Henry Thompson — 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.
The 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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Henry Thompson — October 25, 2013 @ 11:43 AM — Comments (0)
As of October 2013 the number of exonerations documented in the United States was 1,228.
Exonerations nationwide are documented in The National Registry of Exonerations, which is a joint project of the Michigan Law School and Northwestern University School of Law. The registry is a searchable and detailed database of information about those who have been exonerated from prison in the United States.
Samuel R. Gross, law professor at the University of Michigan School of Law , and Rob Warden, executive director of The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern School of Law, began reviewing data on exonerations in the United States in 1989.
In 2012, with the help of law student Michael Shaffer and many other volunteers, they published a comprehensive review of exonerations on a national scale and launched the website for the National Registry of Exonerations.
The report contains extensive research data from 1989 to 2012. The three help to define and clarify exonerations and the processes behind them. The report also significantly explained in large detail reasons for wrongful convictions. Here are some excerpts from the inaugural report from The National Registry of Exonerations.
“DNA exonerations also take longer than non-DNA exonerations; the median time from conviction is 14.9 years compared to 7.8 years. This is true for homicide cases, where the median time is 15 years with DNA and 11.9 years without; for sexual assault cases, where the comparable numbers are 14.6 years and 7.1 years; and for child sex abuse exonerations, where the median times are 17 years with DNA and 5.9 without DNA.”
“The 873 exonerations in the Registry come from 43 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 19 federal districts, and the military. They are very unevenly distributed by state, and especially when broke down by county. This suggests we are missing many cases – both innocent defendants from jurisdictions where exonerations are vanishingly rare, and exonerated defendants whose cases have received little or no public attention.”
Along with detailing information regarding DNA testing for exonerations and national data, Gross and Ward explain the types of situations that may lead to wrongful incarceration. These situations are many and varied though common themes tie them together. Some of the most egregious wrongful convictions stem from official misconduct on behalf of law enforcement or the courts.
“The range of misconduct is very large. It includes flagrantly abusive investigative practices that produce the types of false evidence we have discussed: committing or procuring perjury; torture; threats or other highly coercive interrogations; threatening or lying to eyewitnesses; forensic fraud. At the far end, it includes framing innocent suspects for crimes that never occurred. The most common serious form of official misconduct is concealing exculpatory evidence from the defendant and the court.”
The average number of exonerations has grown by about 220 cases per year. The website is an invaluable resource that is intuitively designed and makes searching out exonerees a simple task. The website allows the user to search using name, exoneration date, contributing factors to exoneration, location, and status. The website also provides relatively short biographies of those profiled and their history regarding their exoneration.
You can find information about the Registry online and a copy of the inaugural exonerations report created by Gross and Warden can be found here.
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Anna Fitzpatrick — May 29, 2013 @ 9:49 AM — Comments (0)
This month the National Registry of Exonerations celebrates its first anniversary, having launched the site on May 21, 2012. At the time, the site listed 891 exonerations. Since then, they’ve added 232 more cases to their database. The Registry is a joint project between the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law and is the only comprehensive database containing all known exonerations since 1989.
Compiling all exoneration cases in one place has allowed the students and staff of these organizations not only to organize exonerations by geography and contributing factors but also to conduct studies intended to identify patterns within wrongful conviction cases and to seek reforms to eliminate these patterns. Their first study, which covered post-conviction witness recantations, can be found on their site and is the first systematic study of recantations ever conducted.
Congratulations to everyone at the registry and to those who worked tirelessly conducted the recantation study. Keep up the hard work!
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Anna Fitzpatrick — May 24, 2013 @ 2:17 PM — Comments (0)
Fifty years ago, in the landmark Brady v. Maryland case, the U.S. Supreme Court established a fundamental principle about the duty of prosecutors – to seek justice fairly, not merely win convictions by any means. This meant that due process required prosecutors to disclose any exculpatory evidence that was likely to affect a conviction or sentence. Known as the Brady Rule, the case was meant to lead to more transparency and equity in criminal proceedings; however, its power has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who skirt around the rule.
