OVERCROWDING AND VIOLENCE CONTINUE TO BE CHRONIC PROBLEMS IN LATIN AMERICAN PRISONS

Overcrowding, inadequate physical conditions, and inmate violence are the main problems in Latin American prisons according to the latest report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of the people around the world.

In its report HRW highlighted the following as the most chronic problems in Latin American prisons: (i) prisons and jails are severely overcrowded; (ii) prison guards are insufficient and poorly trained (iii) security in the prisons is weak and the infrastructures are deteriorating; (iv) inmates are confined in police lock ups not designed or equipped to hold detainees for long periods; (v) inmates are tortured by prison guards; (vi) armed gangs control prisons; (vii) inhumane prison conditions facilitate the spread of diseases and prisoners’ access to medical care remains inadequate; and (viii) hundreds of violent prison deaths occur every year.

 To partially solve the overcrowding problem, Chile, for example, has promulgated laws that allow voluntary return of non-Chilean inmates to their countries of origin.  They also provide six alternatives to prison for low risk offenders, including community service and the use of electronic bracelets. These are good reforms, but they are hardly a remedy for the massive challenges facing the Latin American prison systems.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

www.redinocente.org
www.californiainnocenceproject.org

For more information, please see: http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/about

Knoops Innocence Project Exonerees Compensated by Government

High Court of Justice of the Dutch Antilles agrees to pay USD 1.97 million compensation to Nozai Thomas and Andy Melaan (Spelonk case)

On 11 April 2014, the High Court of Justice ofAruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and of Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba (Dutch Antilles) rendered a judgment granting compensation to two exonerees for a miscarriage of justice which took place in 2005.

In 2006, the High Court of Justice at Bonaire affirmed a conviction of the District Court in 2005 against Nozai Thomas and Andy Melaan for murdering two brothers and sentenced them to respectively 8 and 24 years imprisonment.

The wrongful conviction came to light as a result of an initiative of drs. Lucio Ricardo, a psychologist working at the Dutch Antilles, who believed in the innocence of the two men. In 2009-2010 the former Dutch police detective Mr. Gosewehr and the criminologist dr. Timmerman, concluded that the two men were wrongfully convicted. The case was subsequently submitted by them to the Knoops’ Innocence Project (director Carry Knoops-Hamburger).

The Knoops’ Innocence Project has been working pro bono on the case since 2011 and initiated new research, in order to establish a “new fact”, which is necessary to have a case reopened in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Research by the Netherlands Forensic Research Bureau [Nederlands Forensisch Onderzoeksbureau, NFOB] and Digital Investigations revealed that Thomas’ was working at his computer during the night of the murders in 2005. New research also revealed that Thomas had confessed under extreme police pressure and that his confession was most likely to be false. Telecom research furthermore revealed that Melaan could not have been at the crime scene during the night of the murders.

On 1 July 2013 the High Court of Justice ordered a new trial and on 14 November 2013 both men were officially exonerated. Mr. Thomas spent 4.5 years in prison and Mr. Melaan 8 years.

On 11 April 2014 the High Court of Justice granted the following amounts of compensation:

-        Nozai Thomas: USD 677.430

-        Andy Melaan: USD 1.292.687

The High Court of Justice multiplied the standard amount of financial compensation for wrongfully convicted persons with factor five, while taking the following aspects into consideration:

-        Knoops’ advocaten tried to obtain compensation through the Prosecutor General, which would have prevented the two men to go to court for compensation and which would have allowed them to gain swift rehabilitation;

-        The fact that the prosecution did not prove to be willing to settle the compensation claim, while the prosecution – in light of the experience the Kingdom of the Netherlands has with wrongful convictions – should have been aware of the impact on the exonerees of such a miscarriage of justice. The fact that the prosecution proved to be unwilling to settle the claim, impacted upon the exonerees who still felt that they had to proof their innocence towards society;

-        Both exonerees proved to be extremely traumatized and showed signs of PTSS;

-        The uniqueness of the case demanded a higher compensation than the standard amount.

-        Other factors that contributed to a higher amount of compensation were:

o   Extensive media coverage;

o   The fact that the accused suffered from stigmatization in the Bonairean community;

o   Impact of the wrongful conviction on the lives of Melaan and Thomas (both exonerees suffer from PTSS);

o   The young age of Melaan and Thomas during their detention;

o   Severe psychological damage, which will have a lasting impact on their lives;

o   Police pressure during the interrogations (which had resulted in a false confession by Thomas)

Importantly, the judges of the High Court of Justice granted compensation that is commensurate with the standard of living in “the Netherlands”; if they would have applied the Dutch Antilles standard, the amount would have been lower.

