Category Archives: Latin America

Miami ‘injustice system’ gets international attention

The release this week of Amanda Knox’s book, Waiting to be Heard, and her hour-long interview on ABC last night puts the focus on the growing problem of citizens of one country being convicted in the unfamiliar court system of another country.

Knox has gained strong sympathy in her native United States. But feelings toward her in Italy, where her murder conviction occurred before being overturned, and in Great Britain, where murdered roommate Meredith Kercher was from, are less favorable.

The shoe is on the other foot in the murder conviction in the United States of a British citizen of Indian descent, Kris Maharaj, who grew up in Trinidad and made a fortune in Britain before moving to Florida. Maharaj has gained lots of support and media exposure in Britain, but relatively little in the U.S.

Maharaj got a rude introduction to the American justice system when two business rivals were killed in a Miami hotel room in 1986 and he was convicted of their murders and sentenced to death. Maharaj’s case had many sordid aspects, including a judge who was arrested mid-trial on bribery charges, a lackadaisical attorney (who is now a judge), police and prosecutors who withheld evidence, Caribbean con-artists and Columbian cocaine dealers.

Clive Stafford Smith bares these facts in his compelling book, The Injustice System: A Murder in Miami and a Trial Gone Wrong, which was previously published in Britain as Injustice.

Stafford Smith has an interesting perspective. The British citizen attended the University of North Carolina and graduated from Columbia Law School. He then spent two decades representing death-row clients in the United States before returning to Britain, where he is founder and director of Reprieve, a nonprofit legal defense firm. One of his American clients was Maharaj. In his book, Stafford Smith recounts how he developed convincing evidence that the murders for which Maharaj was sentenced to death were really committed by a Columbian hit man to exact revenge for the victims’ theft of a drug cartel’s profits.

Stafford Smith tells how he got Maharaj’s death sentence overturned with some regret. Why? Because, Stafford Smith says, American courts are far less likely to consider evidence of innocence if the defendant isn’t on death row. As a result, Maharaj, now in his 70s, languishes in prison with little chance of having the evidence Stafford Smith has developed ever considered. You can read more about the case here and here.

Convicted for Not Speaking Spanish

TWO NAHUA INDIGENOUS MEN INCARCERATED IN MEXICO FOR NEARLY THREE YEARS FOR NOT SPEAKING SPANISH

Nahuas
José Ramón Aniceto Gómez (64-years-old) and Pascual Agustín Cruz (48-years-old) were recently exonerated by the Supreme Court of Mexico after almost three years in prison. The nahua men from Atla, a community north of Puebla, Mexico, were arrested in January of 2010. In 2008, the men were chosen by their community to lead a movement to ensure free water. If they were successful, their efforts would harm the economic and political interests of the Mexican PRI political party. The men were sentenced to six years and 10 months for a crime against which they could not even defend themselves because they did not speak Spanish.
Before the case was resolved, Amnesty International declared the men “prisoners of conscience” after more than 30,000 letters were delivered to the Mexican government asking for the men’s freedom. The Supreme Court of Mexico ruled in the men’s favor 4 to 1 after noting multiple inconsistencies in the case. Prosecutors claimed the men robbed a truck; a crime shown to never have occurred. The court also ruled the men’s due process rights were violated because they were not allowed access to an interpreter during their incarceration and trial process.
The men were defended by lawyers from the Center of Human Rights Augustín Pro Juárez. A representative from Amnesty International, Daniel Zapico, said “there may be many other cases of innocent people in jail.”
For more information visit the following source of this information: http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=326474 Photo credit to Centro Prodh

International Expansion of the Innocence Movement in 2012

The purpose of this post is to briefly summarize organized innocence activity around the world during 2012 (If I have left items out, please let me know so I can supplement this post).  The calendar year 2012 undoubtedly saw the largest expansion of organized innocence work in history.  Well-attended innocence conferences were held in 5 different continents.  Organizations designed to free the innocent operated in every inhabited continent, and new projects launched in various Latin American countries, France, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Israel, and Taiwan, among others.  Here is a brief summary:

