Category Archives: Victims and victim issues

The Impact of Wrongful Convictions on Victims

From the NIJ:

by Seri Irazola, Erin Williamson, Julie Stricker and Emily Niedzwiecki

We need to better understand how wrongful convictions affect the original crime victims and improve systemic support available to them.

When a wrongfully convicted individual is exonerated, the original crime victim may experience feelings of guilt, fear, helplessness, devastation and depression. For some victims, the impact of the wrongful conviction may be comparable to — or even worse than — that of their original victimization.

These are the findings of an NIJ-funded study examining how wrongful convictions affect the original crime victims, an area in which no prior empirical research had been conducted. Researchers from ICF International conducted in-depth studies to identify the shared experiences and service needs of the original crime victims in 11 cases of wrongful conviction. Recognizing the sensitive nature of the study, the researchers initially contacted victims through third parties, such as district attorney’s offices and innocence commissions that had pre-existing relationships with the victims. They also used what is called “snowball sampling,” meaning they worked with participating victims and stakeholders to reach out to crime victims in other cases of wrongful conviction and to identify service providers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, attorneys and family members who supported victims during the exonerations. In total, researchers interviewed 33 individuals:

  • Eleven victims (including immediate family members in cases of homicide)
  • Nine prosecutors
  • Four service providers
  • Three law enforcement officers
  • Two family members
  • Two individuals who provided victims with legal advice
  • Two innocence commission members

The study found that wrongful convictions have a significant impact on the original crime victims and exposed a lack of services available to them. The researchers also noted that although we have made significant strides over the past three decades to identify wrongfully convicted individuals and to help them gain their freedom and transition to life after exoneration, additional research is still needed to fully understand the experiences and address the needs of the original crime victims during this process. As one victim told researchers, “For [several] years, I had been quite comfortable with my role as the victim. When the exoneration happened, that exoneree became the victim, and I, the rape victim, became the offender. The roles switch, and it’s a role you don’t know what to do with.”

A Closer Look at the Cases*

* This article uses gender-neutral language (they, them, their, themselves) and omits demographic and other identifying information to protect the identities of the victims who participated in the study.

The 11 case studies involved nonfederal violent crimes committed in six states; eight of the crimes took place in urban communities. Many of the cases involved multiple crimes. In order of frequency, the offenses were:

  • Rape
  • Homicide
  • Sexual assault
  • Burglary
  • Attempted homicide
  • Breaking and entering
  • Other sexual offenses

Twelve individuals were wrongfully convicted for these crimes. Eyewitness misidentification, invalidated or improper forensic evidence and analysis, false testimony by informants, false confessions, and ineffective legal counsel contributed to the wrongful convictions.

In five cases, law enforcement officers, victim advocates or other officials notified the victim of the potential wrongful conviction during the reinvestigation — for example, when a DNA test had been ordered or when the case had been opened for a formal review in response to an innocence commission. In one case, an official notified the victim after the wrongfully convicted individual had already been exonerated. In four cases, victims learned of the potential wrongful conviction through third parties, such as reporters or legal representatives for the wrongfully convicted individuals. And in one case, notification was not necessary because the victim believed in the wrongfully convicted person’s innocence from the time of the original trial and was actively involved in the appeal and exoneration process.

In nine of the 11 cases, law enforcement identified the actual offender through a confession, DNA testing or new evidence. Three of these offenders were prosecuted and convicted. In three cases, the statute of limitations had passed. In the remaining cases, the offenders were not prosecuted for reasons specific to the individual cases; however, in a few of these cases, the actual offenders were incarcerated for other offenses.

How Wrongful Convictions May Affect Victims

More than half of the victims in the study described the impact of the wrongful conviction as being comparable to — or worse than — that of their original victimization. Many said they were in shock when they first heard about the exoneration. The majority of the victims also reported intense feelings of guilt. This was especially true for the two-thirds of victims in the study who provided eyewitness identification. One victim recounted, “It was harder going through the revictimization than it was through the rape. … Now you have the same feelings of that pain. You have the same scariness. You have the same fear. You have the same panic, but now you have this flood of guilt on top of it.”

