Category Archives: Western Europe

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Knoops Innocence Project Exonerees Compensated by Government

High Court of Justice of the Dutch Antilles agrees to pay USD 1.97 million compensation to Nozai Thomas and Andy Melaan (Spelonk case)

On 11 April 2014, the High Court of Justice ofAruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and of Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba (Dutch Antilles) rendered a judgment granting compensation to two exonerees for a miscarriage of justice which took place in 2005.

In 2006, the High Court of Justice at Bonaire affirmed a conviction of the District Court in 2005 against Nozai Thomas and Andy Melaan for murdering two brothers and sentenced them to respectively 8 and 24 years imprisonment.

The wrongful conviction came to light as a result of an initiative of drs. Lucio Ricardo, a psychologist working at the Dutch Antilles, who believed in the innocence of the two men. In 2009-2010 the former Dutch police detective Mr. Gosewehr and the criminologist dr. Timmerman, concluded that the two men were wrongfully convicted. The case was subsequently submitted by them to the Knoops’ Innocence Project (director Carry Knoops-Hamburger).

The Knoops’ Innocence Project has been working pro bono on the case since 2011 and initiated new research, in order to establish a “new fact”, which is necessary to have a case reopened in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Research by the Netherlands Forensic Research Bureau [Nederlands Forensisch Onderzoeksbureau, NFOB] and Digital Investigations revealed that Thomas’ was working at his computer during the night of the murders in 2005. New research also revealed that Thomas had confessed under extreme police pressure and that his confession was most likely to be false. Telecom research furthermore revealed that Melaan could not have been at the crime scene during the night of the murders.

On 1 July 2013 the High Court of Justice ordered a new trial and on 14 November 2013 both men were officially exonerated. Mr. Thomas spent 4.5 years in prison and Mr. Melaan 8 years.

On 11 April 2014 the High Court of Justice granted the following amounts of compensation:

-        Nozai Thomas: USD 677.430

-        Andy Melaan: USD 1.292.687

The High Court of Justice multiplied the standard amount of financial compensation for wrongfully convicted persons with factor five, while taking the following aspects into consideration:

-        Knoops’ advocaten tried to obtain compensation through the Prosecutor General, which would have prevented the two men to go to court for compensation and which would have allowed them to gain swift rehabilitation;

-        The fact that the prosecution did not prove to be willing to settle the compensation claim, while the prosecution – in light of the experience the Kingdom of the Netherlands has with wrongful convictions – should have been aware of the impact on the exonerees of such a miscarriage of justice. The fact that the prosecution proved to be unwilling to settle the claim, impacted upon the exonerees who still felt that they had to proof their innocence towards society;

-        Both exonerees proved to be extremely traumatized and showed signs of PTSS;

-        The uniqueness of the case demanded a higher compensation than the standard amount.

-        Other factors that contributed to a higher amount of compensation were:

o   Extensive media coverage;

o   The fact that the accused suffered from stigmatization in the Bonairean community;

o   Impact of the wrongful conviction on the lives of Melaan and Thomas (both exonerees suffer from PTSS);

o   The young age of Melaan and Thomas during their detention;

o   Severe psychological damage, which will have a lasting impact on their lives;

o   Police pressure during the interrogations (which had resulted in a false confession by Thomas)

Importantly, the judges of the High Court of Justice granted compensation that is commensurate with the standard of living in “the Netherlands”; if they would have applied the Dutch Antilles standard, the amount would have been lower.

Andy Melaan and Nozai Thomas perceive the compensation as a form of rehabilitation and reparation for the suffering inflicted upon them. The compensation will be deposited in a fund, which will be managed by third parties and used for their – and their family and children’s – future. Melaan and Thomas are committed to helping other wrongfully convicted persons on the Dutch Antilles and beyond.

