Category Archives: Race

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Black Defendants Still Majority of Wrongfully Convicted…

From Blackvoicenews.com:

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When a Baltimore grocery store employee fingered 26-year-old Michael Austin for the murder of a security guard in the spring of 1974, Austin didn’t even match the police sketch. The wanted suspect was less 6 feet tall and Austin was the size of a small forward in the NBA. The only other evidence linking him to the crime was a business card with the name of an alleged accomplice, a man who was never found.

The store owner, who was positive Austin wasn’t the shooter, was never called to testify during the original trial and Austin’s defense attorney never called a single witness to back up Austin’s alibi that he was at work across town when the crimes were committed. A year later, Austin was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery and sentenced to life in prison on the eyewitness account of the grocery store employee, a college student, according to the prosecution, and a drug addict and high school dropout.

Austin spent half of his life behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, only gaining freedom through a New Jersey-based lawyers’ group that works to free the wrongfully convicted. The grocery store employee died of an overdose in 1997, but not before he told family members that he lied about what he saw during the murder and sent an innocent man to prison. In December 2001, Austin was granted his freedom. Three years later, Austin won a $1.4 million settlement from the state of Maryland.

Michael Austin’s story was chronicled in The National Registry of Exonerations, a collaborative effort between the University of Michigan law school at Ann Arbor and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the School of Law at Northwestern University in Chicago. An updated registry of features stories of the wrongfully convicted and was recently released.

According to the report, Blacks account for nearly half (47 percent) of all known exonerees in 1989, and Whites made up nearly 39 percent of all known exonerees. When the updated exoneration report was released in April, 57 percent of the known cases that occurred in 2012 involved Blacks.

Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the editor of The National Registry of Exonerations said the 10 percent increase for Blacks was striking, but it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions. Gross said that he continues to learn about new cases that occurred in 2012. In last year’s report released in June 2012, the registry found that 50 percent of the all known exonerees were Black.

“It’s striking and if it stands up and it repeats in another year or two it will be an important trend,” said Gross.

According to the registry report, 52 percent of the wrongful conviction cases involved perjury or false accusation, 43 percent involved official misconduct and 41 percent involved mistaken eyewitness identification.

The majority (57 percent) of all known exonerations were in homicide cases and 47 percent of those cases involved Black defendants and 37 percent involved Whites. Blacks accounted for 63 percent and Whites 18 percent of those wrongfully convicted of committed robberies.

“Homicide and robbery, sadly to say, are crimes that African Americans are heavily overrepresented in the prison population,” said Gross.

The report found that “African Americans constitute 25% of prisoners incarcerated for rape, but 62% of those exonerated for such crimes.”

Faulty eyewitness identification continues to drive the high rate of Blacks involved in adult sexual assault exoneration cases. Gross said that this is likely because of problems associated with cross-racial identification.

“White people don’t have the type of experience living with and distinguishing members of other races as minorities do,” said Gross. “There is also a long terrible history of racial discrimination in the prosecution of African Americans for rape when they are accused of raping White women and that may be a factor here, too.”

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a majority of the cases (52 percent) involve witness making a false accusation or committing perjury. Forty-one percent of the cases involve faulty eyewitness identification.

“As a group, the defendants had spent nearly 11,000 years in prison for crimes for which they should not have been convicted – an average of more than 10 years each,” stated a report by The National Registry of Exonerations released in April.

These are often the most productive years of a person’s life and the reason why many criminal justice advocates say that seeking compensation for wrongful convictions is the only chance that exonerees have in regaining a foothold in a world that is often much different than how they left it.

“Unfortunately, many of our clients have been in jail for decades and often these were the best years of their life; the years where you can go to school and get an education, years where you can build a career and learn how to do a job,” said Paul Cates, communications director for the Innocence Project. “When they get out after 15 or 20 or 25 years, it’s very difficult to enter the job market without an education and without any marginal skills.”

Cates said that, when the government confines someone for those lengths of time, they definitely deserve to be compensated. Cates added: “It’s particularly true when you consider that they have no way of making a living once they’ve been released.”

Despite the proliferation of crime shows depicting the use of DNA in solving murders and proving innocence or guilt of a suspect, DNA testing is becoming less of a factor in wrongful conviction cases, because it is often initiated before cases go to trial.

“DNA evidence can be very persuasive to courts and to judges and to prosecutors, because it’s a very definitive proof of innocence,” said Cates. “But in all these other cases where this evidence is not available, it’s really hard to prove when someone has been wrongfully convicted and the court system doesn’t make that easy.”

That could be changing. According to the registry report, for the first time, law enforcement officials cooperated in the majority of the known cases that freed the wrongfully convicted in 2012.

Revisions to state policies involving post-conviction DNA testing, greater oversight of convictions in prosecutorial offices, and the evolution of law enforcement practices could have contributed to the increase, according to the study.

