Category Archives: Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad)

Sharing Views on Prosecutorial Reform

If you’ve read much of my stuff on this blog, you must know that prosecutors, as a group, are not my favorite people. I am a person driven by logic, fairness, reason, and justice. Given their position, I would expect prosecutors to be the same. After all, they’re supposed to be “ministers of justice,” but my observation is that it’s so often not the case. I will grant that because of the work that I do, I routinely have exposure to prosecutorial behavior that is less than ethical, is not in the interest of true justice, and is sometimes just criminal. And because they’re “prosecutors,” they get away with it. I do not believe that prosecutors are inherently evil and unethical people; but they are human beings, subject to all the same human frailties that we all are. In fact, I believe their behavior, given the incentives built into the system and the power with which they are endowed, is exactly what you would expect. What the actual extent of this problem is I’m sure we’ll never know, but I do know that I see it routinely, and I can only report what I observe.

As background, it would be helpful for you to see our earlier post regarding prosecutorial misconduct from two years ago: Prosecutorial Misconduct – What’s to be Done? A Call to Action. And as an update to this article, the National Registry of Exonerations now totals 1,618 wrongful convictions overturned as of this writing, and 46% of those had “official misconduct” as a contributing factor.

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Prosecutors, Charge Stacking, and Plea Deals

We’ve posted several times on the blog about how prosecutors will “stack charges” against a defendant, thus building a very long potential prison sentence if convicted, and then approach the defendant with a “plea deal” that would result in a guaranteed, substantially reduced charge and sentence if the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the reduced offense. If the defendant takes the deal, the prosecutor doesn’t have to take the case to trial, and possibly not even to a grand jury, both of which are a lot of work and require a lot of time on the part of the prosecutor. This has become absolutely standard practice. The prosecutor will “stack” charges to build such a scary potential sentence, that even actually innocent people will be intimidated into pleading guilty, rather than face what’s called the “trial penalty ” – that very scary long sentence if they should somehow be convicted at trial. Not surprisingly, the nature of the deal offered by the prosecutor will be driven by how strong a case he/she thinks they would have in court – the weaker the case, the better the deal.

Let me also add that the prosecutor has no problem assembling a very long list of charges against you. The penal code has become so vast, and there are so many laws, that there’s a law against practically everything. I suggest that most people are not even aware they’re breaking a law when they do it, because they don’t know the law exists. I swear; I think they could charge you with something for walking down the sidewalk whistling a tune while wearing a blue shirt.

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“Anti-Snitch” Bill in North Carolina ‘Dies’ in the Legislature

Making deals with snitches — just one of the more loathsome practices of prosecutors, and it happens all the time. Here’s how it works. A prison inmate (snitch) who has contact in prison with the defendant in a case comes forward, and claims that the defendant confessed to him in prison, or that the defendant bragged about the crime, or said things that implicated himself in the crime. In “exchange” for his testimony against the defendant the snitch is granted favorable treatment by the prosecutor – reduced sentence, reduced charges, early release, etc. Snitches can also be people who are not in prison, and get paid money for their testimony, or have pending charges dropped. Snitch testimony is often totally fabricated, and the snitch is lying just to get the deal from the prosecutor or to get the money. Snitches will read newspaper reports of crimes to learn just enough detail about a crime to give some credibility to their fake claims about what the defendant said to them. And when prosecutors put snitches on the witness stand, you can’t tell me they don’t know the testimony is bogus. However, it’s not uncommon for snitch testimony to be the deciding factor in a conviction.

North Carolina has been among the leaders in addressing the problem of wrongful convictions, including establishing the first state innocence commission, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, in 2002. And recently in North Carolina, the issue of perjurious snitch testimony has bubbled to the surface. A bill under consideration in the legislature would bar a conviction based solely upon incentivized (snitch) testimony. However, that bill has now essentially died in the legislature after intense lobbying from the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

This from the publication INDY Week: “Supporters called it one of the strongest bills in the country that would protect criminal defendants from lying jailhouse snitches. But now, the I. Beverly Lake, Jr., Fair Trial Act is on life support, blocked by N.C. House leadership after pressure from the state’s Conference of District Attorneys.”

See the INDY Week story here.

Given North Carolina’s heretofore forward thinking on wrongful convictions, I am dismayed by this; but, it’s just yet another obstacle to overcome – so upward and onward. The fact that this bill has even been under consideration is a source of encouragement, because it means that some legislators actually understand some of the problems.