Knoops’ Innocence Project

Prof. G.G.J. Knoops
Mrs. C.J. Knoops-Hamburger (director Knoops’ Innocence Project)
Ms. M. van Woudenberg
Ms. Pascalle Dingemanse (local counsel)

Breaking Chains in France

ImageFrom  NY exoneree, Fernando Bermudez:

        There’s a little known fact about the Statue of Liberty: broken chains around the statue’s ankle symbolize the historical fact that America broke free from British oppression and the tyranny of the king to establish a democratic republic.
        For me, my recent lecture in France symbolizes broken chains upon my exoneration in 2009 after over 18 years in 7 maximum security prisons in New York state. Like my lectures throughout Italy, Germany, Japan and America, I expose the consequences of wrongful convictions to help prevent their harm. Besides lending my life passion and purpose this also eases – stage fright, be damned! — my symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, like anxiety and sadness, that affect me as if still incarcerated.  Yet within my professional standards to deliver original lectures each time, my difficulty in crash-coursing French was admittedly learning which letters not to pronounce. Thus accomplished, my wife Crystal and I joined Project Innocence France, led by prominent criminal defense attorney, Sylvain Cormier, to advance newly discovered evidence standards via congressional support in France.
        As I stood before a crowded, nationally televised auditorium at the Lyon III School of Law, my presentation compared Alexander Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo to my very real experience with prosecutorial misconduct in America. According to the National Registry of Exoneration, prosecutorial misconduct is responsible for about 21% of 1,100 registered wrongful convictions in America during 1989-2012. This includes my 1991 arrest where my pro bono legal team and I proved a prosecutor’s knowing use of perjured testimony with coercion and threats against teenage witnesses, resulting in my case becoming the first Latin-American man proven “actually innocent” in NY state legal history without DNA-evidence.
        To encourage current and future Project Innocence France law student interns to fight all causes of wrongful convictions, however, I discussed that in 1787 the Charity Judiciary Association became the first French association of lawyers, nobility and business folk devoted to fighting wrongful convictions, prompting King Louis the 16th to voice support. Smiling, Charity Judiciary members present also agreed that Alexis de Tocqueville’s take in “Democracy In America” that solitary confinement harms prisoner health is still empirically supported after he visited Sing Sing prison in 1836, the same prison that released me in 2009. Refocusing, I concluded with how the Statue of Liberty’s symbolism has grown to include freedom and democracy as well as the international friendship between France and America and other countries to secure human rights around the world, and why law students should help stop wrongful convictions.
        Then came fun beyond shaking hands and my private encouragement to law students wherever their fight against wrongful convictions occurs. As the culinary capital of the world, France offered gastronomical delights from fresh rum crepes and foie gras to fine quality blue cheeses and buttery snails, one splashing a restaurant window from over-squeezed snail tongs launching it. Moreover, beyond the Rhone and Saone Rivers lay the Gallo-Roman Museum where an ancient Roman amphitheater overlooking Lyon’s cobbled streets teemed with shoppers, beautiful accordion music and occasional beggars dressed like goats clacking and bleating for money. Paris, too, was equally impressive by speeding train two hours away with its Arc de Triomphe, Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Notre-Dame Cathedral that Crystal and I explored while kissing by pedaled taxi. Our trip concluded by visiting Zurich, Switzerland where subway police allowed public drinking and drunkenness with stern, watchful looks that seemed to limit Swiss nightlife fun to just that.
        Was this trip worth it before my own drunk-with-sleep, jet-lagged return to America? Yes! For me, lecturing throughout the world with cultural explorations lends additional meaning, purpose and joy amid my broken chains and the losses and pain that I still feel after my wrongful incarceration. I believe, as my first pro bono attorney, MaryAnn DiBari, has always encouraged, that innocent men and women who are wrongfully convicted must step out of Lady Liberty’s broken chain and look to God for the light of love and liberty that exonerates them and helps heal  our wounds. While I lost over 6,700 days of freedom in prison as an innocent man, I have more reasons to make the most of whatever days I have left. 
        For encouragement, I keep the poet Emma Lazarus’ sonnet “The New Colossus (1883) in mind. Engraved on bronze plaque on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, it says: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to which I add: And your innocent in prison who deserve liberty, justice and equality!
        This, as the French would say, is my “raison d’ etre, or reason for existence, everyday, every journey, to scatter more apple seeds for justice to help stop wrongful convictions.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Innocence Project of South Africa now officially a member of the Innocence Network
  • In the UK, new law could limit compensation to exonerees who can conclusively prove innocence
  • Nearly 350 years after his execution, a french jew is exonerated and declared a martyr
  • Almost 70 years after a 14-year-old African American was executed in South Carolina following the slaying of two young white girls, family members asked a local judge on Tuesday to order a retrial and correct what they called a long-ago miscarriage of justice.  Continue reading….