“It’s pretty clear that we make mistakes as you would expect from any human system and we should acknowledge that and that’s becoming more widely understood and accepted,” said Gross. “The more realistic we are in understanding that we do mistakes the better we’ll be at identifying them and preventing them.”

 

Bill proposed to clear way for pardon of Scottsboro Boys

From Mike Cason at al.com

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Some Alabama lawmakers, attorneys and others say it’s time for Alabama to officially pardon the Scottsboro Boys, nine African-American youths convicted of raping two white women in a case that became a landmark example of racial injustice.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, joined other legislators, civil rights attorney Fred Gray Sr., and others to announce a bill today that would establish procedures to allow the pardons. Legislation is needed because state law does not allow posthumous pardons.

“It is never too late to right a wrong, never, ever too late,” Birmingham defense attorney Richard Jaffe said. “And in fact, by not righting this wrong, we would be making a huge mistake because the stigma that attached to Alabama and its legal system was beyond measure and to some extent it still exists. And it was international.”

“To me, this case was nothing more than a real life “To Kill a Mockingbird” times nine.”

On March 25, 1931, the nine youths were riding a freight train through north Alabama when a deputized posse stopped the train at Paint Rock. The posse was investigating a fight between black and white passengers and questioned two women aboard the train, who eventually claimed they were raped by the men.

All nine of the youths were convicted by an all-white jury after a brief trial.

One of the women later said they had concocted the rape story to avoid charges for vagrancy.

The state pardoned one of the nine, Clarence Norris, in 1976. Norris was the only one of the nine known to be alive at the time.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the Scottsboro Boys case twice went to the U.S. Supreme Court and set important precedents.

“Those two cases are in many ways a monument to the injustice the state of Alabama inflicted on the Scottsboro Boys,” Cohen said today. “The first case said that the state had an obligation to provide effective assistance of counsel to criminal defendants. The second case said that juries had to be chosen in a manner that was free of racial bias.”

Cohen said exoneration of the Scottsboro Boys was “incredibly important,” but added that it was also important to ensure that the principles set by the case are followed.

“Today, are criminal defendants always provided with effective assistance of counsel? Today, are our juries chosen free of racial discrimination? Until we can answer yes to both of those questions, the shadow of the Scottsboro Boys will continue to linger.”

Convicted for Not Speaking Spanish

TWO NAHUA INDIGENOUS MEN INCARCERATED IN MEXICO FOR NEARLY THREE YEARS FOR NOT SPEAKING SPANISH

Nahuas
José Ramón Aniceto Gómez (64-years-old) and Pascual Agustín Cruz (48-years-old) were recently exonerated by the Supreme Court of Mexico after almost three years in prison. The nahua men from Atla, a community north of Puebla, Mexico, were arrested in January of 2010. In 2008, the men were chosen by their community to lead a movement to ensure free water. If they were successful, their efforts would harm the economic and political interests of the Mexican PRI political party. The men were sentenced to six years and 10 months for a crime against which they could not even defend themselves because they did not speak Spanish.
Before the case was resolved, Amnesty International declared the men “prisoners of conscience” after more than 30,000 letters were delivered to the Mexican government asking for the men’s freedom. The Supreme Court of Mexico ruled in the men’s favor 4 to 1 after noting multiple inconsistencies in the case. Prosecutors claimed the men robbed a truck; a crime shown to never have occurred. The court also ruled the men’s due process rights were violated because they were not allowed access to an interpreter during their incarceration and trial process.
The men were defended by lawyers from the Center of Human Rights Augustín Pro Juárez. A representative from Amnesty International, Daniel Zapico, said “there may be many other cases of innocent people in jail.”
For more information visit the following source of this information: http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=326474 Photo credit to Centro Prodh

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Exoneree Christopher Scott named Texan of the Year
  • The governor of North Carolina has signed full pardons of innocence for 10 political prisoners wrongfully convicted of arson and conspiracy more than 40 years ago.  Gov. Beverly Purdue pardoned the Wilmington 10 on Monday. The nine black men and one white woman, only six of whom are still living, were wrongfully convicted of fire-bombing a grocery store after police shot a black teenager.  “I have decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington 10, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained,” Gov. Purdue said.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • clickCalifornia Supreme Court upholds murder conviction despite flawed forensics in the form of bite mark evidence
  • The wrongful conviction of Leo Frank in Georgia in 1913 and antisemitism
  • Texas exoneree James C. Williams would like an apology from the rape victim who incorrectly identified him

A Movement to Exonerate the “Scottsboro Boys”…

From the GadsenTimes.com:

MONTGOMERY — It began 81 years ago, with young black and white men and boys, a white woman and a girl on a train between Chattanooga and Paint Rock in Northeast Alabama.

Within days, eight of the nine young blacks would be convicted of raping the woman and girl and sentenced to death in Alabama’s electric chair. A 12-year-old black boy would be sentenced to life in prison.

Eventually no one was executed and all were released from prison, their lives ruined by the miscarriage of justice. In 1976, after decades of hiding, one of the nine, Clarence Norris, was pardoned by the state of Alabama.

