With help from the Wits Justice Project, South African Thembekile Molaudzi was released from prison last week after serving 11 years for the 2002 murder of Dingaan Makuna, a Mothutlung policeman. The only evidence implicating Molaudzi was the confession of another man also accused of the crime. After a long battle, the Constitutional Court overturned Molaudzi’s conviction, issuing him a Warrant of Liberation that called for his immediate release.
DNA testing is the gold standard in forensic science, and it has been used to free hundreds of innocent inmates since 1989. But it has also falsely implicated other innocents, and it likely will do so even more as labs push the technological envelope to solve crimes, the Marshall Project reports here. Add human error to the equation, and you have the recipe for potential disasters.
The Irish High Court recently ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to grant John Gerard McDonagh access to forensic materials collected during the murder investigation of Siobhán Hynes. McDonagh seeks the materials in a effort to prove himself innocent of Hynes’ rape and murder which took place in 2001.
According to the Court, access to these materials must be sought through the Garda Commission or the Director of Public Prosecutions. McDonagh is also entitled to seek access through the Court of Appeals.
In honor of the International Conference on Wrongful Conviction’s taking place in Ireland this week, here is a link to the Gaelic version of the article above.
USA Today discusses the post-release struggles of Jonathan Fleming who served 24 years of a life sentence before his murder conviction was overturned…
Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Réjean Hinse compensation for the eight years he spent wrongfully imprisoned…
The DC Prisoners’ Project announced as one of 22 organizations to receive DC Bar Foundation Legal Services Grant…
In conjunction with the Forensics & Investigative Science Department and the West Virginia Innocence Project, The West Virginia University College of Law, is launching the first national LL.M. in Forensic Justice. The one-year degree responds to the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Report on Forensic Sciences and the need for these scientific disciplines to be validated, and for lawyers to better comprehend how findings are used in the courtroom. Courses will be taught by both law faculty and forensic & investigative science faculty on topics such as Impression and Trace Evidence, Forensic Quality Assurance, and Foundations of Criminalistics. All courses are specifically created and structured for attorneys and for the use of science in the courtroom. Applications are now being accepted.
For more information, visit: http://law.wvu.edu/forensic-llm; or contact Valena Beety at: email@example.com.
Since the high profile exoneration of Teina Pora (see here…) and lots of calls for reforms in New Zealand, including a body to look at miscarriages of justice, the newly created New Zealand Public Interest Project (NZPIP) has now started work. A charitable organisation, it plans to look into cases as well as wider concerns about the operation of the NZ criminal justice system. The body already has a queue of high profile cases in which a prisoner is claiming innocence. While good news…. it is not a government backed (or funded) body… which should have been the response to growing concerns about the justice system in New Zealand. One hopes that if they can bring attention, and overturn, further miscarriages of justice, the government will take the issue seriously and set up a funded body. Read more here….
In yet another encouraging sign the the ‘problem’ of miscarriages of justice is starting to be taken more seriously globally – the National Assembly of Vietnam has this week been debating the issue of wrongful convictions. In a courageous move, a standing committee looking at wrongful convictions and compensation, admitted that while most investigations and prosecutions were carried out in adherence with rules and upheld human rights, there were some ‘weaknesses and shortcomings’. The report states that between October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2014, there were 71 wrongful convictions – a rate of 0.02 per cent. Although a ‘small’ number, they admitted: “Some serious cases created extreme anxiety among the public, eroding many people’s confidence in our justice system and damaging the prestige of our law enforcement agencies.”. However, with 80% of trials in Vietnam taking place with NO defence counsel, and the country still reportedly ‘trying hard’ to eradicate torture and coerced confessions, it may be questionable how the figure of 71 was reached… and it’s accuracy. Despite this scepticism, it is still heartening that such reports are being published. Read more here…
A case that I have highlighted previously here… has been examined by some of the best legal minds in Sweden and they have concluded that there were no ‘systemic’ failures that led to a mental health patient being wrongly convicted of over 30 murders. Instead, they blame a culture of ‘trust’ which meant that critical questions were not asked of investigators and psychiatric personnel involved. There was insufficient scepticism of supposed confessions and no care was taken over the possibility of false memories. While the report seeks to ensure that mistakes are not repeated, ultimately the report leaves all involved individually blameless so no-one has been held to account. This may result in the case rumbling on for some time yet in the Swedish media. Read more here (including a link to the full report)…
In a long running issue over exoneree compensation in the UK – or the lack of it – that I have blogged on previously (here…,here… and here) Sam Hallam and Victor Nealon, who spent 24 years in prison between them, have now lost their argument that UK law wrongly restricts compensation in miscarriage of justice cases. Hallam and Nealon’s solicitors had judicially reviewed the government decision to not compensate them for the years they spent imprisoned when innocent.
