Category Archives: Political cases

Study shows how ‘mob journalism’ helps convict the innocent

“The media has won deserved credit for its role in exposing wrongful convictions,” The Crime Report says. “But there are many examples of compliant coverage of prosecutors and law enforcement authorities who rush to convict the innocent on flimsy or phony evidence.”

To prove its point, the web site has published a study by crime journalist David J. Krajicek that focuses on three examples — the 1949 case of Florida’s “Groveland Four”; the conviction of Kirk Bloodsworth in the 1985 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl near Baltimore; and the conviction of Walter McMillian for the 1986 murder of a clerk in Monroeville, Ala.

All three cases are good examples of how the news media frequently follow — and sometimes lead — police and prosecutors down the rabbit hole of bias and tunnel vision. You can read the excellent study here.

Ruling marks historic week in Brooklyn D.A.’s Office: Discredited detective’s files to be reviewed by judge

As reported (here) in the New York Daily News, New York Supreme Court Justice Desmond Green yesterday denied a motion by the Brooklyn District Attorney to suppress a subpoena, submitted by lawyers for inmate Shabaka Shakur, to obtain the files of former police Detective Louis Scarcella. The retired detective is implicated in possible tampering in nearly 40 cases that may have resulted in wrongful convictions. In addition to the denied motion, the judge ordered the Brooklyn D.A. to provide the files of all the identified cases, two at a time, to the judge himself for review.

District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes had called for the review of Scarcella’s cases, after his Convictions Integrity Unit had cleared the conviction of David Ranta. Mr. Ranta had spent 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Continue reading

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.

Amanda Knox Interview on ABC Tonight in U.S at 10pm EST….

Details here.  Prior coverage of case here, here, here, and here.  Post about her new book here.

2012 Exonerations involving Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office

Nancy Petro recently blogged here about the exoneration of Jabbar Collins, who is now bringing a civil suit against the City of Brooklyn and individual prosecutorial staff for misconduct in his case.

The year of 2012 saw the discovery of additional cases of misconduct involving same district attorney’s office, leading to the exoneration of Ronald Bozeman, Lawrence Williams, and Darrell Dula in three different criminal cases.

All three spent 10 months to 2 years in jail due to governmental misconduct before being released for crimes they did not commit. Read more about them here, here, and here.

Federal Judge Unsettled by D.A.’s Apparent Indifference in Wrongful Conviction

According to The Wall Street Journal (here), Federal Court Judge Frederic Block expressed frustration with the apparent indifference Brooklyn (NY) District Attorney Charles Hynes has shown in response to the “aberrational behavior” of one of his top prosecutors in a case that led to the wrongful conviction of Jabbar Collins in the 1994 murder of Rabbi Abraham Pollack.

Collins, a 10th grade drop-out with high school equivalency and some college, proclaimed his innocence and dedicated himself in prison to utilizing state and federal records laws to obtain information about his case. He bumped into Continue reading

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.

Sports world’s justice system often unfair to the accused

As hard as the presumption of guilt can be to overcome in the world’s court systems, it apparently is even harder in the international anti-doping bureaucracy headed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, where even high-profile athletes like Lance Armstrong don’t stand a chance.

As Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post notes:

“Anyone who thinks an athlete has a fair shot in front of CAS should review the Alberto Contador case. Contador was found to have a minuscule, insignificant amount of clenbuterol in his urine during the 2010 Tour de France. After hearing 4,000 pages of testimony and debate, CAS acknowledged that the substance was too small to have been performance-enhancing and that its ingestion was almost certainly unintentional.

Therefore he was guilty. He received a two-year ban.”

Even worse, Jenkins said, one year of that ban was exacted because the prime minister of Spain dared to defend Contador’s innocence. You can read Jenkins’ full commentary here.

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.

 

Were the Trayvon Martin Charges Politically Motivated?

The governor-appointed prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, Angela Corey, brought charges of 2nd degree murder against George Zimmerman without a grand jury indictment.  Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has questioned the foundations for those charges and that action.

