Category Archives: Reforming/Improving the system

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Texas Disbars Former Prosecutor

Please see the following article by Jonathan Turley.

Texas State Bar Votes To Disbar Former Prosecutor For Role In Conviction Of Innocent Man

gavel2The Board of Disciplinary Appeals (appointed by the Texas Supreme Court) has upheld a state licensing board’s decision to disbar former prosecutor Charles Sebesta for his role in convicting an innocent man. Anthony Graves spent 18 years on death row for setting a fire that killed six people. Sebesta’s conduct was shocking but remains a relatively rare example of prosecutors being held accountable in such cases of prosecutorial abuse.

Sebesta had convicted Robert Carter for the murders and tried to get Carter to say Graves was an accomplice. However, just a day before the trial, Carter told Sebesta he acted alone and Graves was not involved. Sebesta withheld the information from the defense and presented false testimony implicating Graves. Sebesta also blocked an alibi witness by telling the court that the witness was a suspect in the murders and could be indicted. The witness then refused to testify.

After his conviction was reversed, a special prosecutor found in 2010 that there was no credible evidence that Graves was involved in the murders.

Sebesta now insists that he has been treated unfairly.

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Treated unfairly?! Mr. Sebesta is lucky he himself is not now behind bars.

The National Registry of Exonerations Reports on Exonerations in 2015

The National Registry of Exonerations has just released a report on exonerations in 2015. See that report here.

2015 was a record setting year for exonerations, with 149 logged to date. And the trend line is up. For our last update on the Registry, see  http://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/2015/01/13/update-on-the-national-registry-of-exonerations-2/.

We Are All Sex Offenders

This is incredibly powerful. A TEDx talk by Galen Baughman, who was released, by jury trial, from indefinite civil commitment for being a sex offender.

It’s 17 minutes. You have to watch this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYt-3fai-PI&feature=youtu.be

One quote from the talk that really struck me: [in today’s environment of sex offender laws, enforcement, and prosecution] “Your child has a higher probability of being put on the sex offender registry than ever being touched by a stranger.”

Thursday’s Quick Click…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

“Conviction Integrity Units” – Foretelling the Future?

We’ve posted previously about our (my) high degree of skepticism regarding the actual integrity of, and motivations for, so-called “conviction integrity units” in prosecutors’ offices. Please see:

A Word About Conviction Integrity Units

Conviction Integrity Units – A Skeptic’s Perspective

In both of these articles we made note of the fact that the New Orleans District Attorney and the Innocence Project – New Orleans had agreed to establish a joint conviction integrity unit. This would be “ground breaking” for a prosecutor to team up with an innocence organization for this, because it would provide absolutely objective oversight of the CIU (which none of them have, because they are totally contained within the prosecutor’s office); and we said this will bear careful watching.

In the second of the above articles, we stated that when the conviction integrity units eventually start to be disbanded (which I believe they will), we will hear one of these reasons, or a combination of the two, as the justification:

1) We’ve fixed everything there was to fix, and we promise to behave ourselves in the future, so the CIU is no longer needed.

2) Budget constraints and the requirements of ongoing prosecutions force us to apply the resource devoted to the CIU to more urgent business.

Please see Mark Godsey’s “Quick Clicks” from Monday, Jan. 11, 2016 here for news that the project between the New Orleans District Attorney’s office and the Innocence Project – New Orleans to form a joint conviction integrity team has been abandoned. And the reason? Budget.

Hmmm. Really?

Final comment. The very existence of “conviction integrity units” begs the question – why? Because they can’t get it right the first time? But given that honest errors leading to a wrongful conviction may occur, leaving it to the prosecutors to correct their own mistakes and misdeeds is not the right way to do it. Having prosecutors oversee prosecutors is like having cops oversee cops, and we know how that works.

