Category Archives: Uncategorized

Is ‘Innocence’ work over in the UK?

For some time, the news emanating from the UK has been getting worse with regard to the potential for miscarriages of justice, with law reforms diminishing legal protections for suspects and the almost total withdrawal of legal aid for the vast majority (nevermind the current moral panic of historic child sexual abuse which is swelling the prison population). This also comes at a time when changes to the rules on who can receive compensation for miscarriages of justice have also been ‘tightened’ to the point where barely anyone will qualify. I have blogged about many of the bad news stories coming out of the UK – including forensic science mishaps and police corruption seemingly continuing unabated regardless of new regulators or complaints bodies.Justice statue

Despite what one could view as the growing IMPORTANCE therefore of ‘innocence’ work in the UK, it looks as if things may be heading in the opposite direction. Following years of expansion with Innocence Projects being set up in universities across the country, it appears that these are now being encouraged to close. There are a host of reasons why Innocence Projects in the UK may be under threat (not least their position within univerisities whose priorites narrow ever further every day toward simply profit-making and rising up league tables.) They do not operate as a mirror to those in the US and internationally, largely because of the existence of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. However, their work is still invaluable. When I was Director of the University of Leeds Innocence Project, we received hundreds of letters (which still arrive weekly if not daily), reviewed dozens of cases, and assisted many prisoners. It also educated many students in the causes of, and remedies for, miscarriages of justice.  It gave many law students a passion for criminal legal aid work – where there is no money to be made and certainly no glory.

So – to read the announcement on the INUK website is all the more shocking. (see here… INUK – New Beginnings ). Where innocence work in the UK needs innovation, inspiration and support, it is being told that the day has come to pack our bags and go home. My thoughts are not only with those of us (staff and students alike) who have worked many years to get innocence taken seriously again in the UK, but those prisoners now who will be back at square one, with nowhere to turn yet again. How an ‘innocence network’ can survive, nevermind have any impact, with only one member, will remain to be seen.

New survey shows a majority of Americans favor life without parole instead of the death penalty

This new survey marks an important and historic shift for all of us concerned about justice and wrongful convictions.  The death penalty alone can serve as a powerful incentive to plead guilty when confronted by strong circumstantial evidence, in the hope that one can at least live and hope that the truth will emerge, rather than being put to death.  And replacing the death penalty can help us avoid putting innocent persons to death, of course.

The growing public awareness of wrongful convictions, the highly publicized cases involving exonerations of those serving long terms in prison, the publicity surrounding the use of DNA, and the continuing efforts of innocence projects around the nation, as well as the Wrongful Convictions Blog, have all helped contribute to the changing public perceptions and opinions.

Here is a summary of the survey, along with a link to the full story:

A slight majority of Americans favor life imprisonment without parole over the death penalty for convicted murderers, a first in ABC News/Washington Post polls. Given a choice between the two options, 52 percent pick life in prison as the preferred punishment, while 42 percent favor the death penalty, the fewest in polls during the last 15 years. The result comes after a botched execution by lethal injection in Oklahoma in April.

Without an alternative offered, 61 percent continue to support the death penalty, matching 2007 as the lowest in polls back to the early 1980s. That’s down sharply from 80 percent in 1994, during the period of the highest crime totals reported nationally. Support for the death penalty is higher in the 32 states that have it, 64 percent, vs. 54 percent elsewhere. This survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, measures views on the death penalty in general. Previous polling has shown that attitudes on capital punishment can vary widely depending on the nature and circumstances of the crime.

SOURCE: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2014/06/new-low-in-preference-for-the-death-penalty/

New technique may be able to date fingerprints

A key factor in the dubious conviction of Texan Kerry Max Cook in a 1977 rape and murder case was testimony of a police officer that the age of Cook’s fingerprints at the victim’s apartment near Cook’s put him there at the time of the murder. The officer later admitted that he knew his testimony was not supported by science but that the prosecutor pressured to make the statement anyway.

Now the prosecutorial science fiction of the 1970s may be on thee verge of becoming a scientific fact. As Discovery News reports here, Dutch scientists say they have discovered how to accurately date fingerprints. If true, the discovery could let police place a suspect at the scene at the time a crime was committed or help defense investigators prove that the prints were left there well before or after the event.

Four decades later, Iceland confessions defy belief

“The methods of the Icelandic police weren’t unique. They convinced themselves that a group of petty criminals on the fringes of society were a gang of hardened killers. But they didn’t find the evidence to back up their hunch, they were left with just the confessions that were extracted after months of solitude and mental torture.”

