Lobbyists Pursue State Attorneys General
From an October 28, 2014 NY Times story:
“Attorneys general are now the object of aggressive pursuit by lobbyists and lawyers who use campaign contributions, personal appeals at lavish corporate-sponsored conferences and other means to push them to drop investigations, change policies, negotiate favorable settlements or pressure federal regulators.”
See the NY Times article here.
This is yet another reason why ‘prosecutor’ should not be an elected political position. It exposes the position to a host of pernicious incentives.
The National Academy of Sciences of the United States published it’s Congressionally commissioned report, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States – A Path Forward,” in 2009. This was in response to the realization that a lot of what goes on in forensics can be called “junk science.” That is, much of it is not scientifically proven, is not statistically valid, is not reliable, and is very subject to the biases of individual examiners. We have featured the NAS report previously on this blog here, here, and here.
Not surprisingly, the NAS report was met with “stonewall” and dismissive resistance from the extant forensics community, as well as the National Association of District Attorneys. However, the report succeeded in bringing forensics under the scrutiny of scientific discipline, and made the public aware of its many shortcomings and failings. Subsequently, it was announced in 2013 that the US Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would jointly form the National Commission on Forensic Science to provide guidelines and recommendations for the conduct and use of forensic technology. The first meeting of the Commission was in February, 2014.
Five days ago, we happily posted here that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had overturned Hannah Overton’s conviction for murdering her 4-year-old stepson by salt poisoning. The basis for the ruling was ineffective assistance of counsel, and we bemoaned the fact that the court let the prosecutor off the hook for egregious Brady violations.
Well … the happy ending is still a long way off. The day after our posting, on October 18, 2014, Nueces County DA Mark Skurka announced that his office will retry Hannah Overton.
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.
Read the full story by Pamela Colloff for the Texas Monthly here.
If you can read Colloff’s article through, and not be bristling with anger, then you just don’t understand, or you need to read it again, or you’re just on the wrong blog.
In an op-ed piece that will appear in tomorrow’s (10/19) print edition of the Boston Globe, Lee Scheier takes former prosecutor Martha Coakley to task for her “deft misuse of science” in the SBS conviction of Louise Woodward, a British nanny who was working for the Eappen family when their 8-month-old son Matthew died in 1997.
Coakley is currently running for governor of Massachusetts, and recently set up a photo op with Deborah Eappen, Matthew’s mother, trying to defend her record on “protecting children.”
This quote from the article: “Coakley’s odd invocation of this case demands that we look at the facts. What cannot be lost in all of this political maneuvering is the truth about the Woodward case and all the thousands of shaken-baby cases before and since Woodward. The truth is that Martha Coakley’s deft misuse of science actually came very close to sending an innocent caretaker to prison for life.” (emphasis mine)
See the Boston Globe op-ed here.
Thanks to Dr. John Plunkett for passing this along.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted Hannah Overton a new trial based upon her claim of “ineffective assistance of counsel” (IAC). She has served seven years of a life sentence for capital murder in the death of her 4-year-old stepson who died of a sodium overdose (salt poisoning). She truly did have ineffective assistance of counsel, because her attorney did not present the videotaped deposition of a salt poisoning expert saying that the overdose was likely unintentional, and there was nothing she could have done.
But here’s the part of the story that really gets me. Overton had also filed a claim that the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence (Brady violation), and the court was presented with both the IAC claim and the Brady claim. In it’s ruling, the court declined to rule on the Brady claim, saying it was unnecessary since they had granted a new trial based upon the IAC claim. They let the prosecutor off the hook.
Story from KRIS TV (Corpus Christi, TX) here.
For a current update, see the KRIS site here.
“Most prosecutors are hard-working, honest and modestly paid,” The Economist says. “But they have accumulated so much power that abuse is inevitable.” The magazine explains how prosecutors became “the kings of the courtroom,” and how this contributes to wrongful convictions, here.
Jerry Brown, the same California Governor who recently signed an ‘anti-junk science forensics bill‘ into law, has vetoed a bill that would provide protection for the innocent, and hold prosecutors “mildly” more accountable.
The vetoed bill would have allowed judges to inform juries when prosecutors had been caught intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence, which is already a breach of ethics and arguably illegal. Note that the bill did not even include sanctions for ethics-breaching prosecutors.
See the San Francisco Examiner story here.
See the Washington Post story here.