The following link is to an article that explores this question.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/19/opinion/nejame-angela-corey/index.html?hpt=hp_bn7

This, once again, raises the issue of “prosecutorial immunity”.  So much power vested in a single individual with no accountability.

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

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.

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

Blawg Review #323 – Memorial Day, the Rule of Law, & Human Rights.



While those of us in the US or UK may be taking a chance to relax or spend time with friends and family (28th May 2012 being Memorial Day, or Spring Bank Holiday in the UK), it is trite to point out (and for many of us, guilt-inducing) that many more will be continuing their struggles to improve the lot of humankind, or will be imprisoned, or lost to their loved ones. Today also marks the anniversary of the publication of the letter ‘The Forgotten Prisoners’ in The Observer newspaper in 1961, authored by Peter Benenson. Benenson’s call to arms to write letters of support for those whose human rights are breached is credited with starting the organization Amnesty International. The fight to uphold human rights is continued by millions around the world today and there are a plethora of blogs reflecting an interest in such human rights campaigns. (see list of some here)

Some of the more essential blogs for those interested in human rights, in the US, see this. Australian human rights lawyers are meanwhile well served by the great blog at the Castan Centre. UK lawyers should not go past The Human Rights Blog or the blog out of 1 Crown Office Row.

My interest in ‘injustice’ focuses on the criminal justice system and failings therein. Justice is about distributions – according persons their fair shares and treatment. The primacy of individual autonomy and rights is central to the ‘due process model’ of criminal justice, recognising that human fallibility and systemic failures can yield grave injustice. Embracing an ‘encompassing’ model of miscarriages of justice can stir debate over the proper focus of researchers and campaigners alike, with some claiming that an exclusive focus on the ‘innocence’ is vital. They prefer the term ‘wrongful conviction’ (although this too can have wider meaning, to include the factually and legally innocent as well as those convicted through unjust procedures), to distinguish those convicted but innocent, from those unjustly convicted.

The debate over taxonomy continues but does not detract from the work of many globally, trying to address the injustices caused by the criminal justice system. In the UK, many legal professionals and investigative journalists, have worked tirelessly alongside campaigners, to bring miscarriages of justice to light. Pressure groups such as Justice and Liberty have now pretty much abandoned this area, leaving it to smaller, largely unfunded organisations such as MOJO (Miscarriages of Justice Organisation) and Innocent (who maintain a wonderful resource rich website covering almost all the miscarriages of justice in the UK since 1993). An international source of information and links, originated in Australia, is ‘Networked Knowledge’, by Robert N. Moles. Single campaigns of course continue, with some great examples of webpages highlighting their cases, such as: Simon Hall and Sam Hallam (exonerated last week). University based Innocence Projects are also working tirelessly in the UK on alleged miscarriages of justice, (see Universities of Cardiff and Leeds for just two examples. This model is replicated from those Innocence Projects so successful in the US, and now expanding internationally.

The original Innocence Project in New York continues to be a source of inspiration and information. The work of the Innocence Project and the Innocence Network now has its own global dimension with The Center for the Global Study of Wrongful Conviction at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. Their blog is new but rapidly growing in prominence. Whilst covering breaking news, in terms of exonerations and legislative or political manouvres, it also features some great contributions on the causes of wrongful convictions. Many other individual Innocence Projects maintain great websites and blogs that are worth following, such as Northwestern Law Center on Wrongful Convictions. The University of Texas at Austin has an ‘Actual Innocence Awareness Database’ while Northwestern University and Michigan University have also launched a National Registry of Wrongful Convictions, a vital research tool for anyone interested in wrongful convictions in the US or elsewhere.

