Category Archives: Reforming/Improving the system

Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Conviction Involving Steven Hayne, Shaken Baby Syndrome

We’ve posted previously about Dr. Steven Hayne here.  Hayne was the now-discredited, long-time medical examiner for the state of Mississippi; notorious for his questionable forensic testimony.

Dr. Hayne’s cases keep unraveling; however, this case does not center specifically on Hayne’s credibility, but rather on the defendant’s being denied the ability to hire an expert to challenge Hayne’s credibility in court.

See the story by Radley Balko of the Washington Post here.

Center for Prosecutor Integrity’s 2015 Innocence Summit – Call for Session Proposals

CPI Logo

2015 Innocence Summit – Invitation for Workshop Proposals

Crowne Plaza Hotel, Arlington, Virginia              June 12-13, 2015

 The Center for Prosecutor Integrity (CPI) is announcing its Invitation for Workshop Proposals for the 2015 Innocence Summit, themed “Forging Best Practices for Innocence Reform.” CPI invites individuals and organizations throughout the criminal legal system to submit a proposal.

Workshops are designed to educate attendees on issues of substantive law and practical interest. Recent research findings, program descriptions, case studies, legal analyses, advocacy strategies, and innovative solutions are all welcome.

Proposals must include the following:

  • Workshop title
  • Three learning objectives
  • Description of the workshop content (maximum 500 words)
  • Presenter biography (maximum 250 words)

Proposals are welcome from a variety of presenters and using a variety of presentation formats. Workshops will be 60 minutes in length.

Proposals should be submitted here: summit@prosecutorintegrity.org. Applications are due no later than Friday, January 16th, 2015.

Applicants will be notified whether their proposal has been selected by February 20th. Presenters are responsible for their own conference registration, travel, and lodging expenses. Further information about the Innocence Summit can be found here: http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org/summit/2015-3/

Last year’s Innocence Summit was a great success, and we invite you to participate in this exciting opportunity to advance best practices for innocence reform!

If you have any questions, contact Gina Lauterio, CPI Program Director, at summit@prosecutorintegrity.org .

Thank you,

Gina R. Lauterio Esq., Program Director, Center for Prosecutor Integrity (CPI)

P.O. Box 1221, Rockville, MD 20849

Office: 301-801-0608, Cell: 908-783-3542

Email: glauterio@prosecutorintegrity.orgInternet: www.prosecutorintegrity.org

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity, a 501(c)3 organization, works toward preserving the presumption of innocence, assuring equal treatment under the law, and ending wrongful convictions.

Plea Bargaining – An Effective Tool for Prosecutorial Abuse of Power

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                                                                                                        (Graphic:  The Veritas Initiative)

 

“97 percent of federal convictions and 94 percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas.” (USSC, Missouri vs. Frye, 2012)

Think about that for a minute — 19 out of 20 criminal cases never-go-to-trial.

These cases are disposed of through a guilty plea that resulted from a plea agreement.  The defendant never gets a trial, and goes directly to jail.

It’s called “plea bargaining,” but there is little-to-no actual bargaining that takes place.  A plea offer can be made even before the case goes to a grand jury, and the defendant has no idea how strong, or weak, the prosecutor’s case might be. The prosecutor has a very, very long list of often-overlapping charges to pick from that can be “stacked” to build a breathtakingly long anticipated sentence, which he can use to “bargain” (read threaten) with the defendant.  And the ability to “stack” is further augmented for charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences.  It’s pretty much a “take it or leave it” deal.  The ONLY bargaining power the defendant has is to refuse the plea offer, forcing the prosecutor to take the case to trial.  This is the genesis of the so-called “trial penalty,” which has been well covered on this blog here and here.  The defendant can take whatever the prosecutor offers, or expose himself to an exceedingly long sentence at trial.

In accepting a plea agreement, the defendant obviously gives up his constitutional right to a jury trial, but he may also have to give up his right to appeal, or to file civil suit, or to even talk about the case.  And then once convicted of a felony, there is a whole list of other collateral consequences as well.

Amelia Whaley is a JD candidate at the Duke University School of Law.  While working as an intern for the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, she wrote a paper summarizing the practice of plea bargaining as it exists today in the US.  I think it is just excellent, and is the best overall synopsis of plea bargaining I have seen. If you want to understand what plea bargaining is all about, and how it really works, please read Ms. Whaley’s paper here:  Plea Agreements – Whaley.

