Posts Tagged ‘Obama’


Dewey Bozella: Never Give Up the Fight

Anne — October 17, 2011 @ 12:34 PM — Comments (1)

Along with earning his GED, a bachelor’s and master’s degree during a 26-year stint in prison, Dewey Bozella, 52, must have surely read “A Dream Deferred,” Langston Hughes’ signature poem of holding fast to aspirations and goals.  Bozella didn’t let his dream of boxing  “dry up like a raisin in the sun,” nor did he allow himself to become bitter and “fester like a sore” during his more than a quarter century behind bars for a crime he did not commit.  What he did, upon his release from prison in October 2009, was train, non-stop, for, literally, the second fight of  his life.

No one who knows Bozella’s story will dispute the fact that he has been a fighter all his life. That he survived and moved past his troubled days on the streets of New York is testimony to his strength, endurance, and character.

Vestiges from the first fight of his life most likely arise from the memory of witnessing his father beating his pregnant mother to death when he was nine years old and the recollection of losing two brothers to violent crimes when he was a young boy. A life of petty crime was on the wane when, in 1977, he was charged with the murder of Emma Crapser, 92, of Poughkeepsie, New York. Although no  physical evidence or DNA evidence linked him to the crime, he was convicted primarily on the testimony of two convicts who eventually won release based on their testimonies.

Bozella’s case saw its share of legal wrangling throughout his imprisonment, and on four separate occasions he could have exited California’s notorious Sing Sing prison facility if he would only admit guilt. He maintained his position of innocence, however, throughout the multiple plea offers. After years of imprisonment his story made its way to the WilmerHale law firm which took up the case and helped secure his eventual release from prison.

But Dewey Bozella’s story does not end here.

Ever since his days of imprisonment he aspired to box in a single, professional fight. He had trained in prison and had become a champion, but he’d always wanted to take his skills beyond the prison’s walls to a larger audience.  On October 15, 2011, he got the chance by engaging in his first professional boxing match in the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. He won the match, which he called his “first, last, and only”  professional fight. His opponent, Larry Hopkins, at age 30, was twenty-two years his junior. Bozella said that he used to “dream about this happening. It [a professional fight] was my dream come true.”  Winning the match, however, did not deter him from his one-fight declaration. “This is a young man’s game,” he says. “I did what I came to do.”

A bevy of well-wishers called Bozella prior to his professional debut, including President Barack Obama who called on October 13th to offer his congratulations and to wish him well in his debut fight. No doubt the President’s phone call helped buoy Bozella’s stamina in the ring.

While this commentary centers primarily around a man’s unjust conviction, incarceration, and eventual release from prison, it is also a statement about the power of believing in oneself and holding fast to dreams no matter the circumstances and obstacles put before you. If Langston were alive today, I’m  certain that he would be proud of Dewey Bozella and his refusal to succumb to the myriad experiences and incidents that helped shape his  life.  In the meantime, Bozella’s story of  faith and determination might be another poem just waiting to be penned.

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Obama’s interrogation unit approved

Lenore — August 25, 2009 @ 9:27 AM — Comments (0)

A couple months ago, we mentioned Obama’s plan to create a new team for interrogating terrorism suspects. Last week the plan was approved by the president and the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) was created.

Made up of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the interrogation unit will be housed at the FBI but will be overseen by the National Security Council — shifting the center of gravity away from the CIA and giving the White House direct oversight.

At first I considered this good news – better interrogation methods. But there was one thing I read in the Washington Post article that seemed unfair:

Interrogators will not necessarily read detainees their rights before questioning, instead making that decision on a case-by-case basis, officials said. That could affect whether some material can be used in a U.S. court of law. The main purpose of the new unit, however, is to glean intelligence, especially about potential terrorist attacks, the officials said.

“It is not going to, certainly, be automatic in any regard that they are going to be Mirandized,” one official said, referring to the practice of reading defendants their rights. “Nor will it be automatic that they are not Mirandized.”

I find it hard to believe that all information given won’t be used in court if they aren’t Mirandized, and in that case they should know their rights.