Sweden’s Most Infamous Wrongful Conviction Case…

From the Local:

It is probably Sweden’s worst miscarriage of justice. On Monday, officials decided that Thomas Quick will continue to receive mental treatment but with less restrictions. The Local contributor David Lindén explains how a self-confessed serial killer went on to be cleared of all eight murders.

The National Board of Forensic Medicine (Rättsmedicinalverket) has decided that Quick, who has reverted to his original name Sture Bergwall, will keep receiving treatment but not in a mental hospital. But in order to understand why he ended up standing trial for eight murders that he later said he did not commit, we need a short recap.

From 1992, the already incarcerated Bergwall began to confess to a series of unsolved murders that he, after being in therapy at Säter Mental Hospital – part of Sweden’s correctional services –  remembered committing. At the time, he was taking plenty of benzodiazepines, a strong form of psychoactive drugs, to which he said he became addicted. He realized that he would get his hands on more of the drug if he confessed to further atrocities during the therapy sessions. Not all the cases were “strong” enough to go to trial. There was a score of confessions, but some would never make it to the courtroom. Bergwall, who had adopted the name Thomas Quick – a combination of Thomas Blomgren whom he “killed” in 1964 and the maiden name of his mother – was in the end convicted of eight murders.

One detail apparently failed to be examined. Bergwall could not have killed Blomgren. Bergwall was attending his Christian confirmation at the time of Blomgren’s murder. This fact, in combination with Bergwall’s drug abuse, could have illuminated the weakness of the entire case. But it would land on Bergwall’s shoulders to clear his name, not on the justice system’s.

After he quit his medication, Bergwall withdrew all his confessions. Swedish prosecutors cannot prosecute without enough evidence to reasonably secure a verdict. Without the confessions, the cases crumbled and the charges were withdrawn. This summer, prosecutors dropped the eighth and final murder charge. Bergwall has since been fighting to get a new assessment of his mental state, and said he hopes to walk free. The saga took one of its last twists this week, as the Forensic Medicine Board allowed him to receive therapy in a more open form.

For an outsider, it can seem rather strange that a junkie addicted to pills could be convicted of eight murders with the help of “hidden memories,” only accessible by therapy. There was no shortage of critics during the time the confessions played out either. Retired criminology professor, TV personality, and Sweden’s in-house crime sage Leif G.W. Persson bluntly questioned Bergwall’s supposed modus operandi, saying it would be impossible for one man “to go around like a bloody slaughter machine all over Scandinavia.”

Another critic was psychologist Ulf Åsgård, who had helped the Swedish police catch a real serial killer – “Laser Man” John Ausonius who terrorized Stockholm in 1991-1992 by shooting foreign-born Swedes with a laser-sight rifle.

Yet Persson and Åsgård were ignored.

So how could the Sture Bergwall/Thomas Quick scandal happen?

Let us speculate that there was something in the air in Sweden that made society ready for such a grizzly tale. The shelves of book stores were being filled with foreign gore (this was before the proper birth of the domestic Nordic Noir genre) – Brett Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho, with its yuppie freak Patrick Bateman, had recently been translated to Swedish (Bergwall would later cite American Psycho as “inspiration”). Cinema-goers, meanwhile, were gripping their velvet-clad seats as Jodi Foster and Anthony Hopkins faced off in Silence of the Lambs. Reality offered its ready examples too. In 1994, British police arrested serial killer couple Fred and Rosemary West – a case widely reported on in Swedish media.