Of course, the ‘Innocence’ movement would not be what it is today without the advent of forensic DNA profiling, leading to the exoneration of many, and proving without doubt their innocence. Yet, while forensic science is acclaimed in the media, it has a blemished history in reality. Many infamous miscarriages of justice have had at their core, scientific evidence that was not disclosed, flawed, or misrepresented in court. This is not to assert that ‘scientific’ methods of identifying criminal perpetrators in particular, have not advanced dramatically. Lessening reliance upon inherently flawed eyewitness or other evidence has undoubtedly saved many innocent individuals from investigation or possibly, wrongful conviction. It is simply to concede that such ‘scientific’ methods of identification are not infallible. This is a focal point of my research, the contribution of ‘science’ to (in)justice. As such, there are a wealth of ‘forensic’ blogs to keep up with if one is to keep anywhere near ‘on top’ of developments in forensics.

Many, if not most, are maintained by forensic departments in universities, such as the Florida University Forensic Science Blog or by keen individuals (the

‘father’ of forensic blogging is ‘Zeno’. Forensic Suite 101 has a wealth of reading materials and great videos for those with strong stomachs. Some more recent newcomers include the Forensics Guy and one aimed at criminal defense lawyers, The Truth About Forensic Science. Covering forensic science and news about injustices and wrongful convictions, the blog by Peter Tillers also does a great job on discussing issues relating to evidence, while David Kaye, author of ‘The Double Helix and the Law of Evidence’ blogs at Double Helix Law on all things ‘DNA’ and law and also blogs on Forensic Science, Statistics & the Law. ‘The Charles Smith Blog’ blog was named after the infamous pathologist, responsible for much injustice in Canada. Maintained by a retired journalist, the blog now covers fascinating news on all things ‘criminal injustice’ related and is a must read.

The scale of injustice perpetrated by the criminal justice system itself may never be agreed upon. “How Bad Is The U.S. Wrongful Conviction Problem?” asks Brian Evans on the Human Rights Now Blog of Amnesty USA. However, it is easy to see that the issue coming to the fore globally now, more than ever. The work of the Innocence Network is unrivaled in this respect, but so too is the most often thankless (and costly) work done by individuals and campaigners, including criminal lawyers, working on cases and trying to bring about reform. Without the development of forensic DNA profiling, who knows whether this explosion of interest would have happened, or could have been maintained. While they may be sometimes at fault, it is good to see some great examples of forensic scientists also working hard to remedy injustices, and work to ensure the prevention of many more. Long may these individuals and organisations, which look out for our human rights, have our support.

We begin this week’s Blawg Review #323 at the Innocence Blog, where the Innocence Project honors the wrongfully  convicted who had served in the military. Perhaps more to be honored on Veterans Day, former Army Sergeant Dennis Maher served almost six years on active duty before he was wrongfully convicted in 1984. Exonerated through DNA testing in 2003, Maher says “Because of my wrongful conviction, I missed the opportunity to serve my country because I was going to be a career soldier. I think about that on Memorial Day.”

Returning to the anniversary of Amnesty International,  #AmnestyReport2012 - an overview of state of human rights worldwide – is now available in full online here. Apparently, the US Department of State submitted the report to Congress, except the part about the USA noting, “The focus of the Human Rights Reports is on the human rights performance of other governments. We note that the United States does examine its own human rights record against its international commitments and obligations in many other fora. For example, in December, the United States submitted a lengthy report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on U.S. implementation of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. The United States also engages in the U.N. Universal Periodic Review process, through which the human rights records of the U.N.’s 193 Member States are reviewed and assessed once every four years. These reports are available on HumanRights.gov.”

“The military trial of the WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning is being conducted amid far more secrecy than even the prosecution of the alleged 9/11 plotters in Guantanamo, a coalition of lawyers and media outlets protest,” writes Ed Pilkington for the guardian in New York.

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, on Twitter points us to an editorial of the New York Times alleging a court covers up that concludes, “The judges should have given the government’s overwrought claims of national security and secrecy special scrutiny, not extreme deference.”

Daphne Eviatar reports on HuffPost that “perhaps the most closely watched Guantanamo-related case since the Supreme Court confirmed detainees’ right to judicial review in Boumediene v. Bush in 2008, Latif v. Obama raises a critical issue that goes to the heart of whether U.S. prisoners have a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention. Must a court presume the accuracy of a government document introduced against a Guantanamo detainee, even if it’s not clear how that document was produced?”

