Category Archives: Legislation

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Is forensic odontology too unreliable?
  • Exoneree Johnathan Montgomery takes it one day at a time
  • Missouri considers eyewitness identification reform and DNA preservation bill
  • Greg Wilhoit, a former Oklahoma death-row inmate from Tulsa and nationally-known anti-death penalty advocate whose story was included in author John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man,” died Feb. 14 in Sacramento, Calif., family members said. He was 59.  Full article here
  • Upcoming symposium at the Penn Quattrone Center:  A Systems Approach to Conviction Integrity

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman plans to unveil legislation Wednesday that would make it easier for people wrongfully convicted of crimes to recover damages from the state.  Schneiderman’s Unjust Imprisonment Act would strip away restrictions in state law that block claims from people who were coerced into false confessions or who pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit.  Full article here.
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project hiring an investigator
  • Another chance for the U.S. Supreme Court to say no to prosecutorial misconduct
  • Missouri considers eyewitness id and videotaped interrogations reform
  • Opening of sealed records in Orange County, CA shows improper use of informants

Forensic Science Reform Bill Introduced in U.S. Congress

Press release:

Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman

For Immediate Release
http://commerce.senate.gov                                              Contact: Kevin McAlister, 202-224-8374
February 12, 2014

ROCKEFELLER INTRODUCES BILL TO ADVANCE FORENSIC SCIENCE REFORM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today reintroduced legislation to strengthen the criminal justice system, by prioritizing scientific research and supporting the development of science-based standards in the forensic disciplines.

Rockefeller’s bill, The Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014, aims to bolster forensic science reform efforts and to maintain long-term cooperation between scientists, the legal community, law enforcement, forensic practitioners, and advocacy groups.

“We’re making real progress toward strengthening forensic science, but more must be done,” said Rockefeller. “My bill would formalize collaboration between scientists and the criminal justice system, which is the only way to put our forensic evidence standards on a solid scientific footing. This important work will help convict the guilty and protect the innocent.”

The Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014 continues Rockefeller’s work from a related 2012 bill introduced in response to the 2009 National Academies report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.  The report found that the interpretation of forensic evidence can be severely compromised by the lack of supporting science and standards.

Since the report’s release, Rockefeller has focused on supporting basic research in forensic science and on improving standards of practice. Rockefeller has convened three Commerce Committee hearings to highlight the need for scientific research, for enforceable national standards, and for Federal government leadership to validate and standardize forensic disciplines nationwide. The recently established National Commission on Forensic Science implements a provision in Rockefeller’s original bill, which calls for the creation of this entity.

A wide range of organizations have supported the need for basic research and standards development in the forensic sciences. Reform advocates have included the Innocence Project; the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME); the American Statistical Association (ASA); the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL); and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which is particularly concerned about the potential for bias in the criminal justice system.

A copy of the bill is available here.

To implement needed reforms, the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014 would:

         Require standards development: NIST would be directed to develop forensic science standards in consultation with standards development organizations and forensic science stakeholders. NIST would also be permitted to establish and solicit advice from discipline-specific expert working groups to identify standards development priorities and opportunities.

         Implement uniform standards: The bill would direct a national commission on forensic science – chaired by the Director of NIST and the Attorney General and comprised of research scientists, forensic science practitioners, and legal and law enforcement professionals – to recommend new science-based standards.  It would also require the Attorney General to implement these standards in Federal forensic science laboratories and to encourage standards adoption in non-Federal laboratories.

         Promote research: A National Forensic Science Coordinating Office would be established to develop a forensic science research strategy and to support the implementation of that strategy across relevant Federal agencies. The National Science Foundation would be directed to support forensic science research and the creation of forensic science research centers. All agencies with equities in forensic science would be encouraged to stimulate innovative and creative solutions to satisfy the research needs and priorities identified in the research strategy.

UK Parliamentary debate on definition of a ‘miscarriage of justice’

There have been recent moves by the government in the UK, to severely restrict access to compensation for victims of miscarriages of justice. There has rightly, been (muted) outrage about the proposed requirement that the person claiming compensation had to prove their ‘innocence’ to be eligible for compensation. (see post here…)

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“A statutory definition was first attempted by the government as part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which originally stated a miscarriage of justice has occurred if new evidence must “show beyond reasonable doubt that the person was innocent of the offence”. When the bill progressed to the House of Lords, peers voted to defeat the government and change the wording so that the new evidence “shows conclusively that the evidence against the person at trial is so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based on it”.

The debate on the amendment and the definition of a ‘miscarriage of justice’ is available here….  For those of us involved in miscarriages of justice in the UK, this is essential viewing – and those interested in how authorities approach these issues. It is a long debate, but very very interesting! There has been limited reporting so far of the debate – but you can see one article here…

Wrongly jailed in UK may not get redress

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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With Today’s Release of the San Antonio Four, Texas Now On the Cutting Edge of Efforts to Free the Innocent

From the Huffington Post:

Today in Texas, four wrongfully convicted women–known as the “San Antonio Four”–had their convictions overturned and were freed. This came about thanks to the latest in a line of innovations Texas lawmakers and the Innocence Project of Texas have devised to help the wrongfully convicted. Often thought of as a rough-and-tumble, “Hang ‘Em High” state–and still leading the nation in capital punishment–Texas is surprisingly now a trendsetter for innocence reforms.