Put simply, Sweden in the early 1990s was ready for a serial killer of its own. In Thomas Quick, there was enough material to fill several horror novels: childhood abuse, necrophilia, and cannibalism. The media lapped it up.

The Swedes were also rather blue at the time – suffering a financial crisis that was considerably worse than the one that would come in 2008. So in that sense, a “real” serial killer provided a form of psychological relief, and excitement. I would argue that the Swedes were almost envious of other countries’ psychos, and wanted their own.

You cannot, however, use culture and sentiment as an excuse for what happened. What was unfurling would become one of the worst legal scandals in Swedish history. Police officers, therapists, and lawyers misinterpreted, ignored and cheated their way through the evidence-gathering, blatantly putting aside the bits that spoke against Bergwall’s own version of events. The media also played an important part in the massive hoodwink, because reporters took all the “official” truths for granted. Few were the journalists who questioned the “perfect story.”

An important question is who will pay, if at all, for allowing this to happen?

Sweden’s Justice Minister Beatrice Ask has appointed “The Quick Commission”, headed by political science professor Daniel Tarschys. He is a former member of the Riksdag and a professor of political science – he is thus not a lawyer. This could mean that that case is investigated from a political and not a legal point of view.  It is unlikely that the commission will yield true power to change any structural weakness it finds to lay behind the many ill-made decisions that saw Bergwall wrongfully convicted of eight murders.

David Lindén is a PhD student in history at King’s College London and is currently a liberal political commentator for Borås Tidning (BT). Previously he was a visiting scholar at University of North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter here.


Exciting Case Successes Last Week in Netherlands and UK…

Last week, two innocence organizations in Europe got good news on several cases they have been working on for many months/years.

In the Netherlands, the Knoops Innocence Project obtained the exonerations Andy Melaan and Nozai Thomas in the Dutch Antilles.  The Project was able to prove through expert analysis that Thomas was working behind his computer downloading music at the time of the murder, and that Melaan was on the other side of the island (proved via phone records).  The Court also accepted that Thomas’ confession was a false confession.  The two men served eight and five years in prison respectively.   More details here.

In the UK, the Cardiff Innocence Project has had a case referred back to the Court of Appeals by the CCRC.  The defendant is Dwaine George, and his murder conviction was based on faulty GSR testimony.  More details here.   Upon hearing the news, Dwaine said: ‘ I have said from day one that it wasn’t me.  I know there are still huge hurdles ahead, but I want to prove my innocence. I just want a chance to get justice, and I want to thank Cardiff’s innocence project students for the work they have done that will hopefully give me that opportunity.’

Congrats to the Knoops and Cardiff Innocence Projects, and more importantly, to Thomas, Meelan and George….

Law Review Issue on Wrongful Convictions Around the Globe Now in Print…


At long last, the University of Cincinnati Law Review symposium issue stemming from the 2011 International Innocence Conference in Cincinnati is finally in print.  The edition contains articles discussing and summarizing the causes and extent of wrongful conviction in countries across the globe.  You can find the entire volume here.  Congrats to all involved on completing this important work.

Germany frees innocent man from asylum after 7 years

For the last seven years, Gustl Mollath, 56, has been held in a German asylum, after his wife accused him of assault. Mr Mollath had been trying to expose bank staff at Bavaria’s HypoVereinsbank (HVB), including his wife, who he accused of smuggling millions into Swiss accounts. Instead judges ruled that he was paranoid and committed him to psychiatric care for an indeterminate period. An audit of the bank has now proven his claims to be true, and he was released from involuntary detention. Read more here…

Germany’s worst miscarriage of justice? ‘Paranoid’ husband freed after he was mistakenly held in asylum for seven yearspg-34-mollath-reuters

Sweden’s worst miscarriage of justice?

