Please see our earlier post on this subject: Oklahoma May Be About to Execute an Innocent Man.
An Oklahoma appellate court has granted a two week stay of execution for Richard Glossip while it considers motions filed by his attorneys. See the CNN story here.
Richard Glossip is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma next Wednesday, 9/16.
He was convicted of a murder-for-hire plot based solely upon the testimony of the actual murderer, who implicated Glossip after coercion by the police, and to save his own skin.
See the CNN story by Helen Prejean here.
Alex Kozinski is a judge on the U.S. Ninth Circuit. He has recently authored an article for the Georgetown Law Journal, which he simply titles “Criminal Law 2.0.” It is a comprehensive review and critique of the flaws and shortcomings of the current US justice system. My opinion is that this article is a masterpiece, a classic. Here is an experienced, seasoned, knowledgable justice system “insider” who has “figured it out.” And not only has he figured it out, but he also has some very good ideas about fixing the problems, or at least some of them. You can see the full text here: Kozinski, Criminal Law 2. I strongly encourage reading the full article.
Here is a topical summary: (Please see the full article for Judge Kozinski’s discussion of each point.)
A. The myths that cause us to think that the justice system is fair and just, when it’s really not.
- Eyewitnesses are highly reliable.
- Fingerprint evidence is foolproof.
- Other types of forensic evidence are scientifically proven and therefore infallible.
- DNA evidence is infallible.
- Human memories are reliable.
- Confessions are infallible because innocent people never confess.
- Juries follow instructions.
- Prosecutors play fair.
- The prosecution is at a substantial disadvantage because it must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Police are objective in their investigations.
- Guilty pleas are conclusive proof of guilt.
- Long sentences deter crime.
B. Recommendations for reform – Juries
- Give jurors a written copy of the jury instructions.
- Allow jurors to take notes during trial and provide them with a full trial transcript.
- Allow jurors to discuss the case while the trial is ongoing.
- Allow jurors to ask questions during the trial.
- Tell jurors up-front what’s at stake in the case.
- Give jurors a say in sentencing.
C. Recommendations for reform – Prosecutors
- Require open file discovery.
- Adopt standardized, rigorous procedures for dealing with the government’s disclosure obligations.
- Adopt standardized, rigorous procedures for eyewitness identification.
- Video record all suspect interrogations.
- Impose strict limits on the use of jailhouse informants.
- Adopt rigorous, uniform procedures for certifying expert witnesses and preserving the integrity of the testing process.
- Keep adding conviction integrity units.
- Establish independent Prosecutorial Integrity Units.
D. Recommendations for reform – Judges
- Enter Brady compliance orders in every criminal case.
- Engage in a Brady colloquy.
- Adopt local rules that require the government to comply with its discovery obligations without the need for motions by the defense.
- Condition the admission of expert evidence in criminal cases on the presentation of a proper Daubert showing.
- When prosecutors misbehave, don’t keep it a secret.
E. Recommendations for reform – General
- Abandon judicial elections.
- Abrogate absolute prosecutorial immunity.
- Repeal AEDPA § 2254(d). (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act)
- Treat prosecutorial misconduct as a civil rights violation.
- Give criminal defendants the choice of a jury or bench trial.
- Conduct in depth studies of exonerations.
- Repeal three felonies a day for three years. (Refers to the fact that there are too many vague, overlapping laws on the books.)
I would add two more to the General category:
• Have all trial counsel, prosecution and defense, sworn in at the beginning of every trial.
• Abandon political election of prosecutors.
Posted in Conviction Integrity Units, Editorials/Opinion, Exonerations, expert testimony, Eyewitness identification, eyewitness reliability, False confessions, Forensic controls, Forensic Scicence, informant testimony, investigations and investigation techniques, Junk science, Legislation, miscarriage of justice, Police conduct (good and bad), Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad), Reforming/Improving the system, Scholarship, Snitching, wrongful conviction
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.
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.
Testimony from jailhouse informants has been a known factor in wrongful convictions, and new data indicates the use of this risky evidence has been more frequent in the worst crimes, according to the May 2015 report of The National Registry of Exonerations. While snitch testimony has been a factor in 8% of exonerations across all crimes, it has been a contributor to wrongful conviction in 15% of murder exonerations and in 23% of death penalty exonerations.
Snitch testimony is compelling to a jury but often unreliable because it can be compromised by incentives for the informant to lie. A factor in 119 of 1,567 known exonerations (tallied from 1989 up to March 17, 2015), the new data reveals the risk not only of convicting the innocent but also of enabling the guilty to escape justice and continue perpetrating the most heinous of crimes. An accompanying consideration: Jailed snitches have been compensated for their testimony with reduced sentences, another risky practice.
Access The National Registry of Exonerations May newsletter (here).
In case you haven’t been able to check in on the National Registry of Exonerations lately, here’s an excerpt from the most recent data. Note the total is now up to 1,512, and the trend line is definitely UP.
I won’t belabor you by pointing out some of the more obvious observations. Just a few minutes of study will (should) lead you to some very clear conclusions.
It has been reported that the folks at the Registry are hard at work trying to incorporate the exonerations being generated by the newly formed “conviction integrity units” (CIU’s). For these cases the prosecutors running the CIU’s may not be very motivated to have their exonerations logged into the Registry.
I can’t gush enough about how critical and important this data is. It is this kind of HARD DATA that will provide the foundation for much needed and long overdue justice system reform.
Posted in DNA, Editorials/Opinion, Exonerations, Eyewitness identification, False confessions, Forensic controls, Junk science, Police conduct (good and bad), Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad), Reforming/Improving the system, Snitching
“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.