That’s the conclusion of a remarkable BBC News multipedia presentation here about how six young people in Iceland confessed to two murders in the mid-’70s despite a total lack of evidence or memory of the crimes.

Discovery rules in U.S. remain ‘a tangled mess’

Exonerations in cases like that of Michael Morton of Texas — who was freed in 2011 after DNA testing on evidence previously hidden by the prosecution identified another man as the killer of Morton’s wife — have demonstrated discovery’s crucial role in wrongful convictions. Despite some reforms to the discovery process in a few states, though, laws in most of America remain a tangled mess, according to The Crime Report. For every successful reform, Kate Pastor reports here, bills in other states die aborning.

Launch of Oregon Innocence Project…

The Oregon Innocence Project had its launch party last night.  It was a full house with a lot of excitement and energy.  Here is an article about the event.  Good luck to the Oregon Innocence Project!

Justin Brooks and Amanda Knox at the launch party of the Oregon Innocence Project

Justin Brooks and Amanda Knox at the launch party of the Oregon Innocence Project

COMPENSATION ORDERED IN WRONGFUL CONVICTION CASE LINKED TO PABLO ESCOBAR IN COLOMBIA

The Colombian Administrative Supreme Court (Consejo de Estado) has granted Pablo Enrique Zamora and his family 1,000 million pesos for the pain and suffering caused by his wrongful conviction and subsequent ten-year incarceration.

Pablo-EscobarEnrique was thought to be involved in the murder of the well-known journalist Guillermo Cano Isaza, head of the daily newspaper El Espectador. His tragic death took place in 1986, the murder allegedly ordered by the leader of the Medellin Cartel, Pablo Escobar, in response to the newspaper’s strong position against his drug trafficking criminal activities.

After nine years of investigation, in a procedure fraught with irregularities, Enrique, and two others, were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and subsequently sentenced to sixteen years in prison. However, after Enrique served ten years in prison, the Supreme Court of Colombia exonerated and released him, concluding that he had been wrongfully convicted.

In its ruling the Colombian Administrative Supreme Court (Consejo de Estado) recognized that, at the time, the judicial authorities were moved by the intense pressure of the media that surrounded the case and that the evidence was not probative. The court also ordered the Judicial Branch to implement judicial training to try to prevent wrongful convictions in Colombia.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

For more information, please see:

http://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/asesinato-de-guillermo-cano-el-condenado-inocente-recibira-1000-millones/377849-3

http://www.freemedia.at/awards/guillermo-cano.html

http://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/ARTICULO-WEB-NEW_NOTA_INTERIOR-13624035.html

http://www.globaljournalist.org/stories/2000/07/01/guillermo-cano-colombia/

http://www.vanguardia.com/actualidad/colombia/247858-indemnizaran-a-condenado-injustamente-por-la-muerte-de-guillermo-cano-isa

http://www.elcolombiano.com/BancoConocimiento/E/el_crimen_de_guillermo_cano_de_lesa_humanidad/el_crimen_de_guillermo_cano_de_lesa_humanidad.asp

http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-justicia/condenan-nacion-equivocacion-caso-guillermo-cano

http://www.caracol.com.co/noticias/judiciales/8203ordenan-indemnizar-a-hombre-condenado-por-homicidio-de-guillermo-cano/20140220/nota/2090555.aspx

DNA Proves A Man Innocent Too Late To Release Him From Prison

Based on an exculpatory DNA test report, the Criminal Section of the Supreme Court of Spain has posthumously exonerated Antonio Guile Martínez, who was wrongfully convicted of robbery and sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.

Guile was convicted April 2011 of robbery and mayhem by the Criminal Trial Court in Seville, Spain. The victim identified Martínez as the person who broke her car window to steal her purse and with whom she struggled to stop the theft.  She positively identified him three times: in a photo array, a live line-up, and finally, during trial.

Martínez was exonerated March 21, 2014, after it was discovered that a blood sample obtained from the window of the victim’s car belonged to another person. Sadly, this crucial information was discovered a year and a half after Guile’s conviction and after Guile died in the prison.

Once again, misidentification proves to be a global problem leading to wrongful convictions.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

For more information, please see:  http://www.otrosi.net/article/el-supremo-absuelve-un-preso-que-falleci%C3%B3-en-prisi%C3%B3n-mientras-cumpl%C3%ADa-condena-por-un-robo-qu

Three cities to start reviewing criminal-justice mistakes

It’s been a common refrain in the innocence movement that when an airliner crashes there is an intense investigation on how it happened to prevent similar crashes, but when a wrongful conviction occurs the criminal-justice system does nothing to prevent a recurrence.