Andy Melaan and Nozai Thomas perceive the compensation as a form of rehabilitation and reparation for the suffering inflicted upon them. The compensation will be deposited in a fund, which will be managed by third parties and used for their – and their family and children’s – future. Melaan and Thomas are committed to helping other wrongfully convicted persons on the Dutch Antilles and beyond.

Knoops’ Innocence Project

Prof. G.G.J. Knoops
Mrs. C.J. Knoops-Hamburger (director Knoops’ Innocence Project)
Ms. M. van Woudenberg
Ms. Pascalle Dingemanse (local counsel)

Wrongful Liberty – A Tragic Consequence of Wrongful Conviction

You’ve heard us mention a number of times on this blog that when a wrongful conviction occurs, this leaves the real perpetrator free to keep committing crimes.  I’m sure everyone nods their head, and agrees that’s a terrible thing.  However, it isn’t until one quantifies what that really means, and brings some specificity to it, that you can begin to comprehend how tragic it really is.

At the current National Innocence Network Conference, I had the opportunity (yesterday) to hear a presentation by Prof. Frank Baumgartner of the University of North Carolina about the work he’s done in documenting what he calls “wrongful liberty.”  Wrongful liberty is exactly the situation described above – a wrongful conviction occurs, an innocent person is sent to prison, and the real perpetrator remains free to commit more crimes.

In future, you will continue to hear from me a constant drumbeat about the need for more data to effect meaningful legislative reform – and what Prof. Baumgartner has done is brilliant.  He has undertaken to actually document the crimes committed by true perpetrators of a crime, for which there was a wrongful conviction, during the period from when the wrongful conviction occurred to when the true perpetrator was eventually arrested.

This data creates a compelling case for criminal justice reform, because it expands the reasoning from “just” an injustice to an innocent, wrongfully convicted person to an argument that includes a very real public safety issue.

The work, so far, has been limited to the state of North Carolina, and has been further limited by the availability of appropriate data.  But I am optimistic and hopeful that this effort can, and will, be expanded to a national level.  This is a winning argument.

You can read Prof. Baumgartner’s paper here:  WrongfulLiberty2014

Launch of Oregon Innocence Project…

The Oregon Innocence Project had its launch party last night.  It was a full house with a lot of excitement and energy.  Here is an article about the event.  Good luck to the Oregon Innocence Project!

Justin Brooks and Amanda Knox at the launch party of the Oregon Innocence Project

Justin Brooks and Amanda Knox at the launch party of the Oregon Innocence Project

Innocence Network Conference…..

It’s time for the annual Innocence Network Conference, this year in Portland, Oregon.  All the innocence leaders from around the U.S. (and world) are currently descending on this beautiful city in the mountains for 3 days of learning and sharing.  Find details about the conference here

COMPENSATION ORDERED IN WRONGFUL CONVICTION CASE LINKED TO PABLO ESCOBAR IN COLOMBIA

The Colombian Administrative Supreme Court (Consejo de Estado) has granted Pablo Enrique Zamora and his family 1,000 million pesos for the pain and suffering caused by his wrongful conviction and subsequent ten-year incarceration.

Pablo-EscobarEnrique was thought to be involved in the murder of the well-known journalist Guillermo Cano Isaza, head of the daily newspaper El Espectador. His tragic death took place in 1986, the murder allegedly ordered by the leader of the Medellin Cartel, Pablo Escobar, in response to the newspaper’s strong position against his drug trafficking criminal activities.

After nine years of investigation, in a procedure fraught with irregularities, Enrique, and two others, were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and subsequently sentenced to sixteen years in prison. However, after Enrique served ten years in prison, the Supreme Court of Colombia exonerated and released him, concluding that he had been wrongfully convicted.

In its ruling the Colombian Administrative Supreme Court (Consejo de Estado) recognized that, at the time, the judicial authorities were moved by the intense pressure of the media that surrounded the case and that the evidence was not probative. The court also ordered the Judicial Branch to implement judicial training to try to prevent wrongful convictions in Colombia.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

For more information, please see:

http://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/asesinato-de-guillermo-cano-el-condenado-inocente-recibira-1000-millones/377849-3

http://www.freemedia.at/awards/guillermo-cano.html

http://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/ARTICULO-WEB-NEW_NOTA_INTERIOR-13624035.html

http://www.globaljournalist.org/stories/2000/07/01/guillermo-cano-colombia/

http://www.vanguardia.com/actualidad/colombia/247858-indemnizaran-a-condenado-injustamente-por-la-muerte-de-guillermo-cano-isa

http://www.elcolombiano.com/BancoConocimiento/E/el_crimen_de_guillermo_cano_de_lesa_humanidad/el_crimen_de_guillermo_cano_de_lesa_humanidad.asp

http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-justicia/condenan-nacion-equivocacion-caso-guillermo-cano

http://www.caracol.com.co/noticias/judiciales/8203ordenan-indemnizar-a-hombre-condenado-por-homicidio-de-guillermo-cano/20140220/nota/2090555.aspx

The Changing Face of Exonerations….