  • The Innocence Network, which currently consists of more than 60 member projects in the U.S., UK, Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia, issued its 2012 report, which lists the members and summarizes the 22 exonerations  its members obtained in the calendar year.  Major conferences on the subject were held in Australia, the UK and the U.S.
  • A network of organizations fighting for the innocent was launched in Latin America, Red Inocente (website here).  Red Inocente held its first annual conference in July, which was attended by more than 70 representatives from various Latin American countries.  Presentations were made about innocence efforts underway in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Puerto Rico.  Details of conference here.  The second annual conference will be held in 2013 in Buenos Aires.  Red Inocente has already seen its first exoneration, which occurred this year in Argentina.
  • In Europe, the UK has had a rich history of innocence work for decades, most recently spearheaded by the Innocence Network UK, and many other university-based groups not part of INUK.  This past year has seen innocence organizations launch in the Netherlands and in Lyon, France.  The Innocence Law Clinic in Warsaw, Poland, successfully continued its operations, which have been ongoing since 1999, and the Supreme Court of Poland held a lecture on the international expansion of the Innocence Movement, sponsored by the Helsinki Foundation.  Also in Poland, a conference was held in Krakow on on the topic of wrongful convictions, attended by judges and prosecutors from across the country.  In the Czech Republic, lectures on wrongful convictions were held at 2 major law schools, summarized in this news clip.  Interest in starting an innocent project is budding in Italy, with representatives from a major law school there planning to attend the 2013 Innocence Conference and to shadow the Ohio Innocence Project this summer.
  • In Africa, the highly-organized Wits Justice Project in South Africa continued its operations with many successes; and a new Innocence Project South Africa launched
  • The Israeli Wrongful Convictions Clinic launched
  • In Asia, projects launched with much acclaim in Taiwan and the Philippines.  China held its first major conference on the topic of wrongful conviction, attended by hundreds of judges, prosecutors, professors and defense attorneys.  Two books on wrongful convictions, False Justice and Illustrated Truth, were translated and published in China.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Jason Puracal Wins Appeal, To Be Released….

Previous coverage of case here, here and here….

From AP:

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – A U.S. citizen jailed for nearly two years on money-laundering and drug charges in Nicaragua will be freed after a court unanimously upheld his appeal, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Attorney Fabbrith Gomez said the appeals court vacated the charges against Jason Puracal, 35, of Tacoma,  and ordered him released immediately.

“We are happy, everyone that worked for this is happy,” he said.

Gomez said it could be a matter of hours or days before the University of Washington graduate, who worked as a real estate agent in Nicaragua, is released from the prison right outside Managua, the capital.

The court was supposed to have announced its ruling by Sept. 4, according to Nicaraguan law, but Gomez said he wasn’t until Wednesday.

Details of the decision to free Puracal were not immediately available. There was no immediate confirmation from court officials.

Gomez had argued to the appeals court that Puracal’s home sales were legitimate business deals and were not related in any way to drug traffickers.

Puracal made the Pacific coast beach town of San Juan del Sur his home after a two-year stint in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps. He married a Nicaraguan woman and they had a son.

In late 2010, masked policeman raided his real estate office and took him to Nicaragua’s maximum security prison. Prosecutors charged that Puracal was using his business as a front for money laundering in a region used to transport cocaine from Colombia to the United States.

He was convicted in August 2011 of all charges and later sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Puracal’s family and friends and human rights groups maintained the charges were false. U.S. lawmakers supported Puracal by sending letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

 

Jason Puracal Supporters Hold Vigils; Deliver Petition to Nicaraguan Embassy…

 

From newssource:

 

It’s been exactly one year since a Tacoma man was sentenced to 22 years in prison for drug trafficking and money laundering in Nicaragua.

Jason Puracal’s family and hundreds of supporters have stood by him, claiming he was wrongfully convicted without evidence.

On Wednesday, the effort to free Puracal will strengthen with an event in Los Angeles and one in Seattle.

Supporters with Change.org plan to deliver a petition to the Nicaraguan embassy in L.A., demanding Puracal’s release. Organizers claim to have gathered more than 100,000 signatures.

At the University of Washington, supporters and Jason’s family will gather at Red Square at 8:00 p.m. for a candlelight vigil.

Jason’s sister, Janis, recently returned from Nicaragua, where an appeals court heard Jason’s case last week. The family is now awaiting a judge’s decision.

“I know there’s no evidence against Jason,” Janis said. “I want to say I’m confident he’s coming home, [but] it’s hard for me to put a lot of stock in that system after two years of fighting it.”

The family maintains there was never any evidence linking Jason to drugs, money or any of the other 10 defendants convicted of the crimes.

Jason’s health has improved in prison, but he continues to struggle with depression. According to Janis, he was recently planed on suicide watch.