The Secretary of State for Justice denied Nealon compensation for his years in jail, on the grounds that the Court of Appeal’s verdict – which said that “the fresh evidence has not ‘demolished’ the prosecution case” – meant that he was not a victim of a miscarriage of justice. In Hallam’s case – his appeal judgement partially laid the blame for his wrongful conviction at his door as the phone evidence that exonerated him 7 years after his conviction had been in his possession.
On Monday, Nealon and Hallam lost their bid to persuade British judges to accept that denying compensation broke the European Convention on Human Rights. The case is the first legal challenge to be heard to the decision to narrow eligibility grounds for compensation, which effectively requires people to prove that they did not commit the crime.
Wrongfully jailed men lose high court actions in battle for compensation
Irish man fails in compensation bid against British government
Victor Nealon falsely imprisoned for 17 years denied compensation
There are lies, damn lies and statistics.
The Washington Post reports that the FBI has notified local crime labs that it has discovered errors in data used by forensic scientists in thousands of cases to calculate the chances that DNA found at a crime scene matches a particular person.
The FBI is downplaying the significance of the problem, but a scientist who identified errors 10 years ago in the DNA profiles the FBI analyzed to generate the population statistics data called the consequences of the disclosure appalling and said they could have led to wrongful convictions. You can read the story here.
The National Registry of Exonerations has announced a chilling milestone, the 1,600th known exoneration in the United States since 1989. The tally of persons known to have been convicted of crimes they did not commit has grown rapidly from the Registry’s launch three years ago. The 1600th exoneration, that of Michael McAlister, occurred last week.
Maurice Possley’s Registry report on Michael McAlister (here) provides the telling details — case unique and yet familiar — of a tragic miscarriage. Police and prosecutors would come to doubt McAlister’s guilt and subsequently joined a long effort to correct this stubborn error. Continue reading
From the Onion:
Texas Now Regretting Wasting Doses Of Pancuronium Bromide On Innocent Guys Back In 1997, 2000, 2004
HUNTSVILLE, TX—Noting that their prison system’s supply of lethal injection drugs continues to dwindle as more manufacturers agree to halt sales, sources within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed Thursday that they now regret wasting doses of pancuronium bromide on innocent prisoners in 1997, 2000, and 2004. “Using up 100 milligrams of this stuff on a wrongfully convicted inmate wasn’t such a big deal back when we had a steady stream of these chemicals coming in, but now we’d give anything to have fatal amounts of that compound back,” said the department’s executive director, Brad Livingston, emphasizing that, had the agency known it would one day be scrambling to find and acquire suitable substitutes for the deadly cocktail, it would have shown a bit more patience and discretion when handing down death sentences in questionable cases. “In those days, pumping a bunch of this stuff into some guy who was in here due to incompetent public defenders, unreliable testimony, and an implausible timeline of events wasn’t the most economical use of our stockpile, but it just seemed like a drop in the bucket. Now that we’re down to our last few syringes, though, it’s hard not to think about all the paralysis-inducing solution we could’ve saved for actual murderers.” Livingston added that, even in light of recent shortages, he still had no reservations about executing the mentally retarded.
Last month, this blog highlighted here a Marshall Project report on how prosecutors are winning convictions through the egregious misuse of PowerPoint presentations.
Now, the Marshall Project reports here the reversal of yet another conviction because of prosecutors’ use of inflammatory and misleading PowerPoint images during a trial. That brings the total of such reversals to 11, the Marshall Project says. There likely will be more.