Monday Quick Clicks…

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Record Year: Nearly Three Exonerations Per Week in 2015

The National Registry of Exonerations has reported a record 149 known exonerations in 2015 in 29 states, the District of Columbia, federal courts, and Guam. The exonerated had served an average of 14-and-a-half years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Increasing known exonerations has been a trend over recent years, and the National Registry of Exoneration’s annual report, Exonerations in 2015, includes several new records for 2015: Continue reading

The National Registry of Exonerations Reports on Exonerations in 2015

The National Registry of Exonerations has just released a report on exonerations in 2015. See that report here.

2015 was a record setting year for exonerations, with 149 logged to date. And the trend line is up. For our last update on the Registry, see  http://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/2015/01/13/update-on-the-national-registry-of-exonerations-2/.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

We Are All Sex Offenders

This is incredibly powerful. A TEDx talk by Galen Baughman, who was released, by jury trial, from indefinite civil commitment for being a sex offender.

It’s 17 minutes. You have to watch this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYt-3fai-PI&feature=youtu.be

One quote from the talk that really struck me: [in today’s environment of sex offender laws, enforcement, and prosecution] “Your child has a higher probability of being put on the sex offender registry than ever being touched by a stranger.”

Thursday’s Quick Click…

Rogue prosecutor’s influence on hair expert’s testimony highlighted in ruling overturning conviction

The January 26 opinion overturning the conviction of Massachusetts inmate George D. Perrot, which you can read about here, was important in several respects.

First and foremost, the opinion written by Hampden County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane was important because it could lead to the release of Perrot 30 years after his conviction on rape charges even though the victim repeatedly said the then-long-haired, bearded Perrot didn’t look like the clean-shaven, short-haired man who raped her.

Second, the opinion is important because Judge Kane’s reasoning could influence thousands of past convictions that were based on now-discredited hair-comparison analysis like that used to convict Perrot.

Equally important, though, was Judge Kane’s finding that Wayne Oakes, the FBI hair examiner who testified as an expert in the case was unduly influenced by the overzealous prosecutor in the case. In his ruling, Kane noted that the prosecutor, Francis W. Bloom, hand-delivered the hairs and other evidence to the FBI Laboratory in Washington because he wanted to speak with Oakes and the other forensic scientists.

“Bloom carried with him to Washington his attitudes and feelings towards Perrot,” Kane wrote. “He despised Perrot. In a diary, Bloom … referred to Perrot as ‘inherently evil’ and as ‘a sociopath,’ and scoffed at Perrot’s redemption.

“Such feelings enable a person possessing public authority to shed the restraints and scruples that limit the exercise of power. The feelings allow the official to see the individual as apart from the community of citizens whose rights must be regarded. These feelings that filled Bloom’s mind, coupled with his trip to Washington, D.C., produce a reasonable foundation for the inference that Bloom voiced his views about Perrot to Oakes. … Unconsciously, Oakes, because of these communications, departed from his role as a neutral expert and slipped into the role of a partisan for the government.”

Bloom was later disciplined when it was discovered that he had forged Perrot’s signature to a fabricated confession implicating two of Perrot’s friends in another housebreak in an unsuccessful attempt to get them to confess. But the slap on the wrist he received pales by comparison with the price Perrot has paid greatly because of Bloom’s misguided zealotry.

Prosecutorial bias permeates the American judicial system. Prosecutors hell-bent on victory often directly or indirectly prod investigators and experts to get the results they want. It’s refreshing to see a judge recognize this in a well-reasoned, groundbreaking decision.

 

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

The presumption of innocence exists in theory, not reality

By: Keith Findlay

Keith Findley is an assistant professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he is co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. He represented Steven Avery, subject of the “Making a Murderer” documentary, in the 2005 proceedings that produced DNA evidence to prove Avery’s innocence and exonerate him of a 1985 sexual assault conviction.

If, as the Supreme Court has consistently declared, the presumption of innocence is among the most fundamental principles in our criminal justice system, it is also among the most fragile.

The presumption is under constant assault from jurors’ natural assumption that if someone is arrested and charged with a crime, he or she must have done something wrong. It is also vulnerable to the media frenzy around high-profile cases, the fear-driven politics of crime, the highly punitive nature of our culture and the innate cognitive processes that produce tunnel vision and confirmation bias.