 

Judge Disqualifies All 250 Orange County, CA Prosecutors !

In Orange County, CA, a case, in which the justice system should have been at its best, has deteriorated into a revalation of incompetence, corruption and perjury involving police, sheriff’s deputies, county counsel, and prosecutors. It has also come out that this systemic corruption, involving rights violations, “professional” jailhouse snitches, and secret police files, has been going on for decades.

As a result of these disclosures, the judge in the murder trial of the worst mass murderer in Orange County history has disqualified all 250 Orange County prosecutors from the case.

See the Daily Kos story here.

And see a supporting story from the OC Weekly here.

These Are the Wrongful Conviction Cases That Haunt Me

I’ve been doing “innocence work” for seven years now.  So …. just what is it that I do? I am Science & Technology Advisor to the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and to the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic at Duke University. This means I advise on cases that include factors involving science and/or technology – usually forensics. I will also advise any innocence organization or agent that requests my input, and I do this pro bono. I do some other stuff too, like write for this blog, but those are the roles in which I get involved in case work.

During this seven year period, I’ve had personal involvement – meaning I’ve actually done work – in 63 cases in eight states and two foreign countries; and have had exposure to the details of probably 100 more cases on top of that. I’ve been privileged to be a small piece of the puzzle in five exonerations; and, in four cases, my work has contributed to confirming that the defendant was actually guilty. We consider confirming guilt to be a good outcome, because it means that justice has been properly served. We’re not trying to get everybody out of prison – only the people who are actually innocent.

We relish talking about the successes, the exonerations, but nobody ever hears about the failures. I count a failed case as one in which, based upon careful and intensive study of all the facts, testimony and evidence, we (I) are absolutely confident that the defendant is actually innocent; but our efforts to exonerate have not succeeded, and there’s really nothing more we can do. Sadly, the failures occur much, much more frequently than the successes. There are no good data for this, but in my experience, an exoneration takes years of time (average about 7), thousands of hours of total effort by a great many people, and, in some cases, thousands of dollars. And the failures can take just as much as the successes, if not more.

Most of the cases I’ve worked remain “open,” at least technically, but there are some for which we have seemingly come to the end of the legal road, and there’s little, if anything, that can still be done. There are five of these cases, in particular, that keep me awake at night, because I get so outraged and frustrated by the injustice. I thought I would share them with you, so you might get some idea of what the people doing innocence work have to deal with on a daily basis. Since these cases are unresolved, I will not reveal any names, dates, or places, and will provide only sketchy details of the incidents involved, but you’ll get the idea.

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Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Weekend Quick Clicks…

The Innocent Citizen’s Justice System Survival Guide

“Ours is a world in which justice is accidental, and innocence no protection.”     Euripedes, 400 B.C.

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I come from a legal family, so even though I did not go into law, I’ve had a closeup view of the justice system my entire life, which is, I think, one of the reasons I decided to devote my post-corporate life to innocence work. I saw too many things happening that were not congruent with my view of what a fair and just system should, and must, be. For the past seven years, I’ve been deeply involved in innocence work, and have become knowledgeable about the details of many, many cases (100’s) of wrongful conviction and wrongful imprisonment. Consequently, I’ve seen many ways in which actually innocent people become tragic victims of what we call “justice.” There are just so many ways the justice system can get it wrong. This has caused me to think about what it is that an innocent person can (and should) do when accusatorially confronted by this thing we call the justice system. [You might want to also read my previous post Why I Think the US Justice System is Broken, and Why It’s Not Getting Fixed.]

If you think being wrongfully charged, indicted, convicted, and imprisoned can’t happen to you, think again. It can happen to anybody. Just ask Debra Milke. The ways this can happen are countless, and despite the system’s best efforts, there are just too many ways the system can possibly get it wrong. I could give you lots of examples, but we won’t try to detail them here – just take a look at the National Registry of Exonerations, and keep in mind these are only the ones that have been so far successfully overturned within the system – there are magnitudes more. This article will try to give you some “suggestions” for what you might do if you find you’re being wrongfully suspected or charged with a crime. For those of you who have had no close interaction with the justice system, you might well think that I’m being radical and that I must come from somewhere in outer space … and you can think that right up until you get scooped into the meat grinder. Let me me just say, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

This article will be in six sections:

