Category Archives: Legislation

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Jennifer Thompson Promotes the Justice for All Act

Jennifer Thompson has been featured on the WCB before.  She authored, along with Ronald Cotton, the book Picking Cotton.  Ms. Thompson incorrectly identified Ronald Cotton as the man who raped her, and Cotton spent 11 years in prison before DNA proved he was not guilty.  After his release, Ronald and Jennifer became friends, and co-authored the book, which chronicles the events of the rape and the wrongful conviction.

Ms. Thompson has recently written an op-ed for The Hill in support of reauthorization of the Justice for All Act to ensure that post-conviction DNA testing remains accessible.

See the original posting on The Hill here.  The text of her piece appears below:

October 26, 2014
Harm multiplies when the innocent are wrongly convicted
By Jennifer Thompson

In June of 1995, I found myself on a journey I never wanted, never asked for and never would have wished on another human being. I learned that the man whom I had identified in court as my rapist – the man whose face, breath and evilness I had dreamt about for 11 years – was innocent. The man whom I believed had destroyed me that night, who had stolen everything from me, and whom I hated with an all-consuming rage had lost 4000 days, eleven Christmases, eleven birthdays, and relationships with loved ones. And on June 30th of 1995, Ronald Cotton, the man I had hated and prayed for to die, walked out of prison a free and innocent man.

My rage and hatred had been misplaced. I was wrong. I had sent an innocent man to prison. A third of his life was over, and the shame, guilt and fear began to suffocate me. I had let down everyone — the police department, the district attorney’s office, the community, the other women who became victims of Bobby Poole, and especially Ronald Cotton and his family.

Several years after Ronald was freed, I received a phone call from Bobby Poole’s last victim. I remember hearing her story about what happened to her and realizing that we all had left him on the streets to commit further crimes – rapes — that we possibly could have prevented if Ronald had not been locked up for something he had never done. The knowledge that Mr. Poole had been left at liberty to hurt other women paralyzed me and sent me into a backward spiral that took years to recover from. This journey has taught me that the impact of wrongful convictions goes so much further than a victim and the wrongfully convicted. The pool of victims from 1984 was huge – me, Ron, the police department, our families, and the other women who became victims of Bobby Poole all suffered.

This case crystalized for me why it is so important to have laws in place that protect the innocent. Those laws would be important enough if they only protected the innocent, but they do so much more. They also protect the potential victims of real perpetrators, the families and children of the wrongfully convicted person, and – ultimately – the victim who learns the truth.

The Justice for All Act, which is up for reauthorization by Congress, allows men like Ronald to obtain post-conviction DNA testing that can lead to their freedom and to the conviction of the guilty. Without access to such testing, innocent men will remain in prison, real perpetrators will remain free, and new victims will have to experience the same horrors and indignities that I did. I urge Congress to pass the Justice For All Act now so that we can live in a world where the truly guilty are behind bars and the innocent are free.

Thompson is the co-author with Ronald Cotton of the book Picking Cotton, a memoir they wrote together after DNA testing proved that Cotton had been wrongly convicted of raping Thompson as a college student.

California Governor Vetoes Bill to Protect the Innocent

Jerry Brown, the same California Governor who recently signed an ‘anti-junk science forensics bill‘ into law, has vetoed a bill that would provide protection for the innocent, and hold prosecutors “mildly” more accountable.

The vetoed bill would have allowed judges to inform juries when prosecutors had been caught intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence, which is already a breach of ethics and arguably illegal.  Note that the bill did not even include sanctions for ethics-breaching prosecutors.

See the San Francisco Examiner story here.

See the Washington Post story here.

 

California Anti-Junk Science Forensics Bill Signed Into Law

Mike Bowers, on his blog Forensics in Focus, has posted the news that a new “anti-junk science forensics” bill has been signed into law in California.

The law permits post conviction defendants the ability to contest expert testimony that was presented against them at trial. In other words, convictions in which experts have either repudiated their past testimony, or used forensic “science” that is later deemed faulty by legitimate research, are subject to later proceedings reversing that conviction.

This is a huge deal, because it prevents prosecutors and judges from just using old case law as an excuse for ignoring habeas corpus appeals expressing new forensic research and attitudes.

Sex Offender Registries (SOR’s): TIME-FOR-A-CHANGE

registry swamp

Editor’s Note:  Although this article is clearly editorial in nature, it contains a substantial amount of fact and data that have direct bearing on the subject.  It’s also a long article, and I hope you’ll have the patience to read it through to the end.

