Author Archives: Phil Locke

Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Conviction Involving Steven Hayne, Shaken Baby Syndrome

We’ve posted previously about Dr. Steven Hayne here.  Hayne was the now-discredited, long-time medical examiner for the state of Mississippi; notorious for his questionable forensic testimony.

Dr. Hayne’s cases keep unraveling; however, this case does not center specifically on Hayne’s credibility, but rather on the defendant’s being denied the ability to hire an expert to challenge Hayne’s credibility in court.

See the story by Radley Balko of the Washington Post here.

Center for Prosecutor Integrity’s 2015 Innocence Summit – Call for Session Proposals

CPI Logo

2015 Innocence Summit – Invitation for Workshop Proposals

Crowne Plaza Hotel, Arlington, Virginia              June 12-13, 2015

 The Center for Prosecutor Integrity (CPI) is announcing its Invitation for Workshop Proposals for the 2015 Innocence Summit, themed “Forging Best Practices for Innocence Reform.” CPI invites individuals and organizations throughout the criminal legal system to submit a proposal.

Workshops are designed to educate attendees on issues of substantive law and practical interest. Recent research findings, program descriptions, case studies, legal analyses, advocacy strategies, and innovative solutions are all welcome.

Proposals must include the following:

  • Workshop title
  • Three learning objectives
  • Description of the workshop content (maximum 500 words)
  • Presenter biography (maximum 250 words)

Proposals are welcome from a variety of presenters and using a variety of presentation formats. Workshops will be 60 minutes in length.

Proposals should be submitted here: summit@prosecutorintegrity.org. Applications are due no later than Friday, January 16th, 2015.

Applicants will be notified whether their proposal has been selected by February 20th. Presenters are responsible for their own conference registration, travel, and lodging expenses. Further information about the Innocence Summit can be found here: http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org/summit/2015-3/

Last year’s Innocence Summit was a great success, and we invite you to participate in this exciting opportunity to advance best practices for innocence reform!

If you have any questions, contact Gina Lauterio, CPI Program Director, at summit@prosecutorintegrity.org .

Thank you,

Gina R. Lauterio Esq., Program Director, Center for Prosecutor Integrity (CPI)

P.O. Box 1221, Rockville, MD 20849

Office: 301-801-0608, Cell: 908-783-3542

Email: glauterio@prosecutorintegrity.orgInternet: www.prosecutorintegrity.org

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity, a 501(c)3 organization, works toward preserving the presumption of innocence, assuring equal treatment under the law, and ending wrongful convictions.

A Word About Conviction Integrity Units

There has been a reasonable amount of fanfare recently about the establishment of “conviction integrity units.”  See Mark Godsey’s December 11 WCB post, “Center for Prosecutor Integrity Surveys Rise of Conviction Integrity Units”, here.

We can do nothing but applaud these efforts, but there is one aspect of these units that troubles me.  They are all totally contained within the prosecutor’s office.  Does anyone else think this presents an inherent conflict of interest?  My suspicion is that, because of increasing publicity about wrongful convictions, prosecutors are establishing these things to politically bolster their public image. Call me cynical – and we should welcome every step toward true justice – but I tend to see a fox guarding the hen house and a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Is there any requirement that all proceedings of these units be public record?

My belief is that the model for how these units should be set up is the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, which has been in operation since 2007.  What I think is notable here is the composition of the commission: the members include a Superior Court Judge, a Prosecuting Attorney, a Defense Attorney, a Victim Advocate, a Member of the Public, a Sheriff, and two Discretionary members.  This shows a reasoned effort to endow the commission with objectivity.

In a very recent development, the Innocence Project of New Orleans has announced that it is partnering with the Orleans district attorney’s office to establish a joint “conviction review project.” See the IPNO announcement here. This is a big deal, and will bear watching.

Appeals Court Dismisses Debra Milke Murder Charges

We have previously posted about the Debra Milke case here and here.

Milke was originally convicted of murder for having her 4-year-old son killed. The conviction rested upon the testimony of a rogue cop, who claims she confessed to him, although there is no documented record of that confession, and Milke denies it ever happened. This officer had a history of substantial misconduct, and that record was withheld from the defense.

In a ruling just today – citing “egregious prosecutorial misconduct,” the Arizona Court of Appeals on Thursday ordered a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to dismiss murder charges against Debra Milke with prejudice, meaning they cannot be brought again.

See the azcentral story here.

Texas Will Execute Scott Panetti Tomorrow

Unless the courts intervene, Texas tomorrow will execute a severely mentally ill man, Scott Panetti. If that happens, Execution Watch will broadcast coverage and analysis of the state killing, which has drawn international condemnation.