I.  Have a Lawyer You Can Call

II. Don’t Talk to the Police

III. The Plea Bargain

IV. Be Ready for Trial

V. Shaken Baby/Child Abuse (Abusive Head Trauma)  [This requires special attention and treatment.]

VI. If You Are Wrongfully Convicted

DISCLAIMER: I am not an attorney, and so cannot give you legal advice. These suggestions are only my personal opinion, and are solely the result of my exposure to the justice system and wrongful convictions over a period of years. They come with no guarantee. Every situation is unique, and you must always exercise your own judgment given the circumstances. They are just intended to get you thinking about how you would handle the situation of being wrongfully accused, and to give you some information about how the system works. I am certain that they cannot cover every possible situation, but hopefully, they will provide an overall, general guide for how you might deal with this. 

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Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • A prosecutor in Virgnia says the right things and appears to “get it”
  • Great editorial on eyewitness ID reform in Missouri by Rebecca Brown
  • In Ohio, Ricky Jackson and five other death row exonerees speak at State House against capital punishment

Center for Prosecutor Integrity – Innocence Summit – June 12, 13

This from Ed Bartlett, Director of the Center for Prosecutor Integrity:

I’m pleased to report that we have now finalized the program for the 2015 Innocence Summit, to be held June 12-13 at the National Airport — Crowne Plaza in Arlington, Virginia. The Summit will feature an All-Star line-up of forward-thinking prosecutors, Innocence Network leaders, civil rights advocates, researchers, journalists, and others. These are some of the highlights:

  • On June 12, the Summit will lead off with a panel of four prosecutors who have challenged conventional wisdom and forged new models of prosecutorial practice.
  • The Friday evening banquet speaker will be former United States Attorney Joseph diGenova, a man who never hesitates to speak his mind!

On Saturday, I’m personally looking forward to Mara Leveritt’s presentation, “Death Threats and More: A Reporter Shares True-Life Experiences Investigating Criminal Justice Abuses.”

And I haven’t said anything about the impressive range of workshops…and networking opportunities….and more.

Check it out: http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org/summit/  Looking forward to seeing you June 12-13!

See the Summit schedule here.

Is Shaken Baby Syndrome the New Satanic Panic?

LA Weekly has just published an article titled ‘Is Shaken Baby Syndrome the New Satanic Panic?‘ The article highlights many frightening parallels between today’s SBS prosecutions and those of so-called satanic ritual child abusers in the 1980’s.

The article also features information from the recent documentary film by Susan Goldsmith ‘The Syndrome.’

Having closely followed the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 80’s, I found reading this story to be downright creepy. If you follow the SBS situation at all, this is a must read.

See the LA Weekly story here.

Hannah Overton Capital Murder Case Dismissed

See our previous post on the Hannah Overton case here.

Hannah Overton was convicted for murdering her 4-year-old stepson by salt poisoning. Given the evidence that the prosecutor had early on, and did not disclose to the defense, Overton never should have been charged in the first place. This was a “crime” that never happened.

See the KRIS TV (Corpus Christi, TX) story here.

Thanks to Camille Tilley for passing this story along.

Interview With Debra Milke’s Attorney

Here is a 25 minute interview with Debra Milke’s attorney.

It is fascinating and riveting.

And keep in mind, while you watch this, that our justice system did this.

See our previous post on the Milke case here.

And thank you to Camille Tilley for posting this in the comments. I felt it deserved ‘headline’ status.

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • A former Death Row inmate who was wrongfully convicted of a double murder after a Chicago cop withheld or fabricated evidence against him, then was left fuming when a federal jury awarded him just $80,000 in damages, is getting another chance to win the $18 million he says he deserves. Former El Rukn gang member Nathson Fields was last year denied a fair trial of his lawsuit against the City of Chicago, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled late Monday.Authorities hid a “bonanza” deal that allowed a key witness for the city to get out of prison early after he testified against Fields last year, Kennelly ruled in ordering a new trial.  Keep reading….
  • Exonerees are failed twice by the criminal justice system
  • Ohio wrongfully convicted Danny Brown, then it really screwed him
  • Virginia prosecutor:  Innocence man faces life behind bars unless Governor pardons him

Higher Courts Let Prosecutors Get Away With Murder

Mara Leveritt is an Arkansas journalist and author with whom you may already be familiar. She wrote the book Devil’s Knot that chronicles the story of the West Memphis Three, and which was subsequently made into a critically acclaimed movie.