Focussing upon a particularly pernicious abuse of human rights, The Renditon Project website was officially launched. UK legal action charity, Reprieve, issued a press release, in which Clare Algar, Executive Director of Reprieve said, ‘The Rendition Project will be an important tool in bringing the tangled web of the CIA’s illegal rendition programme to light. It is essential that we get to the bottom of what was one of the worst human rights abuses of the ‘War on Terror’ – including the involvement of the UK, a number of other European states, and major corporations.

A Pakistani doctor was sentenced to 33 years in prison Wednesday for helping the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) locate Osama Bin Laden  reported JURIST news. “After a trial lasting two months during which Shakeel Afridi was not afforded the opportunity to defend himself, a tribal court convicted him of treason and spying.” Glenn Greenwald, in a provocative op-ed post on Salon.com says that “American rage at Pakistan over the punishment of a CIA-cooperating Pakistani doctor is quite revealing of The Imperial Mind.”

One of the most common human rights concerns in the USA, wrongful convictions, is reported by The Wrongful Convictions Blog and the ABA Journal as well as other media this week. The first-ever published report (PDF) of the National Registry of Exonerations, assembled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, “highlights grave questions about the legitimacy of the legal justice system.”

On the Huffington Post Chicago, the president of the Chicago Innocence Project, David Protess, introduces the exonerated.

More than 200 men and women have been wrongfully convicted of serious crimes in California, six of whom were sentenced to death.  Here on Death Penalty Focus are some of their stories.

Brian Banks, former football star and USC Trojan recruit, was exonerated this week, as reported here on The Wrongful Conviction Blog. The “victim” recanted and admitted she lied at trial (the sex was actually consensual). She did not come forward earlier because she didn’t want to “give the money back”–meaning the settlement that she obtained from the school where the rape allegedly occurred.

The Innocence Blog points to a story on Salon.com that describes The Long Road From Exoneration to Compensation for the wrongfully convicted.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, there was an important victory for prisoners (and the public) in the European Court of Human Rights, with the Court RE-affirming earlier decisions, that there should not be a blanket rule disenfranchising prisoners. On the UK Human Rights Blog, Reuven Ziegler writes about the case for letting prisoners voteCharon QC notes the latest prisoner votes case from Europe on his blog, “The case is important.  For my part, I have no problem whatsoever with prisoners voting.  I rather hope that prisoners will return to society improved for paying their debt to society and be part of society.  Pie in the sky for recidivists… but an ideal to which we should aspire? I am, I suspect, in a sizeable minority.”

However, as the honest among us would readily admit, on the whole, our prison system does little to rehabilitate, in fact, as Alisa Roth on the ACLU Blog of Rights argues prisoners subjected to solitary confinement in particular are ““more broken than when they went in”. Meanwhile, Gideon, a public defender, looks at some reactions to the death penalty repeal  in CT and tells the tale in a post titled, Idiocracy.

A topic comes up time and again on the Wrongful Convictions blog, Conrad Black points to cases of prosecutor misconduct and asks, “How Many Wrongful Convictions Will the Public Stand for?

“Facing the truth is hard to do, especially the truth about ourselves,” says Bill Moyers. “Not surprising, Americans have been sorely pressed to come to terms with the fact that after 9/11 our government began to torture people and did so in defiance of domestic and international law. It’s no secret such cruelty occurred. It’s just the truth we’d rather not think about. But Memorial Day is a good time to make the effort because, if we really want to honor the Americans in uniform who died fighting for their country, we’ll redouble our efforts to make sure we’re worthy of their sacrifice. We’ll renew our commitment to the rule of law. For the rule of law is essential to any civilization worth dying for.”

Blawg Review has information about next week’s host, and instructions how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues.

Controversial “Lockerbie Bomber” Dies…

I have previously covered at length the Lockerbie Bomber case here, here and here, which many believe resulted in a wrongful conviction.

Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the so-called Lockerbie Bomber, died today at age 60.