From Time Magazine, by Deborah Tuerkheimer:

For all the understandable weight we give DNA evidence, it is of little if any use for the vast majority of the wrongfully convicted.

These figures point to a hard truth: For all the understandable weight we give DNA evidence, it is of little if any use for the vast majority of the wrongfully convicted. While DNA remains the focus of exoneration efforts around the country, and all states have passed laws that provide for post-conviction access to testing, experts estimate that only 5% to 10% of all criminal cases involve such evidence. If we are to make meaningful progress towards freeing innocent people now serving time—a population some now place at more than 100,000—we need new laws designed to target miscarriages of justice that lack DNA evidence.

Taking such steps is especially critical for women, who make up a fast-growing segment of the nation’s prison population. Women’s alleged crimes of violence—often involving children or romantic partners—do not typically hinge on the whodunit question of identity that DNA is so useful in resolving. To the contrary in such cases, the more common question is whether a crime was even committed, with one salient example being the increasingly discredited diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. (Notably, “no crime” cases comprise another category on the increase, accounting for a whopping 22% of this year’s exonerations.)

Happily, recent years have seen the beginnings of a movement to grapple with these issues. In a curious twist, it is Texas—not a state generally associated with progressive criminal justice reform—that is leading the way. Last fall, the state passed the nation’s first law recognizing faulty forensic evidence (aka junk science) as a basis for post-conviction relief. The underlying logic is simple: as science evolves and past scientific testimony is seen in new light, we ought to revisit those convictions that have been cast in doubt.

The first to successfully invoke the Texas junk science law werethree women convicted in 1998 of sexually abusing a child. Days later, another woman was separately released after serving 21 years for sexually abusing multiple children–one of the many satanic ritual day care scandals of the 1990s, often rightly compared to the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century. Without the new legislation, these women would still be behind bars.

Another sign of this trend came last month, when a federal judge in Chicago issued a ruling finding “actual innocence” in a case based on shaken baby syndrome. Even without DNA to prove her innocence, 43-year-old Jennifer Del Prete was able to show that, based on current science, no reasonable jury could possibly find her guilty of murdering the baby in her care. As U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly wrote in his 97-page opinion, it’s now apparent that the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome is arguably “more an article of faith than a proposition of science.”

These incisive words reflect the growing consensus among experts that the neurological symptoms once viewed as conclusive proof of a caregiver’s guilt may well have natural causes, including congenital defects, metabolic disorders, infectious diseases and autoimmune conditions. Such “mimics of abuse” have attracted growing attention in the five years since I began studying the criminal justice system’s treatment of shaken baby syndrome. But our law’s approach to unwinding injustice remains both far too fluky and far too delayed.

If Del Prete is ultimately exonerated—as appears not unlikely—her case will be in keeping with the demographic trend away from a reliance on DNA. Yet in so many ways, hers is also a cautionary tale. Del Prete is now almost a decade into a 20-year prison sentence. And, notwithstanding the finding of “actual innocence,” she will remain incarcerated, at least for now. Federal law allows state prisoners to challenge the constitutionality of their convictions, but the grounds are narrowly defined. In the Alice in Wonderland world of federal criminal procedure, the judge who found her claims of innocence entirely credible was not permitted to vacate her conviction, since innocence is not a basis for relief. The ruling simply means she can move forward to challenge her conviction on separate constitutional grounds.

Such troubling cases underscore the need to reform our laws to better address the realities of all wrongful convictions. We need new avenues for post-conviction relief that reflect what we now know about the common causes of false convictions: false confessions, lying informants, eyewitness misidentification, and invalid forensic science. And we owe it to those wrongly convicted to move far more quickly—to recognize the moral imperative of overcoming the inertia of injustice.

Deborah Tuerkheimer, a Professor of Law at DePaul University, is a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan who has written widely on rape and domestic violence. She is currently a Public Voices Faculty Fellow with the OpEd Project. Her bookFlawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice (Oxford University Press) is forthcoming in April.