She has recently written an article for the Daily Beast outlining her personal attempts to get the Arkansas Supreme Court to take some kind of action against a prosecutor who convicted, and sentenced to death, an innocent person by withholding evidence from the defense. Her efforts have so far been in vain.

See Mara Leveritt’s article here.

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Prosecutor Apologizes for Wrongful Conviction of Glenn Ford

Wow, a rare event…Kudos to Marty Shroud….

From NYDailyNews.com:

The lead prosecutor who locked wrongfully accused Glenn Ford in a “hell hole” at Angola’s death row in Louisiana in 1984 has apologized for a “miscarriage of justice.”

Then-33-year-old A.M. (Marty) Stroud III celebrated his successful conviction of Ford with a round a booze with his friends, a memory he now calls “sick” in a public apology published this week.

Stroud only blames himself, according to his Shreveport Times guest column.

“I was arrogant, judgemental, narcissistic and very full of myself,” Stroud wrote. “I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family.”

A judge freed Ford from the Lousiana State Penitentiary a year ago when evidence, believed to have been suppressed during the trial, surfaced exonerating him from the all-white jury’s decision in the murder of a nearly blind Shreveport watchmaker, Isadore Rozeman.

He was the longest-serving inmate on the state’s death row to be let go.

But Ford’s first injustice gave way to another.

The state is denying his request for compensation typically bestowed upon those wrongfully convicted because he did not prove he is factually innocent, according to a lawsuit.

Even if he wins his compensation, he may not reap the benefits, but his decendants, an adult son and grandchild, might. He is battling stage-four lung cancer and doctors believe he has only months to live.

Another lawsuit claims “indicators of cancer” were found in 2011 while he was incarcerated, but he was denied proper medical care, according to USA Today.

“Glenn Ford deserves every penny owned to him,” Stroud added, using his apology to advocate on Ford’s behalf and calling for the abolishment of capital punishment, an “anathema to any society that purports to call itself civilized.”

Stroud admittably mocked Ford during sentencing, he revealed, and said Ford wanted to stay alive to prove his innocence, which he considered “an affront” to the jurors.

“He showed no remorse, only contempt for your verdict,” Stroud recalled saying in court.

The jury relied on few articles of evidence for a conviction after detectives accused Ford, Rozeman’s landscaper, of shooting and then robbing the 68-year-old business owner.

No murder weapon was ever recovered.

The new evidence discovered in 2013 showed Ford was not at the scene of the crime, nor did he participate in it.

“Had I been more inquisitive, perhaps the evidence would have come to light years ago,” Stroud said.

A motion filed last year said the evidence would have saved Ford from an arrest and indictment in Rozeman’s death.

The Debra Milke Lawsuit – A Perspective

Camille Tilley, whose daughter Courtney was wrongfully convicted in Maricopa County, was kind enough to post a link to the lawsuit recently brought by Debra Milke against a number of Phoenex and Maricopa County, AZ officials regarding her wrongful conviction for the murder of her 4 1/2 year-old son. This post was contained in a comment to our recent story about the Debra Milke case.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the lawsuit, I think it deserves some special comment. You can access it directly here:  Debra Milke-lawsuit. It’s very interesting to note that Milke is represented in her suit by the firm of Neufeld Scheck & Brustin. You probably know that Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck are the founders of the original Innocence Project.

I’ve read the suit, and if you think this kind of thing can’t happen to you, you need to read it too. It reads like a bad crime novel, but the really scary part is that it actually happened, and the people who are supposed to be the “good guys” are actually the criminals. Joe or Jane citizen has absolutely no defense against this.

The official misconduct in this case is sordid, stomach turning. Could it possibly be that this case, and this suit, will be the crowbar that finally pries the lid off the slimy justice system snake pit called Maricopa County?

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Debra Milke Case — She Remains Free — and IT’S DONE !!

Today, the Arizona Supreme Court refused to grant the prosecution a retrial for Debra Milke. Milke’s conviction had been overturned by the US 9th Circuit for prosecutorial misconduct, and sent back to the Arizona courts.  See the AZ Central story here.

We’ve covered this case extensively. See here, here, here, and here.

And …….. Debra Milke has filed suit against Maricopa County, AZ, the prosecutor (Bill Montgomery), the detective (Armando Saldate), and twelve other officials. See the Courthouse News Service article here.

All I can say is …. YOU GO, GIRL!