The article is in five sections:

The History of Sex Offender Registries in the US

Sex Offender Registries are Manifestly Unjust

Sex Offender Registries Don’t Work

Sex Offender Registries Cost a Lot of Money

Conclusion

Continue reading

Justice System Reform – Why We Can’t Get it Right. It’s All About Root Cause.

“Chicago police call for tougher penalties for firearm offenses after dozens of people were shot over holiday.”

You may have heard that dozens of people were shot in Chicago over this recent 4th of July weekend.  I just saw the headline above, which is the response from the Chicago police to the tragic weekend.  What struck me immediately is that this reaction is so stupidly human.  But sadly, it’s human nature.  To most, it would appear to be a quick-response, expedient solution to a terrible problem; and it’s the expediency of this “solution” that makes it attractive to both the politicians who make the laws and the constituency that elects them to office. The belief is that we can pass a law, make the penalties harsher, and then say, “There, we solved THAT problem.”  But guess what?  This will NOT solve the problem, and it NEVER will.  The US justice system has a culture of “punishment” and “revenge”.  We always seem to believe that the threat of more severe punishment will serve as a deterrent to future evil-doers.  The standard political response to the problem of “crime” has always been more cops, more prisons, and tougher sentences.  Well … the US already has the most draconian sentencing laws in the world, and yet, even though we have only 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s prisoners (see Convictions  by the Numbers).

Doesn’t seem like super-tough sentences have done much to stem the US crime problem, does it?  And we know this.  Yet we, as an electorate, keep insisting from our legislators that there be more cops, more prisons, and ever tougher sentences.  It’s gotten to the point of being downright silly – tragic but silly.

So what should we do?  To fix any problem, you have to understand, and deal with, the root cause.  Unless you eliminate the root cause, the problem will not go away.  You can try to treat the symptoms of the problem (e.g. gun deaths in Chicago), but the problem will persist.  And I don’t believe we even know and understand what the root cause(s) of most crime are. I would expect that they’d have something to do with things like poverty, education, discrimination, culture, mental health issues, and more.

[Editorial observation:  I suspect that so-called “crimes of passion” are something that will always be part of the human condition, and we’re just stuck with them.]

Unfortunately, dealing with root cause is much, much more difficult than dealing with the obvious symptoms of a problem, and I believe this is largely why it doesn’t get done.  It takes lots of time, lots of money, and lots of effort – and who wants to do that when you can just pass a law making sentences harsher, and then tell yourself you’ve just addressed the problem?  It is absolutely human nature to jump to what seems to be the quickest, easiest solution, despite the fact that the “solution” may not cure the problem at all.

There ARE systematic ways to uncover root cause.  They involve structure, process, and data.  Please see our previous post on Six Sigma.  Root cause is at the very core of what Six Sigma is all about.  Unfortunately, given our justice system and our processes for enacting laws, I see no feasible way root cause analysis and corrective action could be applied to the US justice system – at least certainly not within my lifetime.  I expect that we’re just going to have to continue stumbling along with our electoral and legislative processes, and hope that some day enough voters and enough legislators eventually “get it.”

Court Reexamines Arson Murder Conviction In Fort Stockton, Texas

A so-called “Junk Science” law passed in 2013 in Texas has helped enable review of the case of Sonia Cacy, 66, of Fort Stockton. Cacy was convicted of the 1991 murder by arson of her uncle, William Richardson. She has claimed innocence in the fire that swept through the small home they shared. The Innocence Project of Texas has been fighting for several years for her exoneration.

Cacy was sentenced to 99 years in prison but was paroled in 1998 after serving six years. According to the Innocence Project, post-conviction review of the case that included testimony from several experts was successful in securing her release. She’s had difficulty finding employment and housing and has been working for more than 20 years for exoneration to clear her name and her record of the conviction.

Cacy’s lawyers this week presented evidence supporting her innocence in two hearings, Monday and Tuesday, in Fort Stockton. Judge Bert Richardson expects to take several months to release his ruling.