The four women exonerated today–Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhough, Anna Vasquez, and Cassandra Rivera–were caught up in the infamous line of ritualistic child sex abuse hysteria cases of the 1980s and early 1990s. Many of these cases involved allegations against day care workers, and many experts now believe that most of the convicted were innocent victims of the witch-hunt mentality prevalent in that era…………

Read entire article here….

Convictions quashed on application of Singapore Attorney General’s Chambers

An interesting case was heard by the Singapore High Court in October, 2013. The Singapore Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) made an application to the High Court to review and set aside the conviction of Thomas Tay, who had been sentenced six years ago under the Securities and Futures Act. The High Court quashed Tay’s convictions and returned him the $240 000 fine he had paid.

The AGC had applied for a review of Tay’s case based on the acquittals of other individuals linked to Tay’s case.

This is an interesting case of criminal revision being initiated by the Singapore AGC, instead of by the Court or the accused. Based on Singapore’s written laws (as opposed to common law), a criminal case that has exhausted the appeals process can presently only be revisited based on S. 400 (1) of Singapore’s Criminal Procedure Code. This provision allows the High Court to study the record of criminal proceedings brought before any Subordinate Court to satisfy itself of “the correctness, legality or propriety of any judgment, sentence or order recorded or passed and as to the regularity of those proceedings.” Note that under S. 400 (1), this ability to review cases is limited to the High Court and only applies to cases previously heard before Subordinate Courts. S. 400 (1) therefore does not cover many serious offences which carry severe penalties and fall within the High Court’s original jurisdiction. It was fortunate that Tay’s case fell within the narrow limits of S. 400.

Though it is encouraging that the AGC took the initiative to apply for a review in the Tay case, and though the Singapore Court of Appeal has recognised the possibility that it may review cases to prevent wrongful convictions, the Tay case shows that there is need for legislature to be passed in Singapore that clearly recognises the ability Singapore Courts to review criminal cases to prevent wrongful convictions or serious injustices, regardless of the court before which the case was first heard and regardless of the lapsing of appeal timelines.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Innocence Project New Orleans is hosting a fundraiser featuring David Simon and the cast of HBO’s Treme, which shined light on flawed criminal justice system
  • The Minnesota Innocence Project and a Twin Cities law firm are digging for legal flaws that could free five men convicted of killing a co-worker in Green Bay 21 years ago. The five were convicted of killing Tom Monfils in 1992 at what was then the James River paper mill.  Monday night, almost four dozen people took part in an annual walk and rally for the defendants. Denis Gullickson told them that two attorneys from Minnesota are examining the case for free – as is the St. Paul-based equivalent of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which has succeeded in freeing a number of high-profile inmates who were wrongly convicted.  More details
  • Diary of a UK Innocence Project Part 3:  Students, students everywhere and not a stop to think
  • Illinois hopes to stem wrongful convictions with new interrogation law

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • The Irish Innocence Project may be on the verge of its first exoneration
  • Chicago taxpayers will spend $12.3 million to compensate two more exonerated inmates who claim they were tortured into false confessions by convicted former Area 2 Cmdr. Jon Burge, keeping former Mayor Richard M. Daley off the hot seat.  The identical $6.15 million settlements will go to Ronald Kitchen and Marvin Reeves, who spent more than two decades in prison for the 1988 murders of five they did not commit.  It marks the third time that cases settled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel have spared Daley from answering questions under oath about allegations that — as state’s attorney and as mayor — he failed to investigate police torture allegations against Burge and participated in a conspiracy to cover it up.
  • In Illinois, DNA that exonerated one man points to a new suspect
  • In Virginia, lawmakers consider moves that would speed up exoneration process and rate at which exonerees obtain their compensation

Ohio to Assist Ex-cons Seeking Work; The Peculiar Place of the Exonerated

Getting a job with prison on your resume isn’t easy. That’s an understatement, but tomorrow ex-offenders in Ohio will get free advice—including information on starting a business and finding the resources to return to school—and even free proper business clothing to help them get back into the workplace. The event, free and open to ex-offenders, will be held at Columbus State Community College. Thanks to several government agencies involved and to Ohio Development Director David Goodman for this initiative. Goodman also sponsored Senate Bill 77, the bill that enacted best practice reform aimed at reducing wrongful conviction.