RADIO SHOW:  Execution Watch, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, 6-7 PM Central. Unless a stay is issued, we’ll broadcast live on:  KPFT FM, Houston 90.1, and Online, http://executionwatch.org > Listen

 TEXAS PLANS TO EXECUTE SCOTT PANETTI, brother of Execution Watch theme-song composer and performer Victoria Panetti. He was convicted in the slaying of his in-laws in Fredericksburg, Texas. Panetti, who suffers from schizophrenia, told police his alter ego, Sarge, committed the slayings. A previous execution date was put off by the U.S. Supreme Court, though the justices refused last month to hear his latest appeal. Panetti was allowed to represent himself at trial, wearing a purple cowboy outfit and calling witnesses including John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ.

You may want to read the CNN story by Ron Powers, The Atrocity of Texas Killing a Mentally Ill Man, here.

You can also read the TIME article by Josh Sanburn here.

And the HuffPost story by Amanda Terkel here.

Plea Bargaining – An Effective Tool for Prosecutorial Abuse of Power

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                                                                                                        (Graphic:  The Veritas Initiative)

 

“97 percent of federal convictions and 94 percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas.” (USSC, Missouri vs. Frye, 2012)

Think about that for a minute — 19 out of 20 criminal cases never-go-to-trial.

These cases are disposed of through a guilty plea that resulted from a plea agreement.  The defendant never gets a trial, and goes directly to jail.

It’s called “plea bargaining,” but there is little-to-no actual bargaining that takes place.  A plea offer can be made even before the case goes to a grand jury, and the defendant has no idea how strong, or weak, the prosecutor’s case might be. The prosecutor has a very, very long list of often-overlapping charges to pick from that can be “stacked” to build a breathtakingly long anticipated sentence, which he can use to “bargain” (read threaten) with the defendant.  And the ability to “stack” is further augmented for charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences.  It’s pretty much a “take it or leave it” deal.  The ONLY bargaining power the defendant has is to refuse the plea offer, forcing the prosecutor to take the case to trial.  This is the genesis of the so-called “trial penalty,” which has been well covered on this blog here and here.  The defendant can take whatever the prosecutor offers, or expose himself to an exceedingly long sentence at trial.

In accepting a plea agreement, the defendant obviously gives up his constitutional right to a jury trial, but he may also have to give up his right to appeal, or to file civil suit, or to even talk about the case.  And then once convicted of a felony, there is a whole list of other collateral consequences as well.

Amelia Whaley is a JD candidate at the Duke University School of Law.  While working as an intern for the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, she wrote a paper summarizing the practice of plea bargaining as it exists today in the US.  I think it is just excellent, and is the best overall synopsis of plea bargaining I have seen. If you want to understand what plea bargaining is all about, and how it really works, please read Ms. Whaley’s paper here:  Plea Agreements – Whaley.

If you’re interested in a little further reading, this article by Timothy Lynch at the Cato Institute, Cato – Plea Bargains, covers the 1978 US Supreme Court case (Bordenkircher v. Hayes) that established the precedent for plea bargaining – a case in which a man wound up in prison for life – for passing a bad $88 check.

Is Texas Going to Execute Another Innocent Person?

If you have been paying attention at all, you know that the Texas death penalty machine has been operating at full tilt – 508 executions since 1982, with 16 in just 2013.  This includes the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, and it had become abundantly clear, even before his execution, that Willingham was actually innocent.

Texas is now getting ready to execute Rodney Reed for a murder that it is likely somebody else committed.  This could be confirmed by simple DNA testing of items from the crime scene, and has been requested by his attorney and The Innocence Project.  But the state of Texas has steadfastly refused to do the testing, and in a hearing held just last Tuesday, a Texas judge has ruled that no further DNA testing is warranted.  See the report on that hearing by The Intercept here.

CNN has posted a story by Dan Simon about the case, and you can read that story here.

This from the CNN story:

“Why on earth, one wonders, would Texas battle fiercely against conducting the testing? Would it be naive to propose the state should welcome it?

The answer cannot be the meager costs of running the tests or the negligible time they would take to run. Nor could the state claim to be acting out of respect for the victim’s loved ones — a dubious justification from the outset — given that numerous members of her (the victim’s) family are campaigning publicly on Reed’s behalf.

The best explanation for the state’s aversion to the testing may be the dread of learning the truth. The prospect of finding that Reed is innocent would deliver a resounding condemnation of the state’s criminal justice process — its detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, jurors and appellate courts.”

There is significant case detail in the original story by The Intercept, which you can read here.