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Prosecutors Oppose New Trial for Melissa Calusinski in SBS Case

We’ve previously posted about the Melissa Calusinski case in Lake County, IL here. It would seem to clearly be a case of a coerced false confession, combined with bad medical “science.”

Lake County State’s Attorney, Michael Nerheim, has already declined to have his so-called “conviction integrity unit” review the case.

Now, despite the fact that the Lake County Coroner officially changed the cause of death from homicide to undetermined, and despite the fact that newly discovered X-ray evidence shows that the child had experienced previous head trauma, the prosecution is opposing a request for new trial by Calusinski’s attorney.

Why are we not surprised? See the Lake County Daily Herald story here.

Are Sex Offender Registries Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Are there people who commit heinous sex crimes? Of course, and there are also people who commit heinous murders; and while a murderer is a murderer is a murderer, I submit that the percentage of sex offenders who are truly profound, violent, serial offenders is a tiny fraction of the total number of casual, one-time, often non-violent, and even unknowing people who commit a sexual transgression. However, the laws get written and enforced assuming that any sex offender is a wild-eyed, crazed, unstoppable sex fiend. It’s the way it is. The moral core of our society instills the belief that anything having to do with sex (outside the marital bedroom, in bed, at night, under the covers, with the lights out) is anathema; and combine this with the innate human predilection for revenge, and you wind up with our sex offender laws. Make no mistake – the people who are truly dangerous, violent, serial offenders need to be dealt with appropriately, and they need help. But why does some guy whose date lied to him about her age have to wind up on the sex offender registry for life, even after doing prison time? And the same applies when a vindictive spouse or ex-spouse gets the kids to lie about being molested; or when an angry ex-girlfriend makes a false claim of rape.

We’ve posted previously about the quagmire into which sex offenders, particularly those who are wrongfully convicted, are thrown by the justice system. The SOR’s have an incredibly punitive and damaging effect not just on the person on the registry, but also on their families. Many on the registry are not even allowed to be with their own children. Please see:

(a) Sex Offender Registries – Time for a Change

(b) The Wrongfully Convicted Sex Offender

As for being “effective” — sex offender registries are nothing more than public shaming, that in many (most) cases is inflicted for a lifetime. They’re no different than the “scarlet letter” of the 1600’s Puritan times. And what is absolutely mind-blowing is that the SOR’s have been proven not to work, and they cost the taxpayers gobs of money (see reference ‘a’ above). But now that they’ve become institutionalized in the justice system, they’re a political football. Now we have lots of people whose livelihoods derive from the SOR’s, and an entire industry has built up around the maintenance and support of SOR’s (just like the prison system). To advocate sensible, logical approaches to the problem has become political suicide for the politicians and legislators.

And it’s incredibly easy to be wrongfully convicted of a sex crime. All it takes is a false or mistaken accusation, and you are placed in the position of having to prove your innocence.

The very existence of SOR’s begs the question:  why don’t we have murderer’s registries, or assault & battery registries, or manslaughter registries, or robbery registries, or kidnapping registries, or securities fraud registries?

So are sex offender registries cruel and unusual punishment? Please see the probing and cogent article by Judith Levine here. The SOR’s immediately became ironically counterproductive, as evidenced by this quote from the article:

Megan’s Laws were supposed to protect children. But two decades of research show they don’t improve anyone’s safety, least of all children’s.  In fact, it may be minors themselves who are harmed most by the laws put in place to safeguard them.

Such is the stupidity of the legislative and law enforcement process we endure today. The “justice system” will sanctimoniously declare, “The SOR’s are in the best interest of public health and safety.” But they’re blindly ignoring a data-driven understanding of what they actually accomplish and the untold harm that they cause.

 

At Last. The Exonerated Get a Tax Break.

If you’ve been wrongfully convicted, and wrongfully spent years, if not decades, of your life in prison, you may or may not be entitled to compensation after exoneration. Thirty states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government provide some form of compensation to the wrongfully convicted. The conditions under which compensation is paid, and how much is paid, vary widely from state to state. And there are twenty states that provide nothing.