Well, that’s about the change. According to The Crime Report, the major criminal-justice players in Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Baltimore have agreed to develop a system to review cases that went wrong or almost went wrong in an attempt to keep similar mistakes from happening again. Stephen Handelman writes about the project, which will be supported in part by the National Institute of Justice, here.

A Perfect Storm Brewing for Fire Investigators in Court

Terry-Dawn Hewitt and Wayne J. McKenna have posted the above-titled article on SSRN.  Download here.  The abstract states:

The genesis of this piece comes from a trend the authors have observed in three separate but related areas, which we believe are converging into a perfect storm for fire investigators. These are: 1) the ongoing movement by courts across the nation to scrutinize more closely the reliability of expert testimony, 2) a growing apprehension about wrongful convictions stemming from faulty forensic evidence and problems in fire investigations, culminating in the revolutionary report published by the National Academy of Sciences, and; 3) the continuing development of industry standards that are raising the bar for fire investigators. Part I describes each of these forces, and then Part II demonstrates how together they are creating a mounting pressure on fire investigation experts to defend their qualifications and the reliability of their opinions in court, particularly insofar as analyzing the fire scene and interpreting fire patterns is concerned.

 

The Trouble With Shaken Baby Syndrome

Here is yet another heart-rending story about how a child abuse pediatrician’s blind dedication to the mistaken medical dogma of Shaken Baby Syndrome tore apart the lives of innocent parents and their children, and brought them to financial ruin.

Read the Seattle Met Magazine story here.

WCBlog named #11 out of more than 125 Criminal Law Related Blogs…

Rankings by stats here….More than 125 blogs were evaluated, and the top 50 were ranked.  Wrongful Convictions Blog ranked #11.  Good job by all the contributing editors…..

Police lying: an endemic international problem?

It is starting to feel in the UK like ‘another day, another story of police lies’. In what feels like just a few months we have had media coverage of (to mention just a few) scandals where, for example, police have been caught falsifying reports of an altercation that they ‘witnessed’ when they were not present (see Plebgate scandal...). We have the ongoing revelations over police lies and their coercion of others to lie in the Hillsborough disaster cover-up (see Hillsborough inquiry...). It is suspected that these tactics were honed during the Miner’s Strike when striking miners were ‘fitted up’ (see Miners Strike….). Such tactics clearly have continued for years with many undercover police officers lies leading to convictions  (see undercover policing....) as well as the recent revelation that high profile victim Stephen Lawrence’s family were put under police surveillance during the inquiries into the police failures after Stephen’s murder (to try and discredit the family and their campaign for justice). This all comes on top of the almost run-of-the-mill stories of police ‘collusion’ with one another after fatal police shootings, with the introduction of body-worn cameras to enable the police to be ‘more transparent’ about fatal shootings. In fact, the introduction of police body-worn cameras has been posited as a boon for police as it will cut down on false allegations from the public. However, is it perhaps more likely that police body-worn cameras may serve to make the police more honest? Will they be able to lie with camera footage of the real altercation readily available?

0In Omagh, Northern Ireland, the introduction of CCTV cameras in the town has led to the uncovering of police lies leading to miscarriages of justice – with solicitors claiming that miscarriages may be ‘endemic': increasingly, CCTC footage is being shown to demonstrate that the police account of events is unreliable – even untrue (see story here…) Of course this has not been a good week either for police south of the border in Ireland, having been found to have been illicitly tape recording phone calls made to police stations (see here…). The other side of the world, in New Zealand, they are calling police lies and false evidence which have led to convictions as ‘failings’ and ‘sloppy police work’ (see here…Police failures led to wrongful conviction).

We have all known for years that there are ‘rotten apples’ and that wrongful convictions have often had police misrepresentations, if not outright corruption and lying, at their heart. However, the question must surely now be asked: is lying among the police an endemic international problem? If so, what can be done about it? These questions are already beginning to be murmured in corners of the UK, I think it is now time to get such questions out in the open. These are challenging times for the police, and if we are not to lose trust in them completely, I believe some hard questions must be asked and answers demanded.

 

Tragedy in the Middle East

Photo credit: Osama Faisal/AP

Photo credit: Osama Faisal/AP

The California Innocence Project represents the Huangs with the David House Agency.