If you’re interested in a little further reading, this article by Timothy Lynch at the Cato Institute, Cato – Plea Bargains, covers the 1978 US Supreme Court case (Bordenkircher v. Hayes) that established the precedent for plea bargaining – a case in which a man wound up in prison for life – for passing a bad $88 check.

How the Courts Trap People Who Have Been Convicted by Bad Forensics

Radley Balko, investigative reporter for the Washington Post, has just published an article dealing with the justice system’s refusal/inability to deal appropriately with false, fake, unscientific, and discredited forensic evidence post conviction.

The focus is on a case that involves the infamous Dr. Steven Hayne, a now thoroughly discredited expert witness, who was sole medical examiner for the state of Mississippi for 20 years.  I urge you to read the entire article, but I’ve extracted a few particularly telling quotes:

•  “The courts and the people who operate in them seem to feel that the integrity of the system demands the preservation of verdicts.”

Addressing the fact that the body of scientific knowledge grows as a process, rather than an event; coupled with the legal time restrictions for introduction of new evidence  ————

•  “From the perspective of the wrongly convicted, you can see the trap here. File too soon, and the court may conclude that you haven’t presented enough evidence that the forensic theory upon which you were convicted has been discredited. If you then try to file more petitions as more evidence comes out to bolster your argument, you risk the court concluding that this is an  issue you’ve already raised, you lost, and you’re therefore barred from raising it again.”

•  “Koon was convicted due to testimony from an expert the court now admits isn’t credible. For the same court to nevertheless uphold his conviction because he missed a deadline is to keep him in prison on a technicality. It’s a cynical outcome that suggests the criminal justice system values process more than justice.”

Read the story by Radley Balko of the Washington Post here.

 

New York Taxpayers to Pay $9 Million in Wrongful Conviction Settlement

New York City, its Housing Authority, and the State of New York have agreed to pay $9 million to Danny Colon, 50, and Anthony Ortiz, 44. Both men spent 16 years in prison before their convictions in a 1989 double murder — a drive-by shooting — were overturned in 2009.

The New York Court of Appeals reversed an earlier Appellate court decision and ordered a new trial for the men after finding that the Manhattan prosecutor had knowingly utilized false testimony from a key witness, a felon and drug dealer. The prosecutor denied in her final argument to the jury that the witness had been compensated for his testimony, but he subsequently received a Continue reading

Red Inocente Conference 2014

The Red Inocente conference in Bogota, Colombia this past weekend was an incredible success.  We had over 800 participants attend, including Angelino Garzon, the former ex-president of Colombia.  Staff attended from international innocence projects in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Peru.  The conference was hosted by the Colombia Innocence Project at the Universidad Manuela Beltrán, which boasts 8 exonerations in the past 5 years.

EricOpening Table

Red Inocente is a legal education program that offers assistance to legal professionals in Latin America to create projects dedicated to the release of those wrongly convicted.  We also create and develop legislative reforms to reduce the number of wrongful convictions.  Red Inocente was based on more than a decade of success by the both the California Innocence Project and Proyecto ACCESO.

Martha ColombiaJustin from Above

National Academy of Sciences Releases Landmark Report on Memory and Eyewitness Identification, Urges Reform of Police Identification Procedures

The Innocence Project has posted a notice on its website, with a link to a press release, about the recently released report by the Nation Academy of Sciences on memory and eyewitness identification.

From the report:  “the legal standard that most courts use regarding the admissibility of eyewitness testimony was established before most of the scientific research was conducted.”

The report endorses the following procedures for police lineups:

  • Blind Administration — Research shows that the risk of misidentification is sharply reduced if the police officer administering a photo or live lineup is not aware of who the suspect is. This prevents the witness from picking up intentional or unintentional clues from the officer conducting the lineup.
  • Confidence Statements — Immediately following a lineup, the eyewitness should be asked to describe in his or her own words how confident he or she is in the identification. As the report notes, the level of confidence a witness expresses at the time of trial is not a reliable predictor of accuracy. Having the witness describe their level of confidence at the time an identification is made will provide juries with a useful tool for judging the accuracy of the identification.
  • Instructions — The person viewing the lineup should be told that the perpetrator may not be in the lineup and that the investigation will continue regardless of whether the witness identifies a suspect.
  • Videotape the procedure — The report recommends that police electronically record the identification procedure to preserve a permanent record of the procedure.

Most recent data from the National Registry of Exonerations shows that for the 1,467 wrongful convictions currently in the registry, 35% had mistaken eyewitness identification as a contributing factor.

See the Innocence Project posting here.