Which brings to mind the peculiar place of the exonerated. One would presume that tomorrow’s program would also welcome those wrongfully convicted, because, unfortunately, many still face the stigma of prison even though they did not deserve to be there. Continue reading

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • Kenya scarred by wrongful convictions (and the government’s refusal to acknowledge them)
  • Was the Stanley Wrice wrongful conviction hearing in Illinois subverted by politics?
  • RIP exoneree Forest Shomberg, found dead in Wisconsin of apparent drug overdose
  • The Alaska Supreme Court is considering proposed rule changes that would require lawyers in the state to disclose evidence that suggests a person has been wrongly accused or convicted of a crime.  Alaska state prosecutors and defense lawyers are currently not required to turn over exculpatory evidence – facts that point toward a defendant’s innocence.  For the past four years, the Alaska Bar Association has called on the court system to add rules to the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern lawyers across the state. The American Bar Association has promoted similar state-level rules around the country.  “This is designed to encourage lawyers to think about the consequences of not doing anything,” said Steve Van Goor, counsel for the Alaska Bar Association. “When you’re in a position to report evidence and don’t, an innocent person sits in prison.”
  • Clerk fired for helping wrongfully convicted man said she would do the same thing all over again
  • New newsletter of Innocence Network UK available here

The inherent jurisdiction/power of Singapore courts to rehear cases of wrongful conviction: Interpreting Re Nalpon Zero Geraldo Mario

In April 2013, the Singapore Court of Appeal in the case of Re Nalpon Zero Geraldo Mario [2013] SGCA 28 took the opportunity to clarify the nature, existence, and scope of the court’s inherent jurisdiction and powers. This case is highly relevant to the question of whether Singapore courts have the ability to reopen a case that has completed the appeals process to prevent wrongful convictions. This is because there is currently no statute in Singapore that expressly gives courts the ability to do so. Therefore, such ability would have to rest on a court’s exercise of its inherent powers. Though a number of convictions have been overturned by the Singapore High Court exercising its powers of criminal revision, the High Court can only apply its criminal revision powers to cases heard at first instance by lower courts. Cases that are more serious, and that are heard at the first instance by the High Court in Singapore, are not subject to the High Court’s power of criminal revision.

The Singapore Court of Appeal in Re Nalpon Zero Geraldo Mario held that as a general rule, a court’s jurisdiction and powers are determined by statute. It adopted the general definition of jurisdiction as the court’s authority ‘to hear and determine a dispute that is brought before it’, and power as its ‘capacity to give effect to its determination by making or granting the orders or reliefs […]’ (para 13 & 31). The Court then discussed its inherent jurisdiction and powers, as opposed to its statute-based jurisdiction and powers. Here, it adopted a narrow definition equating “inherent” jurisdiction with “inherent” powers, stating that inherent jurisdiction refers to ‘no more than the exercise by the court of its fund of powers conferred on it by virtue of its institutional role to dispense justice, rather than an inherent “authority” to hear and determine a matter’ (para 34).

Concerns about the court’s narrow definition of its inherent jurisdiction/powers have been raised (CHEN Siyuan, “Jurisdiction, power, inherent jurisdiction, and inherent power: Re Nalpon Zero Geraldo Mario [2013] SGCA 28, SLW Commentary, Issue 3/April 2013; CHEN, “Is the Invocation of Inherent Jurisdiction the Same as the Exercise of Inherent Powers? Re Nalpon Zero Geraldo Mario”, forthcoming in International Journal of Evidence and Proof). There is also the question of whether this narrow definition of a court’s inherent jurisdiction/powers excludes the judicial ability to reopen cases of wrongful conviction, especially since this ability is not expressly provided for by statute in Singapore. However, it should be noted that the Court of Appeal in Re Nalpon Zero Geraldo Mario did not set out a closed or exhaustive list of a court’s inherent jurisdiction/powers. The Court also referred a previous case where the Singapore court had reopened and reheard an issue decided in breach of natural justice as one in which the court concerned had ‘invoked an inherent “power”’ (para. 36).

As such, the Court of Appeal may still decide in a future case that it has the inherent “power” to reopen cases of wrongful conviction. This would be in line with the Court of Appeal’s 2010 observations in Yong Vui Kong v PP [2010] 2 SLR, where it noted that to prevent miscarriages of justice, a future court may reconsider “the rationale of those decisions where we have an actual situation where new evidence is discovered, e.g. DNA or other evidence, which shows, or may show, that the conviction is demonstrably wrong in law or that there is reasonable doubt that the conviction was wrong. In such a case, this court will have to consider or reconsider whether it has any inherent jurisdiction to review its own decision in order to correct any miscarriage of justice” (para 13 & 15). Such an interpretation of Re Nalpon Zero Geraldo Mario would ensure jurisprudential consistency and ensure that Singapore courts are able to take action in cases of wrongful convictions.

To clarify matters, the Singapore Parliament should consider passing legislation that expressly authorises Singapore courts to reopen cases of wrongful conviction that have nevertheless exhausted the appeals process.

New Yorkers: Urge Passage of Criminal Justice Reform Now

The Innocence Project is urging New York citizens to voice support of criminal justice reform to their legislators before the current legislative session ends on June 21.  The legislation is designed to reduce wrongful convictions by requiring the full recording of interrogations in serious felonies and by improving police witness eyewitness identification procedures.

The Innocence Project has made it easy to voice support for the legislation with a prepared message (here). Continue reading

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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U.S. Supreme Court Sanctions DNA Swab after Arrest

The US Supreme Court has ruled that if a person has been arrested under probable cause by the police, they can be subjected to a DNA swab.

See the CNN story here.