Now, a north Alabama woman and a writer want final closure to the travesty known to history as the Scottsboro Boys Case, which awakened a nation to just how things were done in the Jim Crow system of the Deep South.

Read full article…..

 

Update on Wisconsin Innocence Project Case: The Rape that Wasn’t

Jarrett Adams was 17 years old when he was accused of rape. Never having been in trouble with the law, he and his family trusted their court-appointed lawyer who advised him to take a “no defense strategy.” This prevented Jarrett from calling the one witness whose testimony would have likely prevented his conviction.

report on the case by (Wisconsin) Law School News, submitted on August 8, 2012, includes an excellent video featuring both Adams and his attorney. It’s a study in how accusations can stick even with very thin evidence. It also Continue reading

Juries and Race

Here is a link to a CNN article reporting the study of three academics on the effect of racial composition of juries.  The article, in turn, includes a link to their actual report.

Their data confirms that all-white juries convict black defendants at a higher rate than juries with even just one black member.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/23/opinion/anwar-bayer-hjalmarsson-jury-racism/index.html?hpt=hp_bn7

More about juries and the justice system from this editor in future posts.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Nice profile of Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, the founding Chairman of the Innocence Project of Florida
  • A blogger’s recap of the Wrongful Convictions conference in New York last week
  • Discussion of the distinction between the developments of the Innocence Movement in the U.S. and the UK
  • New website, mccleskyvkemp.com, provides information about the ongoing crisis of race in criminal justice and offers information about specific activities that individuals and organizations can take to repeal the death penalty and ameliorate the racial disparities in the criminal justice system; more here
  • This blog has reported extensively about the prosecutorial misconduct in the Senator Ted Stevens case; but is he nonetheless guilty?

Saturday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Recap of big wrongful convictions conference yesterday in NYC
  • North Carolina Judge removes inmate from death row to life in prison after finding that prosecutors deliberately removed African-Americans from his jury
  • Local politician in Massachusetts brags in his re-election campaign that he saved taxpayers money by settling two “potentially devastating” wrongful conviction claims for “pennies on the dollar”
  • Listen to interview with exoneree Dewey Bozella and how he has tried to help others since his release
  • Rape victim connected to Darryl Hunt case writes book and tells story of her ordeal
  • California man who has protested innocence for decades has murder conviction overturned
  • 32,000 so far have signed petition asking Texas governor Perry to pardon Kerry Max Cook

NC Judge Invokes “Racial Justice Act,” Sets Aside Death Penalty

Full story here:

 http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/21/justice/north-carolina-death-revoked/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

The response from the North Carolina Association of District Attorneys is “interesting” and entirely predictable (sadly).

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

‘Bloodiest Prison in the South’: The Angolan 3

The case of the Angolan 3 continues to interrogate and question the reach of the criminal justice system in America. I am sure you will find this link a compelling read.http://www.angola3.org/thecase.aspx.  The narrative centers around the murder charges leveled against Herman Wallace,  Albert Woodfox and Robert King. It provides you with different dimensions to their odyssey and struggles finding justice; the twists and turns of over 4 decades. The lesson it teaches: why we must continually seek to reform and re-engineer the machinery of justice, for, it is better to set a thousand guilty persons free, than to allow one innocent man suffer miscarriage of justice.

Central Park case showed how media fuels injustice

Sarah Burns’ book The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding, is one of the best books on a wrongful-conviction case in recent years. The documentary she is now producing with her father, Ken Burns, promises to be equally compelling.

The book and film focus on the wrongful conviction of five black and Latino teenagers in 1990 for the particularly vicious assault and rape of a white woman while jogging through New York’s famed Central Park on the evening of April 20, 1989.

The case set off a media frenzy in the crime-plagued city that soon spread across the United States after police announced that the five youths had confessed that they had committed the rape as one of a series of random assaults they and other teens committed in the park that night, a process they supposedly called “wilding.”

Burns adeptly dissects this case the skill of a surgeon. She shows how police jumped to conclusions and then manipulated and intimidated the five boys into highly inconsistent confessions that were greatly at odds with the facts. In the process, Burns shows how the police ignored the similarities between the rape of Continue reading

Saturday’s Quick Clicks…

New Scholarship Spotlight: Re-Imagining Criminal Prosecution: Toward a Color-Conscious Professional Ethic for Prosecutors

Justin S. Murray of Georgetown U. has posted the above titled article on SSRN.  Full article here.  Here’s the abstract:

Prosecutors, like most Americans, view the criminal-justice system as fundamentally race neutral. They are aware that blacks are stopped, searched, arrested, and locked up in numbers that are vastly out of proportion to their fraction of the overall population. Yet, they generally assume that this outcome is justified because it reflects the sad reality that blacks commit a disproportionate share of crime in America. They are unable to detect the ways in which their own discretionary choices — and those of other actors in the criminal-justice system, such as legislators, police officers, and jurors — contribute to Continue reading