As with many cases of wrongful conviction, most of the cases studied received media attention, generating notoriety for both the wrongfully convicted individuals and the crime victims. As one law enforcement officer explained, “You see exoneration cases. You see the media’s flash when [the wrongfully convicted individual is] walking out of the courthouse. Everybody is excited, and yet quietly sitting at home by themselves are the victims.” Some of the victims felt that the media insinuated that they had intentionally misidentified the wrongfully convicted individuals. Many found the anger directed toward them in blogs and comments that followed news articles particularly painful. One victim stated, “This is the thing — your name’s not out there, but you are out there. This is your case. This is something that happened to your body. This is what happened to your mind, to your life. … I didn’t give anybody permission to put this out in the newspaper.”

The crime victims reported being afraid of the wrongfully convicted individual following the exoneration. One victim said, “My initial thought was [the wrongfully convicted individual] is going to kill me. [They] will hurt me, and if [they] can’t get to me, [they] will get to my children. So I was hyperalert. The children could not leave my side. I went to school and told the teachers, ‘They are to stay with you every second.’ That went on for almost two years.” The crime victims also reported being afraid of the actual offenders. Some experienced helplessness, devastation and depression; at least one felt suicidal.

Improving Support for Victims

When asked for recommendations, victims and stakeholders spoke of the need to improve notification, information and services for the original crime victims in cases of wrongful conviction. In all of the case studies, those interviewed agreed that the criminal justice system should provide initial notification. Victims and other stakeholders recommended that, when appropriate and possible, officials involved in the original case should notify the crime victim. When this is not possible, many stakeholders suggested having a victim service provider present. Others stressed that law enforcement or prosecutors should be present, especially in cases that may involve additional litigation.

Interviewees generally advised that officials should notify the original crime victim in person. One service provider suggested that officials dress in plain clothes to avert unwanted attention or speculation from community members. Service providers noted that when in-person notification is not possible, telephone notification is preferable to a letter or other form of communication.

Recommendations varied regarding the timing of the initial notification. Law enforcement and prosecutors were reluctant to disrupt victims’ lives every time there was a claim of innocence, whereas the crime victims expressed a desire to be notified early in the process. This study did identify a complicating factor: the varying amount of time it takes for a wrongful conviction to be confirmed and then for the wrongfully convicted individual to be released. Victims and stakeholders agreed that the original crime victims should not be blindsided by the exoneration or find out after the wrongfully convicted individual has been released.

Victims and stakeholders stressed that the crime victims are often unfamiliar with the criminal justice system and need information explaining the exoneration process. Service providers noted that victims want to understand the process and how it may affect their lives, well-being and safety. Victims who received regular updates emphasized the importance of these updates, saying that the updates made them feel that they were part of the process. However, it cannot be assumed that all victims will want ongoing updates. Victims and stakeholders recommended asking the crime victims during the initial notification what types of information and case updates they want to receive and how they want to receive them.

Several victims in the study who provided eyewitness identification said that learning how misidentifications may occur helped them process their reactions and understand the wrongful conviction. Some officials, however, pointed out that providing such information might not be appropriate or legally advisable for law enforcement. Victims also said that information on how memories are formed helped them understand why they continued to envision the wrongfully convicted individual when they thought about the crime.

Recognizing that victims are often unable to absorb the information they are given, especially during initial notification, stakeholders recommended giving crime victims printed materials to refer to when they have questions. In addition, stakeholders suggested giving victims a point of contact within the criminal justice system, whom they can reach with additional questions or concerns.

Victims said that notification and information should be provided in a neutral manner. Key stakeholders reported that crime victims usually take a strong position for or against the exoneration, but trying to convince them to take one position or the other is not always helpful. In addition, victims who had been assured that DNA tests postconviction would confirm the convicted person’s guilt reported that the exoneration was especially difficult because they had never considered that a wrongful conviction was even a possibility.

Both victims and service providers recommended safety planning for crime victims. Only one victim interviewed for this study received safety planning, and that was after they specifically requested it. In general, victims remembered being told not to worry about safety. When discussing the importance of safety planning, one service provider explained that regardless of whether there is an actual threat, crime victims who perceive danger genuinely fear for their safety and the safety of their families.