Sweden, often looked upon as an aspirational model for criminal justice reformers, looks set to finally admit that it has wrongly convicted a mentally ill psychiatric patient of a series of murders after he confessed to the crimes. Bergwall, now 63 years,  ‘confessed’ to dozens of macabre killings (including cannibalising his victims) during the 1990s.  He was convicted – with apparent ease – of at least 8 murders, despite little or no evidence beyond his detailed confessions. Now, the authorities are dropping all charges against him, after he retracted all of his confessions in late 2008. The Swedish Attorney General has admitted:

“That a person has been convicted of eight murders and later been declared innocent, that is unique in Swedish legal history…It has to be considered as a big failure for the justice system.”

The story is receiving international attention, being reported as far afield as China and Auspg-32-sweden-aptralia. Read more here….(Incl. a GQ magazine article)

The Serial Killer Has Second Thoughts: The Confessions of Thomas Quick

Swedish serial killer who raped and ate his victims to be freed – because he made it all up

Swedish ‘serial killer’ cleared of all charges despite confession

Amanda Knox Interview on ABC Tonight in U.S at 10pm EST….

Details here.  Prior coverage of case here, here, here, and here.  Post about her new book here.

Exoneree Fernando Bermudez on a Lecture Tour in Germany

From Fernando Bermudez:

Exoneree Fernando Bermudez is now touring around Germany, giving lectures about his experience and the innocence movement in the United States. The cities he will be visiting are: Bochum, Greifswald, Berlin, Passau, Tübingen, Wiesbaden, and Freiburg. Read the news here (in German).

Fernando Bermudez served over 18 years in New York prisons, following his wrongful conviction for murder, until proven innocent in 2009. Continue reading

International Recognition of Wrongful Convictions: A Growing Trend?

ImageWith recent posts on this blog detailing further great news from Europe on developing Innocence Projects (see here… on France, see here… on Belgium, here… on Netherlands), it certainly feels like the ambition of those in the US to spread the word of innocence internationally is proving fruitful. South Australia is celebrating (finally) getting a body to investigate miscarriages of justice – the first in Australia. There have been notorious miscarriages of justice in that State, and many others waiting to see the light of day. They may now have a chance – let’s hope it’s not too long before the other States and Territories follow suit:

A small step in legal reform, a giant leap for justice

Meanwhile, just in the last few weeks I have read the following news items from around the world – perhaps the media is starting to get with the programme?

In China, authorities have apologised ‘deeply’ for wrongly convicting 2 men of rape and murder (including a death sentence that was commuted). They have ordered inquiries into the investigation and conviction of the men. DNA testing led to another man who was executed in 2005 for another killing. Read here: 

Police apologizes to 2 men wrongly convicted

and: Zhejiang plans to probe men’s wrongful conviction.

There are hopes that the revelation of wrongful convictions – including the execution of innocence individuals – in China will lead to the cessation of the death penalty

Putting China on the Path to Ending Capital Punishment

In Israel, an interesting and detailed article looks at the re-opening of the notorious murder of a child at school (the Zadorov case). It re-caps on previous high-profile miscarriages of justice in Israel and their causes:

The Zadorov case

In New Zealand, calls are being made by political party leaders for a pardon in an infamous case where a 17 year old was questioned by police for five days without a lawyer. Teina Pora has spent 20 years in prison for murder – a murder where another man was convicted (on DNA evidence) of raping, but not killing, the victim. The case has always attracted accusations of racism in the treatment of Pora.

Māori Party wants mercy in Pora case

Mounting pressure for re-investigation of Pora case

One can only hope that the spread of media interest in, and political motivation to tackle wrongful convictions, continues.

Update on Knoops Innocence Project….the Netherlands…

knoopslogoHere is an update on a new case of interest handled by the Knoops Innocence Project in the Netherlands:

Knoops’ lawyers request re-opening in the case of the “Hilversum showbiz murder”

A Knoops’ lawyers defense team acting on behalf of Martien Meijer-Hunnik requested the Supreme Court to open the case of the “Hilversum showbiz murder.”

Mr. Hunnik was convicted by the Court of Appeal in Amsterdam for manslaughter on Bart van de Laar, a producer from Hilversum, the Netherlands, on November 10, 1981.