Also, a second unit is to be created specifically for decisions relating to Guantanamo Bay prisoners, but details haven’t yet been finalized.

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Obama looking into new interrogation methods

Lenore — July 20, 2009 @ 9:04 AM — Comments (1)

A recurring theme in our blog posts is law enforcement misconduct that leads to wrongful incarceration. Pressure from police officers and lawyers can lead to eyewitness misidentifications or false confessions.

President Obama has taken this into consideration as it relates to the interrogation of terror suspects. A small group of professionals from different agencies are to be assembled specifically for the interrogation of high-value detainees, whereas previously all terror cases were handled by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

One of the team’s tasks would likely be to devise a new set of interrogation methods, according to one person familiar with the proposal. Those techniques could be drawn from sources ranging from scientific studies to the psychology behind television ads.

The new interrogation team, if adopted, would represent the Obama administration’s effort to sweep away a contentious counterterrorism issue that has dogged the CIA and Justice Department since a U.S. network of secret prisons was revealed in 2005. The team would reduce the CIA’s controversial role in interrogations, but the agency remains at odds with Congress.

The article continues…

There could, however, be some similarities with the approach taken by the Bush administration. The team’s efforts, for example, would focus more on gathering intelligence than on assembling evidence suitable for use in a criminal trial.

In addition, the team would be asked to devise noncoercive procedures that may differ from the 19 permitted in the Army Field Manual, which include providing rewards for information and playing on a detainee’s anxiety or other emotions. That document has emerged as a favored standard among many lawmakers and some human-rights groups.

Obviously the major controversy in this instance were the torture methods used to induce confessions out of suspects. Much like eyewitness interrogations, suspect interrogations should be recorded to assure that a confession wasn’t forced.

It’s wonderful that the Obama administration is taking this common issue into consideration. Hopefully the new techniques will spread into use in non-terror cases as well.

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Death penalty as a deterrent

Ryan — June 17, 2009 @ 4:05 PM — Comments (0)

Can we please end this argument now? The science has been on my side for some time, but just in case someone has missed it, a new study published in Northwestern University School of Law’s Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology finds that the country’s top criminologists are decidedly of the opinion that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent above and beyond the imposition of a long prison sentence, e.g. life in prison. The study concludes “that the vast majority of the world’s top criminologists believe that the empirical research has revealed the deterrence hypothesis for a myth.” Download the study here.

President Obama said in his inaugural address that his administration would “restore science to its rightful place.” This was an implicit jab at the Bush administration – for why else would something need to be restored unless it had been displaced? – and its habit of doing violence to science. President Obama should make good on his own promise, heed the opinions of the overwhelming majority of the country’s top criminologists, base his policy on the best conclusions of science, and do away with the antiquated, barbaric and unbecoming institution of the death penalty.

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Why President Obama should have Georgia on his mind…

Ryan — May 20, 2009 @ 11:37 AM — Comments (0)

The day after Amnesty International’s Global Day of Action for Troy Davis, the Telegraph out of London runs an opinion piece by Neil Durkin on the possibility of an Obama pardon for Troy.

Durkin points to the centrism that Obama has come to embody in his first days in Office, straddling the line between hardcore death penalty opponents and reformers. Obama could be described as a pragmatist on this issue who can be pro-death penalty for some crimes, while fully acknowledging the flaws in the system that might lead to an innocent man being executed, something that no one should be for. For example, Obama championed important criminal justice reform while he was a state senator in Illinois, while avoiding ambiguity about whether he supported the death penalty.

So, why should this concern a popular president, burrowing through an enormous in-tray 500 miles away in Washington? Well, on the one hand Barack Obama is unambiguously pro-death penalty in what he calls the “most egregious” or especially “heinous” crimes. Last year he disagreed with a Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the execution of child rapists receiving death sentences and he’s said he’d want Bin Laden executed. Okay, so far so what? This is no different from most mainstream politicians in pro-death penalty USA.

