exactly is it that witness misidentifications are so prevalent? The answer, frankly, is simple, and can be seen in social science research that has been conducted over the past 30 years. The Innocence Project makes a comparison between the human mind and tape recorders, asserting that the human mind is clearly not capable of taking in, processing, and recording exact details and events the way that a video camera or tape recorder can, and for that reason alone human memories should be taken as possibilities, not facts. Further, witnesses often experience some level of victimization as a result of being so closely involved with crime, and anyone who has been a victim of a crime can attest to the way that victimization affects one’s memory.

For a more engaging way to see the flaws of human perception and memory, watch this video. If you read ahead before watching, you’ll cheat yourself out of the experience!

Don’t read ahead…watch the video first.

Did you notice the moonwalking bear? I know I certainly did not when I first watched the video, but after viewing it again I cannot imagine how I missed it. If the human mind isn’t able to notice something so different while sitting in a calm, controlled environment, then how can it possibly be expected to register events under the stress undergone when watching a crime take place?

All of these things said, however, witness identifications and testimonies can be useful and powerful tools of the criminal justice system, if used correctly. There are a variety of steps that could be taken to decrease the probability of misidentification. Most of these measures could be implemented easily and with little to no cost to law enforcement, the legal system, or taxpayers.

Use of a double-blind procedure in orchestrating lineups could seriously cut down on accidental or intentional influencing of witnesses. This double-blind would ensure that neither the administrator or the lineup nor the witness would know which individual was the suspect. There is also a lineup protocol currently endorse by Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions, The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the MacArthur Justice Center that, in addition to using a double-blind procedure, presents suspects sequentially as opposed to placing them all side by side. This method is said to reduce the tendency of witnesses to make relative judgements about the suspects, which can often lead to misidentifications.

These methods are incredibly simple to implement and cost little-to-nothing to implement. If law enforcement agencies nationwide were to adopt these methods, they could seriously decrease the largest cause of wrongful convictions. In April of last year the Florida Senate passed a bill known as the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act. This bill would have implemented the above procedures and would also have instituted the use of educational materials and training for law enforcement officers regarding how to conduct a lineup, as well as a standard set of instructions for eyewitnesses before viewing the lineup. Unfortunately, the bill stalled and was ultimately withdrawn from consideration in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, there is not a similar bill being proposed during this legislative session. I guess the citizens of Florida will have to wait until next year.

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Call Legislators Now: Help Save Witness Id. Reform

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 03, 2011 @ 9:59 AM — Comments (1)

Senate Bill 1206, Witness Identification Reform Act, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Palm City), passed the full Senate on April 29, 2011, with a vote count of 34-5. 

We asked you to reach out to your Senators and Representatives and you have. Thank you. You have made a difference in the Legislative process. There is still more to do.

Call To Action
The Witness Identification Reform Act will make a difference by removing suggestiveness from the identification process, and diminishing misidentifications that cause wrongful convictions IF it is passed by the Florida House of Representative.

For this to happen—the full House to consider and pass SB 1206—it must be placed on the Special Order Calendar THIS WEEK.  The House Rules & Calendar Committee meets to set the calendar for the next day at 8:00 PM each night this week.  At this time, they will determine what bills the House will consider the following day.

We are asking you to contact:

Thank them for their hard work, urge them to place SB 1206 on the Special Order Calendar for consideration by the full House this week, and to support this vital piece of legislation when it comes up for a vote.  Remember we need you to call tonight before the Rules and Calendar Committee meets at 8 PM.  If you can’t call tonight, please call each day until SB 1206 is put on the Special Order Calendar.

Additional Information About the Bill
Just as a reminder, the bill provides for:

  • double-blind administration of line-ups using an independent administrator to prevent influencing the witness’s selection, however inadvertently;
  • cost-effective alternatives to the independent administrator;
  • standard instructions for eyewitnesses before viewing the line-ups; and
  • educational materials and training programs for law enforcement on how to conduct line-ups.

This is a fiscally neutral bill. In fact, this bill promises to save Florida money. In the three DNA exonerations that were cleanly tied to misidentification (i.e. no other contributing factors), the State has already paid out more than $3 million.

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Press Release: Law Enforcement, Victims, and the Wrongly Convicted Urge House to Pass Landmark Eyewitness Identification Bill

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 02, 2011 @ 12:12 PM — Comments (0)

Law Enforcement, Victims, and the Wrongly Convicted Urge House to Pass Landmark Eyewitness Identification Bill;

SB 1206, Requiring Identification Best Practices, Passes Senate and Awaits House Consideration

(Tallahassee, FL) As Senate Bill 1206 awaits consideration by the full Florida House of Representatives, those most affected by misidentification and wrongful conviction— law enforcement, victims of crime, and the wrongly convicted—urge the House to pass SB 1206 in its current form and pave the way for its enactment in law.  SB 1206 will require all law enforcement agencies in Florida to follow certain scientifically proven best practices when preparing and administering eyewitness identification procedures.  SB 1206, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Palm City), passed the full Senate on April 29, 2011, with a vote count of 34-5.

The most critical reform in SB 1206 is the required use of an independent or blind administrator who doesn’t know the identity of law enforcement’s known suspect.  Thirty years of scientific testing has shown that “blind” administration is the single most important way to remove intentional or inadvertent suggestiveness from lineup procedures that lead to mistaken identifications.