US lawmakers Urge Nicaraguan President to Review Jason Puracal’s Case

Forty three U.S. Congressmen have signed on to a letter to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega urging him to review the case of American Jason Puracal.  Mr. Puracal, a former  Peace Corp volunteer, was working for Remax Real Estate Company in San Juan del Sur when his home and office where invaded by police.  No evidence of drugs or any other criminal evidence was found, yet Mr Puracal was arrested, charged with drug trafficking and money laundering, and sentenced to 22 years in prison.  At his trial, there was no evidence of drugs presented and the evidence of money laundering consisted of legitimate purchase agreements in the escrow account from the Remax Real Estate office.  Mr. Puracal was not allowed to call witnesses for his defense.

The Congressman expressed their dismay at this wrongful conviction and also the fact that Mr. Puracal is being held in a crowded, unsanitary cell where he does not have access to clean water.  They urged that the conviction and the conditions of confinement be reviewed.

Mr. Puracal’s case has received the support of many lawyers in the innocence project network including the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego.

http://freejasonp.com/

Roman Polanski to Make Feature Film of Famous Wrongful Conviction Case in France….

Roman Polanski

Prior to my speaking engagements today in Krakow, Poland, I spent some time yesterday at the Oskar Schindler Factory Museum.   There, I learned that filmmaker Roman Polanski spent time in the Jewish Ghetto in Krakow as child before escaping.  At the museums were moving letters Roman had written as an 8-year old describing life in the Ghetto.

Upon returning to my room, I found this story that Polanski will be making a feature film of the wrongful conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, known as “The Dreyfus Affair” in France (see book about subject here).  I found this connection fitting given Polanski’s background:

From EW.com:

Roman Polanski announced his next film would be a period espionage thriller based on the Dreyfus Affair, a turn-of-the-20th-century miscarriage of justice soaked in the era’s anti-Semitism. Captain Alfred Dreyfus was the first Jewish officer to be appointed to the French army’s general staff. Brilliant but unpopular with his peers, he was accused of high treason in 1894 when a German spy made off with French military secrets. Dreyfus was scapegoated and sentenced to life in prison, fueling populist anti-Semitic sentiments across the country. The facts would ultimately reveal that he had nothing to do with the betrayal, and his exile became a cause célèbre for those who demanded justice.

“I have long wanted to make a film about the Dreyfus Affair, treating it not as a costume drama but as a spy story,” said Polanski, who is calling his film D, in a statement. “In this way one can show its absolute relevance to what is happening in today’s world — the age-old spectacle of the witch-hunt of a minority group, security paranoia, secret military tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, governmental cover-ups, and a rabid press.”

Polanski will direct a screenplay written by Robert Harris (The Ghost Writer), and production is scheduled to begin in Paris by the end of this year. Casting has yet to begin.

Dreyfus’ ordeal was most famously chronicled onscreen in 1958′s I Accuse!, in which José Ferrer played the heroic Capt. Dreyfus.

Freedom Comes, At the Nick of Time for Patrick Okoroafor

I blogged recently about the plight of Patrick Okoroafor, in detention awaiting the executioner. That was on the 20th of April, 2012. Thanks in large part to the advocacy by Amnesty International, young Patrick Okoroafor has regained his freedom and been spared the hangman’s noose. He has since rejoined his family and remain thankful to the tens of thousands of people who campaigned tirelessly for his release. It is the right thing to do. It is worth reiterating my bewilderment, at the prospect of having a young man’s life snuffed out just like that, given the circumstances leading to his arraignment; his trial as a minor and the subsequent injustice, suffering and humiliation he endured whilst awaiting execution. And now clemency!. Read further here

The legal details surrounding Patrick’s release are still foggy. It would appear that the Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha exercised his prerogative power of mercy, as I canvassed in my earlier blog; as one way of bringing this unfortunate travesty of justice to a close. In a sense therefore, he is truly the hero, given that most Governors would prefer to remain obstinate about exercising such powers. This, of course, is not taking anything away from Amnesty International who internationalised this case. Will it be asking too much, for Patrick and his legal team to be demanding for compensation? That again, is the right thing to do.