Decision from Nicaraguan Court on Jason Puracal Could Come in Next 10 Days….

From Komonews.com:

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) – A Washington state man convicted of money laundering in Nicaragua has argued at a hearing appealing his 22-year sentence that police and prosecutors created lies to link him to organized crime.

The lawyer for 35-year-old Jason Puracal of Tacoma says three appellate judges are looking at evidence such as business records that show Puracal has no ties to the companies listed in the formal accusation.

The panel is expected to make a decision in five to 10 days, attorney Fabbrith Gomez told The Associated Press after Monday’s hearing.

Puracal’s family says he was wrongfully convicted two years ago and thrown into one of the most dangerous Central American prisons. Now family members are going to new lengths to try to get him freed.

“He was the kind of brother who would be very protective – but would also challenge you,” Jason’s sister, Janis Puracal, said earlier this month.

Puracal is a University of Washington graduate who served in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua in 2002. He was convicted in 2011 of laundering money through his Re/Max International real estate franchise in San Juan del Sur on Nicaragua’s west coast.

 

Jason Puracal Granted Hearing in Nicaragua…

From the NewYorkTimes.com:

A U.S. citizen serving a 22-year prison sentence in Nicaragua for drug trafficking and money laundering who a United Nations group has said was wrongly convicted has been granted an appeals hearing, his supporters announced on Wednesday.

Jason Puracal, 35, was detained by Nicaraguan authorities in November 2010 and later found guilty by a trial judge along with 10 Nicaraguan co-defendants despite their testimony that they had never met or worked with Puracal, his legal team said. It added that the prosecution’s own witnesses said he was innocent.

Puracal has become a cause célèbre for human rights activists in the United States and around the world, with U.S. lawmakers appealing to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and a former high-ranking U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official launching a massive petition drive on Puracal’s behalf.

“The 11-month wait for Jason’s hearing is over. The one-year anniversary of his conviction will be August 29, and we really hope to have him home by then. We’re optimistic, and we just ask that people continue to stay engaged,” said Eric Volz, founder of an international crisis resource group called the David House Agency that has been helping push for Puracal’s release.

Puracal’s appeal will come before a three-judge panel on August 16 in a hearing that is expected to last five days, supporters said. A decision could come anywhere from five days to months after the hearing concludes.

Neither prosecutors nor the Nicaraguan government immediately responded to requests for comment.

Supporters have been pushing for the appeal to be heard for nearly a year, and heightened those efforts in the past week after finding out that Puracal, who has been insolitary confinement, was put on suicide watch by Nicaraguan authorities.

Puracal’s sisters Janis and Jaime flew to Nicaragua this week and started knocking on the doors of government officials and visited the appeals court in person, supporters said.

“Within four hours, Jason’s attorney got a phone call being notified of the date that was being set for the hearing. That’s the main reason we believe this is finally moving,” Volz told Reuters.

Volz was himself convicted of murder in the same Nicaraguan courtroom in 2006, eventually serving 14 months of a 30-year sentence in the same La Modelo prison in Tipitapa, just east of the capital Managua. A Nicaraguan appeals court overturned his conviction last year.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in May that Puracal was arbitrarily imprisoned and recommended that he be immediately freed.

A U.S. citizen born in Washington state, Puracal became a resident of Nicaragua after serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2002, and he has married a Nicaraguan woman.

Before his arrest, he was working at a real estate office in the Nicaraguan city of San Juan del Sur, a surfing destination on the Pacific Coast.

Puracal’s supporters said he came under suspicion due to his job as a real estate agent, which gave him control over large sums of money held in escrow for property transactions and drew the attention of Nicaraguan law enforcement authorities.

 

Argentine police officers accused of torture that appears on video

Despite recent justice system progress in South America, here is a link to an article about police in Argentina using torture.  The two “suspects” in this case had only been detained for a misdemeanor.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/20/world/americas/argentina-video/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Redinocente Hosts First Latin American Innocence Conference

This past week lawyers, activists, and law professors from throughout Latin America gathered in Santiago, Chile for the First Latin American Innocence Conference. The conference was hosted by Redinocente (www.redinocente.org), an organization launched this year with the mission of assisting in the creation and support of innocence efforts throughout Latin America. The event made national headlines in Chile and had outstanding speakers including the former President of Bolivia (Eduardo Rodriguez), the Michael Moore of Argentina (Enrique Piñeyro), the National Public Defender of Chile (Georgy Schubert Studer), and exoneree Eric Volz.