Interviewees also highlighted the importance of counseling services in helping crime victims come to terms with the wrongful conviction. Given the unique nature of these cases, interviewees recommended that counseling services be provided by someone with formal training and experience working with victims of trauma. They also suggested making peer support available. Several victims recommended establishing a national network, operated by a neutral victim-centered organization, to facilitate peer support across jurisdictions. All of the victims interviewed for this study who received peer support were direct victims of a crime; additional research is needed to explore the benefits of peer support for other victims, such as family members in cases of homicide.

Finally, attorneys interviewed for this study recommended that all victims in wrongful conviction cases receive access to independent legal counsel. One attorney suggested that counsel have expertise in criminal defense, as well as training and experience working with victims of trauma. More research is needed to examine the legal considerations for victims in cases of wrongful conviction.

NIJ Journal No. 274, posted October 2014
NCJ 247881

About the Authors

Seri Irazola is the director of NIJ’s Office of Research and Evaluation. While employed at ICF, she served as the principal investigator on the study of wrongful conviction. Erin Williamson is currently a survivor support coordinator for Love146; she served as the study’s project manager and was responsible for conducting victim interviews. Julie Stricker, currently with the International Justice Mission, and Emily Niedzwiecki, an associate at ICF, conducted victim interviews for the study.

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Recovery therapy still being used to foster false accusations

“The belief that hidden memories can be ‘recovered’ in therapy should have been exorcised years ago, when a rash of false memories dominated the airwaves, tore families apart and put people on the stand for crimes they didn’t commit,” Pacific Standard magazine reports in a story you can find here.

Sadly, pseudoscientific recovery therapy is still being used, and, Pacific Standard says, “people are still paying the price.”

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

A Perspective on the Simon Hall Confession and Its Impact in the UK…

From the JusticeGap.com:

By Julie Price, director of the Cardiff Law School’s Innocence Project:

Gobsmacked’, some said. Others were ‘Stunned’, writes Julie Price. But whatever the language of choice for miscarriage of justice observers, the common reaction to Simon Hall’s confession last month was: ‘We didn’t see that coming.’

Setting aside any questions (and there are many) as to the circumstances surrounding his confession after maintaining innocence for 12 years, this turn of events will not have helped the cases of genuine victims of wrongful conviction, as suggested in early reactions from the ‘no smoke without fire’ brigade.

The UK’s university innocence project world may now take stock, and try to assess how it should manage any consequential damage to the credibility of our daily operations.

When the flagship hits the rocks
There is no doubt that the Simon Hall case was considered a flagship of the UK’s university innocence project movement, which has developed apace since the first project at Bristol in 2005, closely followed by Leeds and Cardiff. It has possibly reached its peak of between 25-30 projects operating with varying degrees of activity at universities in England, Scotland and Wales, with new ones emerging and earlier projects closing along the way.

Those of us working in this most difficult of pro bono/clinical legal education fields have closely followed the Simon Hall case since the last ever episode of BBC’s Rough Justice filmed Bristol University students working on the case with Hall’s then solicitor, criminal appeals stalwart, Campbell Malone.

Publicity
Hall’s case was played out on a very public stage. It was different to most others partly because of the ferocity of the campaign and its soap opera qualities. There were family feuds. One Stephanie (Bon) created a Justice4Simon website, facilitated the involvement of the BBC and worked relentlessly giving vital early support, only to be replaced by another Stephanie, who married Hall in prison. Stephanie Hall argued with many.

But the loyal wife’s dogged determination led to the CCRC apparently bowing to pressure and giving her regular updates on their work, a service that evaded others conducting cases more quietly.

As well as press releases from Bristol University and its related Innocence Network UK (INUK), there was other regular web activity, with vitriolic outpourings by rival forum members using pseudonyms, being enthralled and appalled in equal measure by the slanging matches that were played out for all to see.

Hall’s wife uploaded a plethora of letters and documents, suggesting that other named individuals were responsible, and with a poignant ‘Elephant in the Room’ photo reminding us of the dearth of evidence, constantly calling for her innocent husband to be released to avoid perpetuating the ongoing injustice.