Indeed, research suggests that the presumption of innocence exists more in theory than reality. In studies, mock jurors predict a 50 percent chance of voting to convict — before hearing any evidence. Other research shows that while simulated jurors initially assign low probabilities of guilt, they abandon the presumption of innocence promptly as prosecution evidence is introduced.

[Why Scott Walker simply will not issue a pardon in response to ‘Making a Murderer’]

Given these natural inclinations, one would think a system built on the presumption of innocence would protect and reinforce that presumption. But in many ways, it does not.

Pretrial bail policies, for example, are not based on assessments of any likelihood of innocence or the need for innocent people to prepare for their defense, but solely on the risk that the (presumably guilty) accused might not appear for trial. On this score, the presumption of guilt accelerated in the early 1970s when notions of preventive detention — that is, complete denial of bail — emerged as part of the Nixon administration’s mission to control “criminals” before they committed crimes.

Continue Reading

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

The Injustice System: A tale of two Tyras

From: The Guardian

Tyra Patterson says she was an innocent teenage bystander who ran away from a murder. Prosecutors say she was party to a killing. In the first chapter of a Guardian special report, explore how a young woman from poverty-stricken Ohio fell victim to America’s addiction to incarceration – and what might still set her free

Prisoner 037737 has been locked up for 21 years and counting. In America, that is not very exceptional. You could say it’s almost ordinary.

Step back beyond the cell here in Ohio, a state which by itself has almost 70,000 people in prison and jail, and No 037737 becomes a grain of sand buried in a desert of incarceration. There are 2.2 million people locked up in the US – more than 100,000 of them women.
Today, the 7,787th day behind bars for Prisoner 037737, one out of every 110 adult Americans lives under the lock and key of the planet’s largest jailer: the United States of America. That represents almost one-quarter of the world’s total prison population, and almost one-third of the world’s incarcerated female population.

Prisoner 037737 is also black, which makes this American life all the more unexceptional. In Ohio, the ratio of incarcerated black people to the general African American population is almost six times the equivalent ratio for white people. Nationally, one in 18 black women can expect to be imprisoned at some point in their lives – a quotient that rises, for black men, to one in three.

But cold numbers can only teach you so much about mass incarceration in America today. Because Prisoner 037737 is also a person. She has a name. Her name is Tyra Patterson.

Tyra Patterson proclaims her innocence in crimes that have taken her away from her family and the outside world since the age of 19. Now 40, she has been gathering new evidence she believes will clear her in the murder of a 15-year-old girl, Michelle Lai, in 1994.

For six months the Guardian has been exploring Patterson’s life story, tracking her journey from elementary school dropout in poverty-stricken Dayton, Ohio, to a life sentence in the city’s female prison. The story that emerges is one woman’s struggle to have her claim of innocence heard within a system resistant to listening anymore.
“A tragedy happened in this case: Michelle Lai didn’t get to live her life,” David Singleton, the executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center and associate professor at NKU Chase College of Law who is Patterson’s current attorney, said. “Tyra Patterson is alive, but she has been branded a murderer and her life has been taken away from her. The greatest tragedy of Tyra’s case is that she had a story of innocence to tell, and it never got told.”

Beginning today, with two diverging accounts of a murder, that story will be told.
But this is no re-trial: it’s the story of an American criminal justice system ​in which questionable convictions are secured and then doggedly upheld, swallowing up thousands of vulnerable people in the process.

Along the way, we hope to provide surprising clues as to how a life behind bars came to be so very unexceptional – so ordinary – in 2016, in the land of the free.

Continue Reading

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

$16.8 Million Awarded by State of Connecticut to Four Wrongfully Convicted Men

The State of Connecticut has awarded $4.2 million each in compensation to Carlos Ashe, Darcus Henry, Sean Adams, and Johnny Johnson. The four were convicted of murder, assault, and conspiracy resulting from a December 14, 1996, shooting in New Haven, Connecticut. Jason Smith, 23, was killed and brothers Marvin Ogman, 19, and Andre Clark, 22, were injured when allegedly four men utilized semi-automatic weapons in a gang-related retaliation shooting. Including both jail and prison, the four were incarcerated for more than 16 years.

The defendants presented alibi witnesses at trial. The primary evidence presented by the prosecution was inconsistent testimony of the surviving Continue reading

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Thursdays Quick Clicks…

High Court Acquits Man in a Rape Case Based on New DNA Evidence

From the Japan Times:

High court acquits man in 2012 teenage rape case based on DNA test

Kyodo

A high court has acquitted a man charged with raping a teenage girl in 2012, overturning a lower court ruling that gave him a four-year prison term.