But, Obama is also heavily associated with Illinois where, as he delicately puts it, they “had some problems … in the application of the death penalty”. In fact, the problems included the then Governor George Ryan being confronted with the fact that during his governorship more death row prisoners had been released from prison on the grounds of innocence than had been put to death. Death row was running at “a loss”. As a lawmaker in Illinois Obama helped introduce new measures for videotaping police interviews and he says he’s “proud” of his role in “overhauling a death penalty system that was broken”.

A presidential pardon or commutation for Troy would draw enormous attention and scrutiny. It would likely draw criticism as well. People are executed in the United States almost every day, though Durkin is right when he says that Troy has a particularly strong claim of innocence, or at least a strong claim of entitlement to a new trial. Troy’s case has drawn so much attention – even from across the pond, as we see here – because it is so egregious. We will see if that moves Obama to action, though, for my part, I doubt it.

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Criminal justice and Obama White House

Ryan — May 12, 2009 @ 10:24 AM — Comments (0)

We blogged earlier, on the day of the inauguration, about Obama’s plans to reform the criminal justice system.

Today, SentLaw noticed that the text of the White House’s page on civil rights – where only a bulleted list containing one or two mentions of criminal justice reform were mentioned – has changed.

Though perhaps this is old news, I just noticed that the discussion of criminal justice issues has changed over at the Civil Rights webpage on WhiteHouse.gov… this webpage used to take a bullet-point approach to describing agenda items, and the key bullet points were “Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Support”; “Eliminate Sentencing Disparities”; “Expand Use of Drug Courts.”

Now the President’s web site reads:

The President will lead the fight to build a more fair and equitable criminal justice system. He will seek to strengthen federal hate crime legislation and will work to ensure that federal law enforcement agencies do not resort to racial profiling. He supports funding for drug courts, giving first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, if appropriate, in drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than prison terms in changing behavior. President Obama will also improve ex-offender employment and job retention strategies, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counseling so ex-offenders can successfully re-join society.

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Friday Roundup

Ryan — May 08, 2009 @ 10:40 AM — Comments (0)

Though Colorado failed to abolish the death penalty yesterday, they did manage to ban texting while driving.

Add this to the list of bad signs coming out of the Obama Administration DOJ – when can we connect the dots between all the bad signs and officially become disappointed? – from TalkLeft: DOJ Argues FBI Had No Duty to Disclose Evidence of Perjury.

A good editorial, not to be missed, out of the DeMoines RegisterLet plaintiffs sue for prosecutorial abuse.

Finally, from the “You can’t write this stuff” department, Matt Kelley, author of the Criminal Justice blog on Change.orgtweeted this morning about a program called “Mock Prison Riot.” The idea is to either participate in or watch trained professionals diffuse a staged prison riot and learn from the techniques used. Matt asks, “Is this a reality show or real prison guard training?” More than a little surreal.

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Friday Roundup

Ryan — May 01, 2009 @ 10:29 AM — Comments (0)

A few tidbits from around the legalsphere this morning:

Change.org: This blog post reports on a recent study from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). The study shows how the litigation of “small crimes” – crimes like loitering, driving with a suspended license, and dog leash violations – that still carry a prison sentence (!) are clogging the courts.

“Every year literally millions of accused misdemeanants, overwhelmingly those unable to hire private counsel, and disproportionately people of color, are denied their constitutional right to equal justice. And, taxpayers are footing the bill for these gross inefficiencies.”

SentLaw: A Pennsylvania inmate who maintains his innocence asks to be executed by the State, having grown exhausted from having multiple appeals denied.

Grits for Breakfast has their take on the Houston Police Department crime lab fiasco: “This is another example of a “team spirit” mentality that contributes to many forensic-based false convictions. Houston crime lab workers apparently weren’t acting as scientists seeking independent answers but considered themselves part of the prosecution’s team, omitting lab results that might not favor the side they wanted to win.”

Simple Justice has a thorough piece discussing what Obama should be looking for in his Supreme Court nominee, now that Justice Souter is retiring.