It is impossible to know how often prosecutors violate Brady since this type of misconduct, by definition, involves concealment. But there is good reason to believe that violations are widespread. The National Registry of Exonerations has compiled detailed data for about 1,100 exonerations for the period 1989-2012. Of those cases, a whopping 42% were caused by what has been deemed “official misconduct.” Allowing for a 50-50 split between police and prosecutorial misconduct, the number still hovers around 21%, and when one considers that prosecutors are meant to seek justice rather than convictions, that is a rather alarming rate. The court has long agreed that individual prosecutors should be protected from civil liability so that they may freely pursue criminals; unfortunately, that allows for almost complete unaccountability for wrong-doings in judicial proceedings.
Recently the “Michael Morton Act” was passed in Texas, a law meant to decrease the amount of wrongful convictions within the state. The bill’s namesake spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife before DNA evidence finally exonerated him in 2011. The prosecutor in his case has been accused of deliberately withholding a substantial amount of evidence that would have led to an acquittal, including an account from the defendants three-year-old son who witnessed the murder and explained that “Daddy wasn’t home” at the time, neighbor testimonials who saw a man park a green van outside the house the morning of the murder, and a police officer in San Antonio who stated he could identify a woman who had used the victim’s stolen Visa card in a jewelry store – all of which were withheld from the defense.
The case of John Thompson represents another example of atrocious prosecutorial misconduct and the Supreme Court’s refusal to hold the prosecutor accountable. Mr. Thompson spent 14 years on death row before he was exonerated following the discovery that lawyers in the New Orleans district attorney’s office had kept more than a dozen pieces of evidence secret, even destroying some. Yet the Supreme Court overturned a $14 million jury award to Mr. Thompson, ruling that the prosecutor’s office had not shown a pattern of “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights.
One root of the epidemic of misconduct may stem from prosecutors positions as pseudo-politicians. The position of “prosecutor” is imbedded with an incredible level of power, and as Lord Acton wrote 126 years ago, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Not only do prosecutors have power, but they are essentially free from accountability. The outrageous breaches of due process discussed here are merely illustrative of a deep-rooted indifference towards the assurance of justice.
But what can be done? One example of a better approach that has been adopted in North Carolina and now Ohio is to adopt an open-files reform to make criminal cases more efficient and fair. The state statute require prosecutors in felony cases, before trial, to make available to the defense “the complete files of all law enforcement agencies, investigatory agencies and prosecutors’ offices involved in the investigation of the crimes committed or the prosecution of the defendant.” The Justice Department insists that is has solved the problem by tightening requirements for disclosure, but numerous misconduct scandals show that is not sufficient. The best way to fulfill the promise of Brady is with open-files reform, which addresses the need for full disclosure of evidence that could show a defendant’s innocence.
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Jackie — June 18, 2012 @ 9:12 AM — Comments (0)
Data from a new National Registry of Exonerations has placed Cook County as the number one place for wrongful convictions of violent crimes. Since 1989, 101 cases have been overturned in Illinois, 78 were from Cook County.
Many of the convictions on the list, in Cook County, include cases overseen by disgraced Chicago police commander, Joe Burge, who was convicted of two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury. Burge was accused of torturing more than 200 criminal suspects, between 1972 and 1991, into false confessions.
The top 10 states include:
2.New York 88
One could assume the high number of wrongful convictions can be attributed to heavily populated areas, however the National Registry of Exonerations reports that these areas have strong presence of wrongful convictions centers and innocence projects.
Meaning that these states probably don’t have the highest number of wrongful convictions, they are just better at overturning them. It is estimated that Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions is responsible for a third of Illinois exonerations.
The report also states that because exonerations are not centralized, many exonerations remain unknown. Some of the unknown exonerations include low profile cases and those concealed from the public attention.
While the number of wrongful convictions in Illinois is alarming and even disturbing, it is reassuring to know that where there is a willing and active group of people fighting to overturn wrongful convictions, innocent people will have a higher chance of gaining the justice they deserve.
Read the full report from the National Registry of Exonerations.
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