The 2011 appeal decision
When Hall’s appeal decision was due in early 2011, we eagerly awaited the anticipated first-ever case involving a university to be overturned by the Court of Appeal. It would be a ‘milestone’ for university innocence projects, the Observer commented. When the conviction was upheld, we were shocked.

That was not because we naively accepted what Bristol University said, but because we had read for ourselves what was in the public domain, often so eloquently and wholly seeming to undermine the evidence against Hall.

Keeping the faith
Despite the 2011 appeal being lost, our collective faith was not. Michael Naughton and Gabe Tan of Bristol University gave passionate interviews to a pro bono online resource, Human Rights TV, condemning the decision. This confidence in the unsafety of the conviction was reinforced to us outside observers when the defence fibres expert wrote a powerful letter to the Court of Appeal challenging the Court’s understanding of his evidence. Bristol University’s press release urged that Simon Hall’s conviction ‘cannot stand’.

With hindsight, there was little mainstream public interest in the case outside of Suffolk where the murder occurred. Outside of the small miscarriage of justice community, Private Eye ran pieces, keeping up the pressure.

Wider problems and pressure
There were also difficulties behind the scenes, about which outside observers could only speculate. After the failed appeal, it seemed that Simon Hall had ‘sacked’ his legal team in favour of innocence project representation. If this were true, it would have been an uncomfortable development in the eyes of those of us who consider that the relationship between the practising legal profession and universities is core to the sustainability of innocence projects.

Hall’s supporters routinely reminded Keir Starmer of his words for Rough Justice that: ‘The one crucial link is the fibre evidence. Break this and the case disappears.’

Hall’s wife regularly made changes to the website: information came and went. The pressure on the CCRC was huge.

Fast forward to September 2013. So, one month on from the August 8th news that Simon Hall has confessed to the murder, ‘hoodwinking’ (so say theDaily Mail) the BBC and MPs, where does that leave us, the universities that have invested many years in working on alleged wrongful conviction cases?

The UK innocence project world is still poised, waiting for its first case to be overturned with the help of a university. I don’t say ‘by’ a university because this can probably only be achieved as a result of a collaborative effort embracing pro bono lawyers, experts and journalists. But how far away are we from overturning a conviction, and will it ever happen?

A legend in our own academic backyard only?
What is most striking from newspaper coverage of Simon Hall’s confession is that after eight years of hard slog, university innocence projects still do not seem to feature in the nation’s consciousness. When you are immersed in something so all-consuming, there is a tendency to believe that everyone knows about your work.

I don’t think that university innocence projects have even scratched the itch on the nose of the miscarriage of justice problem, even though they have played an important part in teaching our future lawyers about the iniquities of the criminal justice system.

In newspaper coverage immediately after the confession, none of the pieces in the Daily MailThe TelegraphThe Independent or other local and national newspapers mention the involvement of Bristol University’s innocence project in Hall’s case (the BBC does).

Statistics
Northumbria University’s Student Law Office achieved success in overturning the robbery conviction of Alex Allen in 2001, and subsequently securing compensation for him of £170,000, but this was not through the vehicle of an innocence project.

No UK innocence project has yet been involved in overturning a conviction.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the body charged with looking into possible miscarriages of justice, has statistics on the involvement of innocence projects in submissions to them, with caveats that their data mining is not perfect, and may not be 100% accurate because of the ‘many variables in the way people might describe involvement’ of an innocence project.

Also, the CCRC’s figures do not distinguish between universities involved with the INUK and those that are not. (For the uninitiated, the INUK is a network of universities working under that umbrella, led by Bristol University, with members but no democratic constitution. Most university innocence projects are members of INUK; others have never joined or have left, for example Cardiff, Leeds, Westminster, London Innocence Project. Other universities run criminal appeals clinics that are not called innocence projects, for example Northumbria, Derby, and now Birmingham).

The CCRC’s results show that as at February 2013 there were 60 cases or submissions at the CCRC where the phrase ’innocence project’ occurs.

