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.
New York City, its Housing Authority, and the State of New York have agreed to pay $9 million to Danny Colon, 50, and Anthony Ortiz, 44. Both men spent 16 years in prison before their convictions in a 1989 double murder — a drive-by shooting — were overturned in 2009.
The New York Court of Appeals reversed an earlier Appellate court decision and ordered a new trial for the men after finding that the Manhattan prosecutor had knowingly utilized false testimony from a key witness, a felon and drug dealer. The prosecutor denied in her final argument to the jury that the witness had been compensated for his testimony, but he subsequently received a Continue reading
Dallas County (TX) District Judge Mark Stoltz issued findings of fact and conclusions of law last week before recommending that the murder convictions of Dennis Lee Allen and Stanley Orson Mozee be overturned. The two men were subsequently released after each had served 15 years in prison. The judge’s findings will now go before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for review. ABC News WFAA 8 reported (here) that the two are expected to be exonerated.
Allen and Mozee were convicted of the 1999 murder of Reverend Jesse Borns Jr., who was found stabbed outside his workplace, a retail store. No physical evidence linked the men to the crime. The conviction was won on the unrecorded confession of Mozee — who immediately recanted and claimed he was coerced into signing the police-written statement — and the testimony of two jailhouse informants. The informants denied under oath at trial that they were promised compensation for their testimony. Continue reading
The National Academy of Sciences of the United States published it’s Congressionally commissioned report, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States – A Path Forward,” in 2009. This was in response to the realization that a lot of what goes on in forensics can be called “junk science.” That is, much of it is not scientifically proven, is not statistically valid, is not reliable, and is very subject to the biases of individual examiners. We have featured the NAS report previously on this blog here, here, and here.
Not surprisingly, the NAS report was met with “stonewall” and dismissive resistance from the extant forensics community, as well as the National Association of District Attorneys. However, the report succeeded in bringing forensics under the scrutiny of scientific discipline, and made the public aware of its many shortcomings and failings. Subsequently, it was announced in 2013 that the US Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would jointly form the National Commission on Forensic Science to provide guidelines and recommendations for the conduct and use of forensic technology. The first meeting of the Commission was in February, 2014.
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of the Guildford Four, (one of the notorious ‘Irish’ miscarriages of justice in England and Wales that led to the creation of the Criminal Cases Review Commission – see anniversary article here… ), controversy still surrounds the organisation. This week it was revealed that the body is ‘fast-tracking’ the case of professional footballer Ched Evans, released this week after serving half of a five year sentence for rape. Ched, who played for Sheffield United football club, has always maintained his innocence and has applied to the CCRC to investigate his case. The CCRC’s explanations for the decision to fast-track his case have been unconvincing (read more here…). This negative publicity comes at a critical time for the CCRC, as a Parliamentary inquiry into the operation and effectiveness of the miscarriages body is launched by the Justice Committee. The Committee is inviting submissions from interested parties, in order to answer the following four questions:
- Whether the CCRC has fulfilled the expectations and remit which accompanied it at its establishment following the 1993 report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice
- Whether the CCRC has in general appropriate and sufficient (i) statutory powers and (ii) resources to carry out its functions effectively, both in terms of investigating cases and in the wider role of promoting confidence in the criminal justice system
- Whether the “real possibility” test for reference of a case to the Court of Appeal under section 13(1) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 is appropriate and has been applied appropriately by the CCRC
- Whether any changes to the role, work and remit of the CCRC are needed and, if so, what those changes should be.
The deadline for submissions is 5th December. You can read more here….