Today, the Qatari criminal justice system continued its absurd disregard for due process, equity, and common sense in the case of Matthew and Grace Huang, two Americans whose 6 year-old adopted daughter Gloria tragically died of complications relating to her early upbringing in impoverished Ghana. Qatari prosecutors accused the Huangs of murder, based on a theory of starvation in order to harvest and sell her organs, and were seeking the death penalty for Gloria’s death. They were sentenced to three years in prison, convicted of—actually, nobody knows what they were convicted of, because the judges never said.

Matthew and Grace Huang are United States citizens who moved to Qatar with their children, Gloria, Josiah, and Emmanuel in 2012. Matthew had been relocated by an American company which had won a contract to complete infrastructure projects for the Qatari government in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. Matthew and Grace are Asian-American; their children, all adopted, are from Africa. Gloria was the youngest of their three children, adopted as a young child from Ghana, in West Africa. Her experience as a child born into extreme poverty in Ghana was emotionally and psychologically traumatic for her, and she suffered from a number of medical issues, including a severe vitamin deficiency, digestive problems, and a pronounced eating disorder which occasionally caused her to refuse food for days at a time. But children are resilient, and Matthew and Grace are unbelievably patient parents. Despite her upbringing, Gloria began to get better after living with Matthew and Grace, putting on weight and suffering from fewer and fewer episodes of disorder.

Unfortunately, Gloria died in 2013 of causes that will likely never be fully known or understood, but were clearly connected to her upbringing and health care in Ghana prior to her being adopted by the Huangs. Qatari authorities thought otherwise. They believed Matthew and Grace were guilty of murder. They alleged the parents adopted Gloria, raised her for two years in their family, and traveled with her and their other children to Qatar—all so that they could eventually perform medical experiments on her, starve her to death, harvest her organs, and sell them on the black market.

In support of this outlandish theory, the prosecution relied on “secret” evidence, undisclosed to the family or their legal team, which the prosecution said showed the Huangs were guilty. Police officers testified under oath to things which were patently and demonstrably untrue—that Gloria had no access to running water, that she had no bed in her bedroom, and that the Huangs shackled or restrained Gloria in her room as punishment or discipline. Pictures of Gloria’s bedroom and the officers’ own police reports show how unrelated the officers’ testimony was to reality, but they did not change their stories. A Qatari medical examiner testified he knew, based on his autopsy and from the samples he took, that the cause of death must have been starvation; a second autopsy by an American examiner showed no samples were ever taken from the body, and the cause of death could not have been starvation.

This ordeal has been an unbelievable nightmare for the Huang family. They lost their child. They spent eleven months in jail awaiting trial for murder. They faced down a possible death sentence. They have now been wrongfully sentenced to three years in prison for a crime they did not commit. One of the strangest parts of the Huangs’ story is that the judges who sentenced them today did not state they were guilty of any crime. This decision should be immediately reversed and they should be allowed to return to the United States to be with their other children, who have been without their parents for more than a year. This tragedy cannot stand.

Follow me on Twitter: @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

 

Former Judge Blows the Whistle on Police and Prosecutors

Stuart Namm was a judge in Suffolk County, NY.  When he became suspicious of, and started questioning, actions by police and prosecutors in criminal cases he became the victim of political reprisal and personal intimidation that ultimately forced him off the bench.

This quote from a recent Long Island Newsday story about Judge Namm both provides a “bottom line” to the story, and also echoes points that have been previously stated on this blog about the problems with politically elected prosecutors and judges (see here):

For Namm, the moral of his story is that elected trial judges are too compromised by politics to speak out against injustices they see.  ‘What happened in Suffolk County happened because trial judges are elected in the political system,’ he said. His fellow judges wouldn’t get involved because they were worried about the need to get re-elected, he said. And after how his tenure ended, he said they were right to be worried.”

Read the Long Island Newsday story here.

Sarah Pearce Freed in Idaho after nearly 12 years in prison

Sarah Pearce hugs her aunt as she leaves the Canyon County, Idaho Jail.  Her mother and champion Anita Brown looks on.

Sarah Pearce hugs her aunt as she leaves the Canyon County, Idaho Jail. Her mother and champion Anita Brown looks on.

From Idaho Innocence Project press release:

After over twelve years of incarceration, Sarah Pearce’s quest for freedom ended today when she was granted post-conviction relief in the District Court of Idaho’s Third Judicial District. Sarah (31) was convicted of six felonies in 2003, including aiding and abetting the 2000 attempted murder of Linda LeBrane. She was sentenced to a fifteen year determinate period of incarceration with an indeterminate life sentence. Sarah has always steadfastly maintained her innocence.