  • Of these, there were 18 substantive submissions where the applicant had been represented by an innocence project. This is not 18 different cases, but it includes Responses to Provisional Statements of Reasons.
  • Seven are cases where it seems projects were assisting in some other way short of reviewing or representing.
  • 17 were cases where the CCRC supplied material to a project but no representations had so far followed.
  • Five were where the CCRC suggested that applicants might consider contacting a project.
  • 13 were cases where innocence projects are just mentioned in correspondence in some other way, including two mentions of a USA Innocence Project, a complaint that a project had had a case for three years and then dropped it, a complaint that the applicant could not get a project to help, and a complaint that the applicant had been told that his case meets criteria, but that the project was too busy to take his case.

So, looking more closely at these figures, the bottom line appears to be that of the 18 substantive submissions, 10 of these were from our project at Cardiff Law School (on sixdifferent cases) and four were from Leeds. Neither Cardiff nor Leeds are INUK projects.

Of the INUK universities, three of these submissions were from Bristol (two of which were on the Simon Hall case), and one was from Gloucester.

In addition to these CCRC figures, Bristol succeeded in having a case referred from the Scottish CCRC, and Lancaster University had an appeal heard directly at the Court of Appeal, bypassing the CCRC.

Since these figures were given by the CCRC in February 2013, Sheffield Hallam has also recently submitted a case to the CCRC. Cardiff has made a further two substantive responses to the CCRC, we are on target for submitting another two new cases in the autumn, and we hope soon to take another case directly to the Court of Appeal.

I do not have information for other non-INUK projects but from the CCRC’s figures, it would seem that they have not been involved in making substantive submissions.

This statistical information is not available generally, so if these figures do not tally with others, for example those generated by INUK, then corrections are welcomed.

However, these figures are miniscule in the overall picture of applications to the CCRC. it is fair to conclude that innocence projects are not yet having any real impact outside of their educational remit. By way of historical context, the BBC’s Rough Justice series is credited with overturning the convictions of 18 people in 13 cases over its 25 year existence. The Simon Hall case was the last ever Rough Justice film, and was not typical of its previous investigative content, instead portraying the work of the innocence project students. The penultimate Rough Justice film, about the Barri White & Keith Hyatt case, was responsible for the new evidence which led to their convictions being quashed at the Court of Appeal.  Thanks to Rough Justice, the miscarriage of justice world yesterday welcomed the conviction of Shahidul Ahmed for the murder of Rachel Manning, the crime for which Barri had been wrongly convicted. We should rightly mourn the demise of such investigative journalism programmes and keep the Simon Hall confession in context.

The future?
The wider miscarriage of justice community, including university innocence projects, has other pressing concerns:

  1. Vital opportunities to obtain evidence and documentation post appeal have been seriously hampered following the dismantling of the Forensic Science Service, and the current decision in the case of Kevin Nunn.
  2. Awareness of the iniquity of Joint Enterprise convictions is increasing courtesy of hard campaigning by the voluntary group JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association). Casework organisations have yet only seen the tip of the iceberg of this category of convictions, many of which appear wholly unjust and unjustifiable, but antiquated laws are being used disingenuously to secure convictions in the name of tackling gang culture.
  3. As seen in the debacle following the prosecution of police officers in the Lynnette White murder case, protecting the integrity of the criminal justice system seems to remain a national priority even in the light of the Hillsborough review.
  4. There seems to be an increasing abandonment of the burden of proof in sexual offence cases, particularly historical ones.
  5. Criminal legal aid is being decimated. The inevitable slashing in numbers of criminal appeals practitioners will adversely affect those claiming wrongful conviction, and numbers of miscarriages of justice will increase.
  6. There are increasing numbers of convicted people maintaining innocence on various unofficial ‘waiting lists’ who may never get the chance to have their case looked at properly. There are myriad practical and ethical issues that accompany this sort of scenario.
  7. There is a difference between campaigning and conducting casework, but sometimes lines are blurred. Recent years have seen the emergence of a new breed of ‘casework assistance’ organisations – and therein lies a ticking time bomb. They tend to be run by legally unqualified people who in most cases have a solid interest in miscarriages of justice, and perhaps an academic qualification. Some call themselves a ‘national service’, which is entirely inappropriate, misleading and worrying. The danger is that these are wholly unregulated, probably uninsured, with no quality control, and unlike universities and other funded organisations, are formally accountable to no-one other than the (usually vulnerable) client. A few years ago, a new charity recruited law students and others with promises of financial remuneration. A number of individuals, universities and organisations were taken in. In one particular case precious files were entrusted to that “charity” on the promise of a professional review and assistance, only never to be seen again after the charity folded and one of its founders went off to experience prison life from the inside.
  8. Virtually unheard of in other university real client work, innocence project activity leaves academic staff exposed to the perhaps inevitable but wearying squabbling (and worse) that sadly seems to come with the territory. As well as being humbled by the resilience and goodwill of many victims of miscarriage of justice and their supporters in this small community, I have been disappointed to observe turf wars and jealous guarding of territory. It’s little wonder that those of us who have dedicated years of our lives to this work often feel that we are on a hiding to nothing. Criminal legal aid lawyers are a dying breed. If university colleagues brave enough to take the plunge into these muddy waters become understandably frustrated by logistical problems and lack of progress, topped off by petty wrangling, and choose to move into ‘easier’ pro bono work, that will be a valuable resource lost to the whole miscarriage of justice community in increasingly difficult times. The possibility of this should not be underestimated: most of us are in this because we are committed to helping, but we all have a breaking point.