There were presentations about innocence efforts underway in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Puerto Rico. The conference was attended by more than 70 representatives.

During the conference Redinocente hosted the Chilean premier of El Rati Horror Show, a film by Enrique Piñeyro which documents the story of Ariel Fernando Carrera who was wrongfully convicted of a high-profile murder of three people. Carrera was recently released by the Argentine Supreme Court after spending seven years in prison. The film has been widely credited for bringing the story to light.

There are already plans underway for next year’s conference which will be held in Bueno Aires.

Innocence Projects Forming in Latin America…

From the Daily Transcript:

California Western School of Law professors James M. Cooper and Justin P. Brooks will help launch Red Inocente, an Innocence Network in Latin America, this week in Santiago, Chile.

Modeled on the success of the California Innocence Project, Red Inocente is a public education and advocacy program dedicated to the release of wrongly convicted people and the reform of laws that lead to wrongful conviction in Latin America.

The launch of Red Inocente will coincide with the inaugural conference for innocence projects in Latin America. Cooper and Brooks also will help to establish innocence projects in Argentina, Chile, and Peru later this year.

Jason Puracal on CNN Last Night…

Watch the video, which includes Anderson Cooper doing a phone interview with Jason here.

Story:

(CNN) — An American being held in a Nicaraguan prison said he is innocent and described his treatment in a “hellhole” in an exclusive phone interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday.

“I don’t know the reason that I’m here,” Jason Puracal said. “That’s been a mystery from the very beginning. What the motives behind the police and the prosecution have been.”

Puracal, a 35-year-old from Washington state, has been behind bars since August 2010, when Nicaraguan authorities raided his real estate office in the coastal tourist city of San Juan del Sur.

CNN profiled Puracal in February.

In November, a Nicaraguan judge found Puracal guilty of money laundering, drug trafficking and organized crime and sentenced the American to 22 years. But a chorus of supporters say that there is no evidence to support the charges and Continue reading

Exoneration in Argentina..

Here is an email sent yesterday by Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project:

I am so pleased to report that the Argentinian Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of Fernando Carerra.  Carerra’s case was championed by Enrique Pinero, an Argentinian film director and co-founder of our newest innocence project in South America. The Carerra case was the subject of Pinero’s film “The Rati Horror Show.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xx538juk1KI which we will premiere in Santiago, Chile in 2 weeks at our First Latin American Innocence Conference.
There is an incredible amount of media attention on this case, mostly in Spanish, but here is a short article in English.

http://www.argentinaindependent.com/tag/fernando-carrera/

Jason Puracal Case on Anderson Cooper Live Tonight in U.S….

The case has been covered many times on this blog, including here, here and here.

The case will be featured on Anderson Cooper 360 Tonight at 8:00 and against at 10:00 EST.

How Nations Handle Extra-Territorial Breaches of their Nationals’ Right to Innocence and Miscarriages of Justice

That the world is shrinking by the day, is much more than a metaphor. It’s a reality. Nationals of nations are scattered all around the globe, seeking different realities, challenges and opportunities. In the process, they are confronted with different norms, cultures and laws which they are compelled to abide by, or face sanctions for breaches of the laws of their host countries. In effect, nationals outside their own territories, must not only comply with the laws of their host countries, but there is a continuing responsibility of their own governments to ensure that they are treated fairly,  justly and in line with internationally acceptable legal standards.

What happens when a government fails to take up that challenge on behalf of their own citizens abroad? It’s sometimes a catch twenty-two situation, given the intersection between politics and law. One thing is certain though, most international Instruments lay down certain minimum standards for the dispensation of justice and, indeed, of the trial process. Recent cases of US and Nigerian citizens with criminal processes/procedures abroad, have demonstrated that, whilst one nation takes seriously it’s continuing international obligations to its nationals; the other have simply shirked her responsibilities to it’s nationals abroad, leaving them at the mercy and vagaries of the ‘laws’ of the host countries, without regard to the fairness, justice or indeed, whether the laws of the host countries guarantees the minimum rights under international law.

With respect to the US, the recent case of Jason Puracal (An American citizen) in Nicaragua was handled ‘fairly’ well, if for nothing, the drawing of the attention of the US Congress (43 House of Representatives members) to his plight, and the calling of the attention of the United Nations, declaring the Nicaraguan judicial system as flawed and a violation of international law. Read archived post on this case here.