According to several media reports, at trial a Bexar County toxicologist testified to jurors that gasoline was found on Richardson’s clothes, but several fire experts Continue reading

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

UK Supreme Court Rule on Access to Evidence Post-Appeal

400px-uk_supreme_court_badgeThe Supreme Court of England and Wales has today ruled in the case of Kevin Nunn, an important ruling concerning the right of a convicted prisoner to access evidence in his case after he has been tried, and lost an appeal. Nunn had applied to the CCRC, claiming to be innocent of the murder of his girlfriend in 2005. Nunn is serving a life sentence for the murder. The CCRC denied a request to DNA test fluids found on the victim’s body. Nunn then applied through the Courts to gain access to the evidence in his case to have it re-tested (at his own expense). The Supreme Court this morning were ruling on whether he had the right to demand this evidence from the police and Crown. The full ruling (of just over 9 minutes) can be watched on YouTube here…. There has been some reporting of this morning’s judgement here…

Supreme Court rejects Kevin Nunn’s evidence release plea

Kevin Nunn: Lifer loses forensic tests fight eight years after murder conviction

There has also been a blog post, expressing unease – particularly as it lays a heavy burden upon the CCRC, who have not been known in the past to always make the right decision with regard to the re-testing of evidence. see here….

Kevin Nunn Case – Supreme Court application dismissed

I have jotted down a very quick summary of the main points of the unanimous judgement (which was mercifully short).

This appeal concerns the extent of disclosure duty AFTER the close of the case and any appeal. Police declined to keep going back to the evidence. Were they allowed to take this stance? Were they under the same duty of disclosure?

Unanimous decision that duty of disclosure does NOT continue unaltered after the trial. Up until end of trial he is presumed innocent. Once convicted he is no longer presumed innocent, but rather is proven guilty.

There remains a public interest in any flaw in his conviction being exposed. No-one ought to remain convicted if the conviction is unsafe. BUT also an important public interest in the finality of the process, for the family, witnesses etc. but also because of resources. There should not be indefinite re-investigations take resources away from new investigations.

There is a duty of disclosure but it is now more limited after trial. Guidelines issued by AG set out rules. Police and prosecutors must provide defendant with anything new if it casts doubt on the safety of the conviction. They must cooperate in further inquiry if the new inquiry has a real prospect of casting doubt. Not speculative reinvestigation simply because the defendant does not accept the decision of the jury.

In England and Wales, and Scotland, there is a specialist body charged with investigating suspected miscarriages of justice (CCRC). The existence of this body is another reason why there is no occasion for the Crown’s duty of disclosure to continue unaltered after conviction. If there is a proper inquiry on a topic where these is a real prospect that the conviction might be shown to be unsafe, the police and prosecution ought not to wait for an approach from the CCRC, but should cooperate in the inquiry.

If DNA retesting had a real prospect of showing that someone else committed the crime, then the continuing duty of disclosure would apply to it. on the facts of this case, it would not. It was known at the trial that the fluid could not have come from the defendant. Retesting in this case would not eliminate the defendant. A request for DNA testing should be dealt with according to the principles set out under the AG Guidelines.

 

Open Disclosure by Federal Prosecutors is Goal of Proposed Bill

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity (CPI), a non-profit organization which seeks “to preserve the presumption of innocence, assure equal treatment under the law, and end wrongful convictions” today released a proposed bill that would require federal prosecutors to implement an open-file policy. The bill addresses a weakness in the implementation of the Brady requirement to disclose all exculpatory evidence to the defense: Prosecutors currently determine what evidence is “material” (would likely impact the outcome of the case) and therefore subject to disclosure.

CPI’s Registry of Prosecutorial Misconduct has revealed that Brady violations —prosecutorial failure of the constitutional requirement to disclose exculpatory evidence relevant to the guilt or innocence and to the punishment of the defendant — as the leading type of misconduct by federal prosecutors.

The Federal Prosecutor Integrity Act would mandate that federal prosecutors, beginning at the time of arraignment, disclose all documents, scientific tests, witness statements, and other relevant evidence to the defense. Any additional information and evidence would need to be disclosed as the case progresses. Continue reading

Forcing forensic-science reforms hasn’t been easy

When the National Academy of Sciences issued a seminal report on the sad state of forensic science five years ago, many hoped it would quickly lead to reforms and fewer wrongful convictions. That hasn’t happened — at least so far.

In a comprehensive review here, Chemical & Engineering News reports that ”little has been done to shore up the discipline’s scientific base or to make sure that its methods don’t result in wrongful convictions. Quality standards for forensic laboratories remain inconsistent. And funding to implement improvements is scarce.”

Even worse, the journal says, some are beginning to wonder if much will be done in the new future without continued advocacy from reform-minded scientist and their allies. The fight is far from over.

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