The Fukuoka High Court’s Miyazaki branch issued a ruling Tuesday saying that a fresh DNA analysis did not prove that the 23-year-old man from the city of Kagoshima was the culprit.

It also said the police may have hidden the result of an earlier DNA analysis that did not match that of the defendant.

“In determining the defendant to be the criminal, semen (found in the victim’s body) should be that of the defendant. But the DNA analysis (conducted during the appeal trial) did not support her arguments,” presiding Judge Makoto Okada said.

In the DNA examination conducted by the Kagoshima Prefectural Police, the quantity of the semen found inside the body of the 17-year-old victim was reportedly too small for analysis.

The man’s lawyers had requested a fresh DNA analysis during the appeal trial, which showed the DNA did not match his. The high court said the result “was credible.”

The court acknowledged the defendant’s release from prison last March after the DNA test was conducted.

Okada was also critical of the staff in the police crime lab, who had disposed of all the used DNA solution and the memo that recorded the analysis process.

“The possibility cannot be ruled out that (the police decided to say that an) analysis was impossible because a different person’s DNA was detected, reflecting investigators’ intentions,” he said.

Okada also criticized prosecutors for asking experts to conduct another DNA analysis without notifying the court and the defense counsel.

“It can be suspected they intended to disclose the results only in the case that the outcome turned out to be favorable for them,” he said.

Kazunori Nakada, deputy chief prosecutor of the Fukuoka High Court Public Prosecutor’s Office, said it is “deplorable” that the court dismissed their arguments and that it will “deal appropriately” with the ruling after checking the content thoroughly.

The man, who requested his name be withheld, told reporters he was able to make it through the difficult period because of “the support of my family.”

“All I can say is that I’m happy,” he said, with tears in his eyes.

The Kagoshima District Court ruled in 2014 that DNA evidence detected from the victim’s breast was from the defendant. It also said the existence of semen, although unable to be analyzed, backed her accusations.

The man was indicted for allegedly assaulting the 17-year-old in an entertainment district in the city of Kagoshima in October 2012.

The man had said he had “no memory because I was drunk” and had insisted he was not guilty.

Continue reading

How Texas took the lead on reforms

Texas is not the first state that would normally come to mind in a discussion of criminal-justice reform. But the wrongful conviction of Tim Cole spurred the tough-on-crime state to fix its eyewitness identification procedures, increase the money authorized to be paid to exonerees and set up an advisory commission on wrongful convictions. Unfortunately, The New Yorker reports here, Cole never lived to see the reforms put in place.

“Conviction Integrity Units” – Foretelling the Future?

We’ve posted previously about our (my) high degree of skepticism regarding the actual integrity of, and motivations for, so-called “conviction integrity units” in prosecutors’ offices. Please see:

A Word About Conviction Integrity Units

Conviction Integrity Units – A Skeptic’s Perspective

In both of these articles we made note of the fact that the New Orleans District Attorney and the Innocence Project – New Orleans had agreed to establish a joint conviction integrity unit. This would be “ground breaking” for a prosecutor to team up with an innocence organization for this, because it would provide absolutely objective oversight of the CIU (which none of them have, because they are totally contained within the prosecutor’s office); and we said this will bear careful watching.

In the second of the above articles, we stated that when the conviction integrity units eventually start to be disbanded (which I believe they will), we will hear one of these reasons, or a combination of the two, as the justification:

1) We’ve fixed everything there was to fix, and we promise to behave ourselves in the future, so the CIU is no longer needed.

2) Budget constraints and the requirements of ongoing prosecutions force us to apply the resource devoted to the CIU to more urgent business.

Please see Mark Godsey’s “Quick Clicks” from Monday, Jan. 11, 2016 here for news that the project between the New Orleans District Attorney’s office and the Innocence Project – New Orleans to form a joint conviction integrity team has been abandoned. And the reason? Budget.

Hmmm. Really?

Final comment. The very existence of “conviction integrity units” begs the question – why? Because they can’t get it right the first time? But given that honest errors leading to a wrongful conviction may occur, leaving it to the prosecutors to correct their own mistakes and misdeeds is not the right way to do it. Having prosecutors oversee prosecutors is like having cops oversee cops, and we know how that works.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…