Given this heavy duty political, cultural and practical context to miscarriage of justice work, it is not viable to be an innocence project tourist. It’s not the sort of work you can dip in and out of if you are a university wanting to set up an exciting new real client project. It carries with it heavy ethical and practical problems, and is not for the faint-hearted.

Heads, parapets and reflection
For me, the saddest consequence of Simon Hall’s confession will be if long-standing, wise, respected supporters of miscarriages of justice work decide that it’s too risky to put their names to a campaign, and instead take a back seat out of the public arena. It’s not easy to stick your head above the parapet: we’ve done that at Cardiff in many respects, and we’ve been on the receiving end of friendly and not-so-friendly fire. But we are still here, largely due to the sterling efforts of my colleague Dr Dennis Eady, and because Cardiff Law School has to date invested in us.

We have learned lessons about publicity. Our educational project, Cardiff Casewatch, planned to chart our six cases on their journey through the CCRC’s system, in real time. That idea was put on the backburner largely for various practical reasons, but we plan to update the webpages to report the ultimate outcome.

Prompted by the credibility issues created by Simon Hall’s confession, perhaps it’s time for universities individually and collectively to evaluate whether the current model of innocence projects is working effectively. It is not, in my opinion. We could look strategically at other possible collaborative alternatives, along the lines of the Inside Justice, the miscarriage of justice investigative unit operated by Louise Shorter at Inside Time, the not-for-profit national newspaper for prisoners. Inside Justice works collaboratively with experts and lawyers and has a pro bonoadvisory panel of eminent experts who conduct cold-case reviews of cases. The unit’s first case has just been submitted out of time to the Court of Appeal and another is under review by the CCRC. As well as facilitating hard-to-find expert advice Inside Justice is also bridging the media gap and working to get publicity for deserving cases and hoping to inspire the next generation of lawyers and experts just as Rough Justice inspired so many.

The Centre for Criminal Appeals is also an attractive idea. Central to its working model isthe need for a qualified lawyer to lead the case, who may access core funding through legal aid even if now at drastically reduced rates. They say, “Prisoners may tell their lawyers things they have not told their wives, or bright-eyed students”. The Centre’s founders also emphasise the need to be able to progress a case “under the radar” arguing that sometimes it may be easier to right a wrongful conviction without the media and campaign groups in constant attendance. The Centre’s test case, which resulted in the quashing of the prisoner’s conviction, is relatively unknown. The CCA recognises from outset that collaboration with campaign groups on strategy, a wider advisory group, and proper core funding is essential. Those elements are essentially absent from our university innocence project movement, which bears no resemblance to that in the USA. The UK version, whilst of admirable intention, has evolved and reacted ad hoc without any democratic underpinning and with no obvious publicity or other strategies; the absence of core funding undoubtedly puts unsustainable pressure on the two individuals who run it.

The future for alleged victims of miscarriages of justice isn’t bright, and universities aren’t going to change that. The fault lies with a problematic criminal appeals system which appears to value protecting the integrity of the system at all costs, even if that means sacrificing some innocents.