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Friday Roundup: the right to counsel

Ryan — April 24, 2009 @ 11:07 AM — Comments (0)

Just two things in today’s roundup, but both troubling developments concerning how the right to counsel is observed and respected. For one, just yesterday,

The Constitution Project’s National Right to Counsel Committee released its much-anticipated report, Justice Denied: America’s Continuing Neglect of our Constitutional Right to Counsel, today at an event held at Arnold & Porter LLP. The report details the endemic and systemic failures of the indigent defense system and recommends twenty-two specific and urgently needed reforms to fix them. The full report and other relevant materials are available online here.

Meanwhile, with unintentionally ironic timing, the Obama administration is making known its very worrisome stance on the right to the assistance of counsel. Simple Justice has a very good post here on the importance and history of this right. The post begins this way:

There isn’t a competent lawyer in the practical blawgosphere who hasn’t warned defendants to remain silent and invoke their right to counsel. Immediately. Every time. No matter how smart you think you are, or what they say to you to get you to talk. Don’t do it.

The rule of Edwards v. Arizona is that once a suspect has invoked right to counsel, the police cannot continue to interrogate in the absence of counsel, and the defendant cannot un-invoke his right to counsel without an attorney present…

None of this seems like striking constitutional law today, yet there is a move afoot to change it. This alone might not be terribly shocking, but for the fact that the move comes from the Obama Department of Justice and Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

Here’s to more of the same.

TalkLeft has an analysis here that references this Associated Press article. An amicus brief opposing the government’s move to weaken this right, filed by 19 former prosecutors and judges, can be found here.

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The Coverdell Grant Program for forensic science

Ryan — April 14, 2009 @ 10:02 AM — Comments (0)

The Innocence Project in New York recently released a report titled, “Investigating Forensic Problems in the United States: How the Government Can Strengthen Oversight through the Coverdell Grant Program.” From the executive summary:

In 2004, Congress established an oversight mechanism within the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant Program, which provides federal funds to help improve the quality and efficiency of state and local crime labs and other forensic facilities.

[…] Nearly five years after Congress passed legislation to help ensure that forensic negligence or misconduct is properly investigated, extensive independent reviews show that the law is largely being ignored and, as a result, serious problems in crime labs and other forensic facilities have not been remedied. In short, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), which is responsible for the program, has failed to make sure that even the law’s most basic requirements are followed.

Yesterday, the blog for TheHill.com paraphrased some of the results of this study, and reiterated the Innocence Project’s call for increased oversight or, rather, they called for the Obama administration to increasingly take advantage of the grant program that Congress created five years ago. One particularly egregious fact they quote is this: only 13% of designated oversight entities meet the federal law’s forensic oversight requirements. If you were a defendant, would you want to take a 1-in-8 chance that the forensic lab that processed the evidence in your trial was subject to proper oversight?

Finally, “Under new leadership, the Department of Justice can – and should – make sure crime lab problems are properly addressed, which will enhance the public safety and help prevent wrongful convictions.” Remember, working to correct problems in order to preclude wrongful convictions is cheaper than housing wrongfully incarcerated individuals.


No sooner had The Hill run this post than Grits for Breakfast published some presentations from the public meetings held by the National Academy of Sciences, meetings held to address the problems plaguing forensic science labs around the country. They link to this presentation in particular that calls for forensic tests “to be as blind as possible, for as long as possible,” and which contains the shocking graphic on common error rates linked above.

You’ll notice that firearms and fingerprints, while among the most reliable forensic testing methods, still yield erroneous conclusions around 1-5% of the time. Some toolmark and bitemark tests, meanwhile, are reliable less than half of the time. That report also refers to several studies that found that, for example, when a scientist was provided with “context” for certain samples – context such as, “The suspect has already confessed, here’s his hair and a hair from the crime scene” – that error rates were much higher. Those who conducted the psychological studies could induce false positives by giving false context, leading the forensic scientist to believe certain conclusions before they came to them independently.

All of these scientific studies point to the sad state of the crime labs in this country. Scientists might think so, but they are not immune to psychological tendencies – such as suggestibility – that afflict every human being. Independent oversight and common-sense reforms are the necessary solution to the problem.

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