Now imagine this. You’ve been exonerated of a crime you never committed after spending many years in prison. You successfully sue the state for compensation, and then find out the federal government is going to levy income tax on your award. Does that sound right? Of course not, but that’s the way it’s been.

Thankfully, Congress has just passed The Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief Act of 2015, which will eliminate federal income tax on wrongful conviction compensation.

See the story from The Innocence Project here.

Courtney Bisbee Granted Evidentiary Hearing !

Courtney Bisbee was a responsible, law-abiding, hard-working single mother working in the Scottsdale, AZ school system in 2004 when she was sucked into the criminal justice system by false allegations of “improper touching” of a minor.

For background, please see our previous post about this case: A Broken Justice System – Cases in Point – Part 2 – The Case of Courtney Bisbee.

There is recent significant news. Federal District Court Magistrate Judge David Duncan has granted Courtney not just a hearing, but an evidentiary hearing. The two day evidentiary hearing is scheduled for March 14 and 15, 2016.

As we have mentioned before, Courtney filed an absolutely compelling habeas petition with the court 3 1/2 years ago. At the time, former Federal District Chief Judge Roselyn O. Silver, who is now on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, reviewed Courtney’s initial petition for Writ of Habeas which was filed April 2012. Silver responded within one business day stating Courtney had 13 viable claims. To date, there has been no further action on Courtney’s habeas petition. Hopefully, the exculpatory evidence cited in Courtney’s habeas petition will be allowed and considered before the court during the hearing.

It comes as no surprise that the prosecution has been fighting ‘tooth & nail’ to keep the hearing from happening. They immediately filed with the court a Motion for Reconsideration to vacate Courtney’s evidentiary hearing, which Judge Duncan rejected. They continue to work furiously to scuttle Courtney’s chance to finally, after more than 10 years, receive justice. For example, the state writes, “Indeed, to proceed with an evidentiary hearing, when any new evidence presented cannot be considered by the federal courts pursuant to Pinholster, would be a waste of state, federal, and judicial resources”. Excuse me? This statement is an insult to the justice system. The state will spend any amount of “resource” when pursuing a conviction. Why now, with actual justice in sight, are they suddenly worried about the dollars and cents?

We can only hope that actual truth and justice will prevail.

Clarence Moses-EL Conviction Vacated After 28 Years.

 

cmel

If there were ever a classic example of the lengths to which a prosecutor will go to preserve the “sanctity” of what they have to know is a wrongful conviction, this case is one of those examples.

See details of that case here from the Colorado Independent. There’s even an itemized list of the scummy, less-than-ethical things the police and the prosecution did to preserve this wrongful conviction for 28 years.

 

Bite Marks – The Junk Science Continues to Unravel

From the NY Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/us/lives-in-balance-texas-leads-scrutiny-of-bite-mark-forensics.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=1

 

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

More Thoughts on Innocent People Pleading Guilty

The concept of an innocent person pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit is initially incomprehensible and at odds with many Americans’ beliefs about our criminal justice system. That’s why the National Registry of Exonerations’ November report focusing on false guilty pleas is difficult to absorb. An earlier report this week on this blog quantified instances of false guilty pleas from the report; this one attempts to clarify this kind of miscarriage. Continue reading

Politics and Justice – A Very Bad Combination

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and again, and again. The justice system has been putrified by politics. I’ve stressed this point numerous times in the past with regard to the pernicious effect politics has on the actions of prosecutors. And of course, it’s not limited to just prosecutors. Elected judges are effected by politics as well. See Judicial Independence – How Do We Get There?

The fact that judges are influenced by politics, particularly big money politics, is supported and amplified by this recent article in The Atlantic: Big Money Propping Up Harsh Sentences.

And by the way, state attorneys general, sheriffs, and coroners are also powerful players in the justice system who are elected political officials.

Tuesdays Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…