After over five years of litigation, post-conviction relief was granted in the form of Sarah being resentenced to time served. Sarah said she looks forward to spending time with her family, jogging, attending school, and volunteering for the IIP.  At the hearing Pearce said “This is a tragic misidentification … I did not commit this crime, but all the same I was punished for it. The experience goes almost too deep for words. I will try to walk away from this taking more from it than it has taken from me.”

The Idaho Innocence Project (IIP) and her attorneys have been working to free Sarah since 2007. A petition for post-conviction relief was filed in 2008 after IIP staff and volunteers obtained affidavits from several trial witnesses suggesting that another suspect, not Sarah, was LeBrane’s female attacker. Sarah’s petition was later amended to claim that her constitutional rights were violated when it was discovered that Canyon County law enforcement officers withheld a rescored polygraph examination of the very same female suspect.

Sarah appeared today in the same Canyon County courtroom where she was originally convicted and sentenced. She was accompanied by her attorneys—Scott Fouser (Fouser Law Offices, P.A.), Jared Hoskins (IIP), and Steve Andersen (Andersen Banducci, PLLC)—her family, several IIP representatives and volunteers who have assisted with the case including Dr. Greg Hampikian (founder and Director of the IIP at BSU), Rick Visser (Former IIP attorney), Debbie Thompson, Ginny Hatch, Leon Rothstein, Joy Garrison, and Mikel Hautzinger. Dr. Charles Honts, professor of psychology at BSU volunteered as a polygraph expert on Sarah’s case.

The IIP has had its funding drastically cut after it was not awarded a competitive Department of Justice grant this year but continues to offer DNA support to attorneys litigating cases of actual and demonstrable innocence.  Donations to the Idaho Innocence Project can be made online: http://innocenceproject.boisestate.edu

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

click
  • In Florida, bill to compensate death row exoneree James Joseph Richardson passes first test in the Senate
  • Despite request of Senators from both parties, Obama Administration says it is unlikely to posthumously pardon heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson for racially motivated conviction
  • During the full-day workshop held Monday, February 17, 2014 at the 66th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) in Seattle, Washington, Andrew Sulner, Barry Scheck, and other distinguished experts will provide attendees with concrete examples and a clear picture of how cognitive and motivational bias can affect the outcome of forensic investigations and lead to miscarriages of justice in both criminal and civil cases, and how lawyers can exclude or impeach expert testimony that may have been tainted by bias.  More here….
  • Edgar Coker Jr. exonerated by U of Virginia clinic
  • Exoneree Ryan Ferguson talks about adjusting to normal life

Exonerations still exceedingly difficult to achieve

The National Registry of Exonerations’ announcement this week that 2013 was a record year for exonerations in the United States is an encouraging sign, as Nancy Petro reported here. The registry’s report also offers lots of good data, of which Phil Locke published a good analysis here, on which to base reforms.

But all this good news belies the fact that exonerations are still exceedingly difficult to achieve. And while the registry is correct in reporting that some law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors are more cooperative in identifying and correcting wrongful convictions, it’s important to note that is still the exception to the rule.

Most of that cooperation comes in cases in which DNA testing might provide definitive answers. But with the number of such cases waning as DNA testing becomes common during criminal investigations, innocence investigations are becoming harder as they move to cases without DNA, and they are often resisted by authorities with maddening arguments and stonewalling worthy of Richard Nixon.

But even when there is DNA to test, there is still resistance in some corners of the United States, as Andrew Cohen explains in The Atlantic. “There are … two relevant facts worth noting that are not synthesized into the exoneration report’s analysis,” Cohen says. “The first is that not all states are equal when it comes to prioritizing exonerations. Some simply care less about justice for the wrongfully convicted than others. … The second point that needs to be made in the shadow of the report is that some states today are moving against the flow. Lawmakers in at least two states, Alabama and Tennessee, are seriously considering measures that would tighten appellate deadlines in capital cases, making exonerations harder to achieve.”

Cohen’s sobering words, which you can read here, are a reminder that there is much work still to be done in the exoneration movement.

Breaking: Deon Patrick Exonerated in Illinois…

The first Illinois exoneree of 2014.  Story here.

Satanic ritual abuse panic seems to be unraveling

Child-abuse hysteria has produced hundreds, if not thousands, of wrongful convictions over the past 30 years. One of the most virulent strains of this hysteria was the one that started it: Satanic ritual abuse. Linda Rodriguez McRobbie offers a hopeful update here that suggests that the last vestiges of this panic are unraveling. But immense damage was done, and if the lessons left behind aren’t learned, there will be more panics and more innocent people sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit or that didn’t even occur.