That Nigerian nationals face legal hurdles and challenges abroad is well documented. What is not well appreciated is the response of the Nigerian government, and it’s attitude to her nationals undergoing criminal processes abroad. In Indonesia for instance, there are a sizeable number of Nigerians who have alleged that, their right to justice, and sometimes, outright miscarriages of justice have occurred; which has left them wrongfully imprisoned, some on death row, and others, actually have been executed without due process. Read here and here

There is the on-going trial of a Nigerian pastor in Austria – Pastor Joshua Esosa -for ‘drug related offenses’, which he vigorously denies. He was made to undergo criminal processes in Austria which resulted in his ‘conviction and sentence’, whereupon he appealed the decision. An appellate court in Austria, it seems, have ordered the remittal of his case for re-trial de novo. That re-trial commenced, or rather, took place on the 6th of June, 2012. The point here is that, Pastor Joshua Esosa practically shouted himself hoarse, before he was given the right of re-trial, despite the unfairness of the initial trial process; and the Nigerian Embassy appearing to have utterly failed him. Read his story here

In conclusion, the anecdotal facts above, clearly demonstrate that governments owe it’s own nationals obligations to ensure that they are given a fair trial abroad. That obligation is a continuing one. It must be exercised responsibly in line with internationally acceptable legal standards. Where those domestic standards falls short of universally acceptable norms, by virtue of its continuing obligations, it behooves governments to engage on her nationals’ behalf to ensure justice is done. The Nigerian government must now begin to learn to shift grounds, and explore not only legal measures, but political means to protect her nationals abroad.

United Nations Calls on Nicaragua to Immediately Release Wrongly Imprisoned U.S. Citizen Jason Puracal

Prior coverage of case by contributing editor Justin Brooks here…Chicago Tribune article about UN action here

David House Agency – Press Release

United Nations Calls on Nicaragua to Immediately Release
Wrongly Imprisoned U.S. Citizen Jason Puracal
Declares Nicaragua in Violation of International Law
Washington, DC (May 30, 2012) – The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled that the Government of Nicaragua’s detention of Jason Puracal is in violation of international law and he should be released immediately.  Puracal, an American citizen from the Seattle/Tacoma area, has been illegally detained since November 2010 in Nicaragua’s infamous La Modelo prison.  Under Opinion No. 10/2012 – which was issued by renowned experts from Chile, Norway, Pakistan, Senegal, Ukraine – the United Nations urged immediate action.  Puracal’s appeal hearing has been delayed for nine months and remains unscheduled.
There are more than 3,000 U.S. citizens detained worldwide for various alleged and actual offenses.  Puracal is the only American currently being detained even though there is an independent finding that the detention is unlawful.   The UN found the Nicaraguan judicial system failed to provide Puracal with a trial consistent with its obligations under international law, resulting in an arbitrary verdict.  He was denied the right to a competent tribunal established by law, the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, and the right to be tried without undue delay.
“We are gratified that the United Nations has found Jason is being held in violation of international law,” said Puracal’s international attorney, Jared Genser.  “We call on the Nicaraguan government to release him immediately in accordance with this important ruling.”
Earlier this month, 43 members of the United States House of Representatives sent a letter urging President Ortega take immediate action by ordering an independent review of the case.  The letter is available here:  http://www.freejasonp.com/storage/Congressional_Ltr_to_Ortega_May 2012.pdf.
May 31 marks Jason’s 35th birthday and 568th day in prison.  For more information, please visit www.freejasonp.com

Saturday’s Quick Clicks…

American Man Held Without Charges in Bolivia for 11 Months Goes on Hunger Strike

Jacob Ostreicher, who has been held in prison in Bolivia for 11 months without any formal charges, is on a hunger strike.   Ostreicher’s lawyer and family contend that he is an innocent man who has been falsely linked to a drug and money laundering investigation.   They claim that Ostreicher’s was involved in a a rice operation in Santa Cruz and they presented more than 1,000 documents in preliminary hearings proving that Ostreicher has conducted nothing but legitimate business transactions in Bolivia.

Ostreicher is being held in the notorious Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz.  The prison is well known as being run by the inmates.  The perimeter is controlled by guards, but they do not control the activities by the inmates housed in the facility.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/12/world/americas/bolivia-american-hunger-strike/index.html

http://abcnews.go.com/International/american-investor-sits-year-isolated-bolivian-prison-uncharged/story?id=16329344#.T680yugV19n