The Innocence Project has asked the State Bar of Texas to investigate former Navarro County prosecutor John Jackson relating to the arson case of Todd Willingham. Convicted of setting a fire on Dec. 23, 1991, that resulted in the death of his three young children — Amber, 2, and twins Karmon and Kameron, 1 — Willingham was executed on February 17, 2004.
Expert forensic testimony provided at the Willingham trial that equated burn patterns to the use of accelerants has been debunked by contemporary forensic science. Now, an article by Maurice Possley for The Marshall Project published in The Washington Post, details new evidence that undermines the second significant evidence that supported the conviction of Willingham, testimony from a jailhouse informant. Continue reading
Shareef Cousin was once the youngest person in the US on death row.
His case is yet another example of how mistaken (or false) eyewitness testimony can override an airtight alibi. And this one was also compounded by a Brady violation regarding the eyesight of the witness, a lying detective, and coerced snitch testimony.
Cousin has recently authored a CNN article decrying the death penalty.
This quote from the article: “It is hard to argue that the death penalty is applied fairly. Take it from me, someone who lived alongside guys on death row: The system does not identify and sentence “the worst of the worst” to death — just the most powerless.”
You can read the CNN article here.
David Ranta spent 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit – as a consequence of false eyewitness identification, a bogus lineup, a jailhouse snitch, and police tunnel vision.
The David Ranta case has been previously reported on this blog here, here, here, and here.
The David Ranta family is now suing the NYPD for $15 million for their suffering. See the Huff Post story here.
In September, 2012, Jack McCullough was convicted of a murder committed in 1957. The conviction was based largely upon an eyewitness identification made 53 years after the crime by a woman who was 8 years old at the time of the crime. The unreliability of eye witness identifications has been well documented; but 53 years after the crime, and by an 8 year old?!
In addition, if you read about the exculpatory evidence that the judge ruled McCullough was not allowed to present at trial, including an alibi and the fact that he had been cleared by investigators, you have to believe he has a case.
See the CNN story and video here.
Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 by the state of Texas for setting a fire that killed his three young children.
We’ve reported numerous times on this blog about the Cameron Todd Willingham case, and here is just one of those articles – Will Texas Admit It Executed an Innocent Man?
It’s clear to even the casual observer of this case that Todd Wilingham was wrongfully convicted and wrongfully executed. The State used now-debunked junk science in determining the fire that killed the Willingham children was arson. The case is carefully documented in the award winning film Incendiary: The Willingham Case.
And now, another snake has just slithered out of the pit that the Texas justice system has made of this case. It’s been revealed that the Willingham prosecutor, John Jackson, made a secret deal with jailhouse snitch, Johnny Webb, in return for his testimony that Willingham had confessed the crime to him in prison. And further, that Jackson then concealed this deal from the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons which was considering a stay of execution for Willingham.
Reported here by the Innocence Project – New Evidence Suggests Cameron Todd Willingham Prosecutor Deceived Board of Pardons and Paroles About Informant Testimony in Opposition to Stay of Execution.
Read the stories from the New York Times here, and the Manchester Guardian here.
- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman plans to unveil legislation Wednesday that would make it easier for people wrongfully convicted of crimes to recover damages from the state. Schneiderman’s Unjust Imprisonment Act would strip away restrictions in state law that block claims from people who were coerced into false confessions or who pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit. Full article here.
- Pennsylvania Innocence Project hiring an investigator
- Another chance for the U.S. Supreme Court to say no to prosecutorial misconduct
- Missouri considers eyewitness id and videotaped interrogations reform
- Opening of sealed records in Orange County, CA shows improper use of informants
Summit County (OH) Judge Mary Margaret Rowland has dismissed aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated robbery changes against Dewey Jones, 51, of Akron, Ohio, after he spent 20 years in prison following his conviction of the 1993 murder of Neil Rankin, 71. Jones had always claimed innocence.
According to a report from ABC Newsnet 5 (here) Cleveland, Judge Rowland granted Dewey a new trial after DNA testing results in 2012 on a knife and rope Continue reading
Louis Taylor has spent 43 years in prison for a crime he did not commit – setting a hotel on fire, resulting in the deaths of 29 people.
He was convicted based upon arson junk science and the false testimony of jailhouse snitches.
Two review committees determined that there is no longer enough evidence available to tell whether or not arson was in play. They said that the experts in the original trial “used methods no longer valid in the science of today.”
The Arizona Justice Project played a key role in bringing the case to resolution. Unfortunately, Louis Taylor will have to plead “no contest,” receive credit for time served, and be released on that basis.
You can read the CNN story here. Watch 60 Minutes segment here.
The BBC has put out an interesting article (by Rob Walker) on the problems of using accused/convicted persons as police informants. It focuses on US practice, specifically the plea bargain process and the cutting of prosecutorial deals. However, the article’s observations are also relevant for countries where accused persons may be “incentivised” to provide the police or prosecution with apparently useful information in exchange for a lower sentence. For example, 2012 amendments to Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act, which used to impose a mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking, now gives judges the discretion to impose life imprisonment instead of the death penalty if certain conditions are fulfilled. One of these conditions is that the Public Prosecutor “certifies to any court” that “in his determination” the accused person has “substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore”. In such situations, the accused person has an incentive to provide the police or prosecution with information even if he/she does not have any. To avoid wrongful convictions based on the manufacture of false information by accused persons, there needs to be clear regulations and an oversight system put in place. These should be accessible to those who may be wrongly accused, so as to enable their defence or requests for review, as well as the general public to ensure continued confidence in the system.