Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

New Scholarship Spotlight: Shaken Baby Syndrome, Wrongful Convictions, and the Dangers of Aversion to Changing Science in Criminal Law

Cassandra Ann Jenecke has posted the above-titled article on SSRN.  Download here.  The abstract states:

Shaken Baby Syndrome prosecutions are vulnerable to wrongful convictions because of the erosion of the science behind the diagnosis of SBS and because of the inflammatory nature of the charges. This paper evaluates the science behind the medical and legal diagnosis of SBS. It also explores international reforms related to the same developments in science and finds the American response lacking. The author concludes that without recognition of and reform related to the evolution of our scientific understanding of SBS, actors within the American criminal justice system will continue to contribute to the almost certain wrongful conviction of innocent caregivers and parents.

 

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

A Case for Mercy and Discretion in Criminal Justice

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”

– Abraham Lincoln

So-called tough-on-crime policies in the United States over several decades have resulted in unanticipated changes in the criminal justice system that most Americans probably do not fully realize. Mandatory sentencing, policies such as “three strikes,” and increasing use of plea bargaining as opposed to jury trials have prompted an explosion in the prison population and unprecedented prosecutorial authority. With all due respect to those prosecutors who serve us well, we now know that increased power and immunity from abuses have enabled prosecutorial misconduct, a significant contributor to wrongful convictions.

While the Innocence Project and other organizations work to correct miscarriages and prevent others, and new models such as conviction integrity units seek to address the failure of the appeal process to correct conviction errors, a recent case demonstrated the appropriate use of an intact but rarely used remedy: mercy and discretion by public officials.

These capacities once broadly utilized by judges in sentencing may be the most efficient way to cure injustices whether wrongful convictions or unfair sentencing. In a recent illustration, no one questioned the guilt of Francois Holloway. The New York Times reported (here) and (here) that he was charged in 1995 with three counts of carjacking and using a weapon during a violent crime (he did not carry a gun but his accomplice did).

When the government prosecutor offered Holloway a plea deal with a prison term of 11 years, he declined. Holloway’s lawyer assured him that he would win at trial.

His attorney was wrong. Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Exoneree Clarence Harrison makes music with his new album “Life Sentence.”
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project client Han Tak Lee walks free in Pennsylvania on Friday after his arson conviction is thrown out by a federal judge
  • After long battle, California Innocence Project client Timothy Atkins declared factually innocent and to receive state compensation for his wrongful conviction
  • Steve Drizin writes about the joint effort of Northwestern U and U Michigan to exonerate Jamie Lee Peterson
  • Mississippi Innocence Project writes about the potentially false testimony in a number of cases by medical examiner Steven Hayne
  • Original detectives back bid by Michigan Innocence Clinic to get new trial for Jeff Titus
  • Wisconsin Innocence Project seeks DNA testing in 1982 murder case

Eyewitnesses Are Often Wrong

We’ve commented before on this blog about how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be — see here, here, here, and here.

The US justice system gives great credence to eyewitness identification, and an eyewitness identification will even trump an airtight alibi in court.  But according to the most recent data from the National Registry of Exonerations, false or mistaken eyewitness identification is a contributing factor in 36% of wrongful convictions:

NRE graph

Here is a brief CNN clip, featuring cognitive psychologist Prof. Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine and the University of Washington, giving some examples of faulty eyewitness testimony: Eyewitnesses Are Often Wrong.

If you would like a real “eye opener” on the subject, I recommend the book Picking Cotton by Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino.  The book details an instance in which the victim had close, lengthy, one-on-one contact with the perpetrator, and still got the eyewitness identification wrong – multiple times.

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • AIDWYC wants audit for all “Mr. Big” convictions
  • The investigation of a wrongful conviction:  The Jonathan Fleming Case
  • Exoneree Jabbar Collins settles with State of New York for $16 million
  • In Australia, the Chamberlain family car to become a museum exhibit as a reminder of the miscarriage of justice that occurred in that case
  •  New York exoneree Dewey Bozella launches youth boxing program
  • Georgia House committee studies exonerate compensation