University innocence projects should arguably be more transparent in the information they pass to the outside world, within confidentiality constraints. In this way, false expectations can be avoided, even though academic intellectual property and career progression drivers might instead prefer to closet information. We should recognise and reflect upon our shortcomings, reinforce our educational remit, and properly manage the expectations of our clients and students. We should think long and hard about what publicity opportunities are appropriate and which are best passed over despite any inclination to the contrary that any publicity is good publicity: it is not. We need to retain a healthy dose of scepticism but not lose the humanity and fresh eagerness which is the value that our keen young students can supply. We need to have meaningful ethical conversations to discuss at what point we need to close a case, rather than carrying on regardless. We need to work even more collaboratively with colleagues in journalism, forensic science and so on.

A fair number of innocence projects nationally will soon be reaching a crossroads/brick wall stage, after several years of frustrated operation. They will move from the honeymoon period towards despair and helplessness, feeling overwhelmed, realising that upping gear to ‘crusade mode’ is not what they signed up for. So when something happens like the Simon Hall confession, this has the potential to justify and accelerate plans for exodus. Those of us who have invested thousands of hours of our time will naturally feel (at best) disappointment at our cause being undermined by the confession, setting back casework by years, precious time that could have been spent on genuine cases. But how can a worthy case be differentiated from one that will eventually throw up evidence of guilt? The short answer is that it can’t¸ and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it. Perhaps guilty prisoners do see universities as a haven for keen young things over whose eyes the wool can easily be pulled: after all, they have nothing to lose (apart from the progression problems of prisoners maintaining innocence, which is another harrowing story). But to say that the BBC and Bristol University were ‘hoodwinked’ is unfairly disparaging. There are many reasons why people maintain innocence, and the Simon Hall confession could have happened to any of us.

Eight years on from the start of innocence projects in the UK, it is difficult to reflect positively upon where we might be in another eight years from now, but this is because of issues far more wide-reaching than Simon Hall’s confession.

In the meantime, may you Rest in Peace, Joan Albert, and others. Please be assured that, as well as potential victims of wrongful conviction, the victims of crime and their loved ones are always at the forefront of our minds.

Innocence Network Conference Convenes in Charlotte, North Carolina

More than 500 attendees from around the world, including at least 100 exonerees, are arriving in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the 2013 annual Innocence Network Conference, which will begin Friday, April 19, at 7:00 a.m. EST with opening remarks at 8:00 a.m. from Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, co-founders of the Innocence Project, a model that has been emulated throughout the United States and internationally.  The sell-out conference will conclude at 5:00 pm on Saturday, April 20. Exonerees will gather at a preliminary reception Thursday evening. Continue reading

New Scholarship Spotlight: Destruction of Innocence: The Friedman Case: How Coerced Testimony & Confessions Harm Children, Families & Communities for Decades after the Wrongful Convictions Occur

Gavin DeBecker and Emily Horowitz have posted the above-titled article on SSRN.  Download full article here:  The abstract states:

Between 1984 and 1995, at least 72 individuals were convicted during the national hysteria of mass child molestation and satanic ritual abuse cases. Almost all thoseconvictions have since been overturned. This paper analyzes the present-day, on-going impact from wrongful convictions, focusing on the Friedman case, well-known as the subject of the landmark documentary film, Capturing the Friedmans. Though the US Appeals Court has ruled that Jesse Friedman was likely wrongfully convicted, the case has not yet been overturned. The impact on wrongly-imprisoned defendants is obvious, however the impact on hundreds of children has rarely been considered. Initially sure they were not sexually abused, and confident in their perceptions of reality, these children were dragged to a place of confusion, mistrust of adults, and uncertainty about themselves and the world. This paper provides new evidence and insight from extensive interviews with people police alleged were molested – and who now as adults confirm they were coerced into making false accusations. Also revealed are new witnesses who were present during alleged crimes against others, and now confirm there was no molestation. Child sexual abuse does happen, of course, and is a profound social issue; at the same time, false and hysteria-driven prosecutions robbed resources from cases of actual sex crimes, reduce the public’s faith in the legitimacy of such prosecutions, and interfered with the protection of children. The Friedman case provides a unique opportunity to heal a community still suffering from the wounds of false accusation, confusion, and deceit.