Category Archives: Project Spotlights

Is ‘Innocence’ work over in the UK?

For some time, the news emanating from the UK has been getting worse with regard to the potential for miscarriages of justice, with law reforms diminishing legal protections for suspects and the almost total withdrawal of legal aid for the vast majority (nevermind the current moral panic of historic child sexual abuse which is swelling the prison population). This also comes at a time when changes to the rules on who can receive compensation for miscarriages of justice have also been ‘tightened’ to the point where barely anyone will qualify. I have blogged about many of the bad news stories coming out of the UK – including forensic science mishaps and police corruption seemingly continuing unabated regardless of new regulators or complaints bodies.Justice statue

Despite what one could view as the growing IMPORTANCE therefore of ‘innocence’ work in the UK, it looks as if things may be heading in the opposite direction. Following years of expansion with Innocence Projects being set up in universities across the country, it appears that these are now being encouraged to close. There are a host of reasons why Innocence Projects in the UK may be under threat (not least their position within univerisities whose priorites narrow ever further every day toward simply profit-making and rising up league tables.) They do not operate as a mirror to those in the US and internationally, largely because of the existence of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. However, their work is still invaluable. When I was Director of the University of Leeds Innocence Project, we received hundreds of letters (which still arrive weekly if not daily), reviewed dozens of cases, and assisted many prisoners. It also educated many students in the causes of, and remedies for, miscarriages of justice.  It gave many law students a passion for criminal legal aid work – where there is no money to be made and certainly no glory.

So – to read the announcement on the INUK website is all the more shocking. (see here… INUK – New Beginnings ). Where innocence work in the UK needs innovation, inspiration and support, it is being told that the day has come to pack our bags and go home. My thoughts are not only with those of us (staff and students alike) who have worked many years to get innocence taken seriously again in the UK, but those prisoners now who will be back at square one, with nowhere to turn yet again. How an ‘innocence network’ can survive, nevermind have any impact, with only one member, will remain to be seen.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Spotlight on Innocence Project South Africa

From IOLnews.com:

Cape Town -South Africans who have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit may now be able to prove their innocence through a new project which relies on DNA testing.

In the US the Innocence Project has already helped scores of people, including some on death row, to be exonerated through the help of DNA technology. Now the Innocence Project South Africa will strive to do the same.

“It is far more important to release somebody from jail who isn’t guilty than to be putting people behind bars who are guilty,” said Professor Sean Davison, head of the forensic DNA laboratory at UWC.

“It’s a shocking crime against humanity to keep someone in jail who shouldn’t be.”

Davison is the co-founder of this project with Dr Andra le Roux, a lawyer based at Stellenbosch University.

He said that to date more than 300 people in the US had been exonerated through DNA technology. In more than half of the cases, the true perpetrator was identified.

“There have been so many cases of absolute innocence. By logic we deduced that there would be similar cases in South Africa. In fact, there will probably be more because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.”

The project would look at cases where DNA had not been tested or where the DNA technology used at the time was inferior to current technology.

“The lab at UWC specialises in looking at highly degraded DNA, which could well be the case for DNA which has been stored for up to 15 years and may have been exposed to environmental damage before then.”

The project recently registered with the Innocence Network, the international umbrella body, and has already started getting applications from prisoners.

Davison said applications would be reviewed by a committee. Should they pass the initial screening, they would be asked to fill out a questionnaire providing further details.

“There then needs to be a search for biological evidence. We will need to obtain the detailed case docket and all the evidence related to the crime will have to be investigated.”

The team would have to work closely with the police, with whom meetings had already been held.

Flyers would be distributed in prisons to make inmates aware of the project.

Davison said that in the US the exonerations had exposed weaknesses in the criminal justice system such as false witness testimony, false confessions, and erroneous forensic science. But cases where biological evidence had been used to exonerate people were just the tip of the iceberg – many other innocent people would remain in jail because there was no biological evidence.

The project would rely on donor funding and prisoners would be helped on a pro bono basis.

Davison’s colleague, Professor Eugenia D’ Amato, said a prototype rape kit, developed by the UWC forensic DNA laboratory, was expected to be made available next year and would help to determine how many people were involved in cases in which a victim had been raped multiple times, and would help to exonerate the innocent.

 

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • Innocence Project of South Africa now officially a member of the Innocence Network
  • In the UK, new law could limit compensation to exonerees who can conclusively prove innocence
  • Nearly 350 years after his execution, a french jew is exonerated and declared a martyr
  • Almost 70 years after a 14-year-old African American was executed in South Carolina following the slaying of two young white girls, family members asked a local judge on Tuesday to order a retrial and correct what they called a long-ago miscarriage of justice.  Continue reading….

Wrongfully Convicted Man Released After 10 Years in Washington State

Congratulations to Brandon Olebar and to the Innocence Project Northwest!

From the Seattle Times:

December 23, 2013 at 11:28 AM

Wrongly convicted King County man released after 10 years in prison

Posted by Mike Carter

A man who spent 10 years in prison for robbery and burglary has been released after the Innocence Project Northwest persuaded King County prosecutors to re-examine the man’s conviction, which was based solely on eyewitness testimony.

The case of Brandon Olebar came to the attention of the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW),  based out of the clinical law program at the University of Washington Law School, in 2011. The project said two students “developed a body of evidence” that showed Olebar was not among the assailants who in February 2003 broke into the home of Olebar’s sister’s boyfriend, pistol-whipped and beat him unconscious and then stuffed him in a closet. The victim said as many as eight attackers beat him for more than 10 minutes, during which time he recognized Olebar’s sister as one of them. He told police the attackers had “feather” facial tattoos.

Two days after the beating, the victim identified Brandon Olebar from a photograph montage. Despite the fact that he does not have a facial tattoo and that he had an alibi, Olebar was charged with burglary and robbery, convicted by a King County jury solely on the basis of eyewitness testimony, and sentenced to 16 1/2 years in prison.

IPNW Director Jacqueline McMurtrie said two law students, Nikki Carsley and Kathleen Klineall, tracked down and interviewed three of the assailants, who signed sworn statements admitting their involvement and denying that Brandon Olebar was present. Working with IPN attorney Fernanda Torres, they presented the new evidence to Mark Larson, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. Continue reading

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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