“Simply spoken, as long we delay and continue to conduct photo lineups in any way that is not ‘blind’ or ‘double blind,’ many innocent people will continue to be misidentified, wrongly convicted, and wrongly incarcerated.  That is a matter of public safety, for as long as the innocent subject remains incarcerated, the guilty and often dangerous subject walks the street,” said Robert Cromwell, former Special Agent-in-Charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation for North Florida.

“Representative Snyder had it right when he relied on his own experience as a career police officer to conclude that sometimes folks in law enforcement are resistant to change and that the only way to diminish misidentifications and catch the real perpetrators the first time around is to require blind administration by statute. The House can heed Rep. Snyder’s words by passing SB 1206,” continued Cromwell, referring to statements of Rep. Bill Snyder (R-Stuart), made at the Florida Innocence Commission, as he implored the Commission to support Negron’s proposal that is now SB 1206.  The Innocence Commission, after six months of studying the issue of eyewitness misidentification identification, voted 12-8 in March 2011, to support Negron’s legislative solution.

Should Florida enact SB 1206 into law, it will be one of over ten states to address this issue legislatively and the fourth to adopt a statewide mandate of blind administration of eyewitness identification procedures, joining New Jersey, North Carolina and Ohio.  A recent survey of law enforcement agencies in Florida demonstrated that a mere 16% of those agencies even have a written policy addressing identification procedures.  Of those who have policies, four agencies in Florida, Hillsborough County Sheriff, Coral Springs Police Department, Lighthouse Point Police Department, and Margate Police Department, are already performing the best practices set out in SB 1206.  Additionally, scores of law enforcement agencies around the country, large and small, have implemented the best practices required by SB 1206, including The City of Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Police agencies across the country have implemented the very modifications to lineup procedures contained in SB 1206 out of recognition that they enhance the reliability and accuracy of identifications. These practices help law enforcement to avoid focusing on innocent suspects that derail investigations,” said Darrel Stephens, former Chief of Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department, which implemented the very procedures in SB 1206 as part of a statewide mandate in North Carolina.  “Law enforcement professionals in jurisdictions that have implemented these types of reforms, including the use of an independent administrator, find that these identifications are unassailable in court. Investigators do not have to spend time defending the practices they use to obtain identifications in court because they are scientifically-supported. There is no question that law enforcement benefits from the use of best practices in this area,” continued Stephens, who also served as the Executive Director, Police Executive Research Forum.

When the best practices set out in SB 1206 are not used, many suffer, especially the victims of crime and those wrongly convicted based on misidentifications.  “When Ronald Cotton was awaiting trial and being sentenced to life in prison, Bobby Poole, the man who actually raped me, was left on the streets of Burlington NC to further rape at least six other women.  It was my eyewitness identification of Ronald Cotton that led to this tragedy and still haunts me to this day.  Simple reforms can be put into place to help ensure we hold the guilty accountable, the innocent are free and the victims can receive true justice,” said Jennifer Thompson, a victim of a 1984 North Carolina rape, who now speaks with exoneree Ronald Cotton about the problems with eyewitness identifications.

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions nationally and in Florida.  Seventy-five percent of the 269 DNA exonerees nationally were originally wrongfully convicted based, in whole or in part, on mistaken witness identification.  In Florida, 10 of 13 DNA exonerees had an eyewitness misidentification contribute to their wrongful convictions.

“A very suggestive identification procedure was used in my case that led to my misidentifictaion and wrongful conviction.  I spent 24 years, 6 months, 13 days and 4 hours in prison for someone else’s crime while the real rapist remained free.  My ordeal could have been prevented had SB 1206 been in place during the criminal investigation that led to my wrongful conviction,” said Alan Crotzer, convicted of a 1981 double-rape in Tampa and exonerated through DNA testing in 2006.

Crotzer signed an open letter from the wrongly convicted in Florida to the House leadership urging them to pass SB 1206 in its current form.  This letter was recently published in the Orlando Sentinel and can be read here.

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April Video Update – Big, Big News!

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 21, 2011 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (7)

In this report, Executive Director Seth Miller describes the day that Derrick Williams was exonerated – April 4th – and the events leading up to this “joyous, powerful and once-in-a-lifetime” occasion. Seth also provides an update on the progress of the Witness Identification Reform Act in the Florida Legislature.

Video Summary
Derrick Williams was exonerated on April 4, 2011 after an emotional roller coaster ride and 18 years of wrongful incarceration. Two weeks after Derrick’s two-day evidentiary hearing, we received the court order vacating his convictions. Read the order here. At this point, the State Attorney’s Office had three choices: they could drop the charges allowing Derrick to go free, or they could retry Derrick, or appeal the ruling. Surprisingly they filed a notice to appeal the ruling, which would have kept Derrick in prison for an additional six to 12 months while the appeal was being decided. Read our blog post about this unprecedented decision here.

However, on Monday, April 4th, we received a phone call from the prosecutor indicating they had changed their minds and were withdrawing the appeal and dropping the all charges. Exuberantly, IPF staff drove 300+ miles to Hardee Correctional Institute and walked Derrick out of prison into the arms of his family.  Derrick became the 13th Florida DNA exoneree and the 268th person in the nation to be exonerated by postconviction DNA testing.

In the video, Seth also discusses the progress of the Witness Identification Reform Act (SB 1206 and HB 821) in the Florida Legislature. HB 821 has been dramatically, and sadly, watered down. Stay tuned for continued action alerts about this important legislation.

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