The conviction was mainly based on the “confession” of Mr. Hunnik on November 17, 1983. At that time, there was no other direct evidence linking Mr. Hunnik to the crime. Mr. Hunnik withdrew his confession on April 14, 1983, but the judicial authorities did not give credibility to his withdrawal.  A clear motive for the manslaughter was lacking. From 2002 onwards, after he had been detained from 1983 to 1990, Mr. Hunnik tried to obtain his case file, however, to no avail. In 2011 he requested Knoops’ lawyers to investigate his case regarding a revision procedure.

A specialized team of Knoops’ lawyers conducted their own research into the case (2011-2013). Early 2013 the team took notice of “new” material. It turned out that this material was already known to the public prosecution service since 2002 and had resulted in a 2004-police analysis that exculpated Mr. Hunnik.

All these new facts justify the conclusion that Mr. Hunnik was wrongfully convicted in 1984 for the murder on producer Bart van de Laar. The new material shows that Mr. Hunnik is factually innocent to the manslaughter he was convicted for. Also, a not previously known police analysis concludes that it is unlikely that Mr. Hunnik shot Mr. Van de Laar on Tuesday November 10, 1981.

The request to review this case is based on six new facts that are outlined in new pieces of evidence proving that Mr. Hunnik cannot have committed the crime in question. The new material includes a convincing alibi, a new time reconstruction of the events, evidence indicating that his confession was false and a new witness statement.

The defense has urged the Attorney-General of the Dutch Supreme Court to decide speedily on the review request, since the prosecution – as has been shown – was already in the possession of the exculpatory material since 2002.

Mr. Hunnik prays that his conviction will be overturned and that he will be rehabilitated, since he is severely damaged, both mentally and physically, through his conviction by the Court of Appeal in Amsterdam. It had and continues to have a great impact on his personal and family life.

The defense and Mr. Hunnik are – despite the fact that (new) exculpatory material was already known to the judicial authorities since 2002 – very grateful for the efforts made by Mr. Van Straelen, the chief Attorney General of the Court of Appeal in Amsterdam, to reconstruct the course of events and to establish the truth in this case.

Defense counsel: Mr. Geert-Jan Knoops, Ms. Lizette Vosman, Ms. Carry Knoops-Hamburger

Amanda Knox – Trial by Website

Knox3Numerous times on this blog we have bemoaned the inappropriateness of “trial by media.”  The press/media cannot possibly have an intimate understanding of all the evidence, facts, affidavits, and testimony in a criminal trial.  But to gain readership, they piece together whatever bits of information they can gather, and publish stories that tend to appeal to the sensationalistic interest of the general public.  This is no surprise.  That’s what they do.  It’s unfortunate, however, because this stuff can and does have an influence, both during and, perhaps even more so, after trial.

But nowadays, there is a new internet-age version of trial by media.  I call it “trial by website.”  This happens when someone becomes personally dedicated to the guilt or innocence of a particular defendant, and sets up a website to proffer their one-sided views.  There are both innocence-based websites and guilt-based websites.  However, my observation is that the guilt-based websites are much more vitriolic, and generally based upon much unsubstantiated, or downright false, information.

There’s been much recent discussion due to the overturning of the Amanda Knox acquittal, and the websites run by people who have dedicated themselves to her guilt are going great guns.  Two of these are the Perugia Murder File (PMF) and True Justice for Meredith Kercher (TJMK).

Nina Burleigh is a journalist who actually went to Perugia, and studied all aspects of the case for over a month.  She has recently published an article in TIME in which she talks about these “Knox Hater” websites.  And in opining about what the outcome of any new trial will be she states, “In my opinion, the new panel will agree with the last one that the case against the students is fatally flawed.”

You can read Nina Burleigh’s article here.

Commentaries Regarding the Overturning of Amanda Knox’ Acquittal

A couple of interesting stories here and here.  NY Times article here.  Amanda’s reaction and a discussion of whether she will return to Italy for the trial here.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…


Amanda Knox to be Interviewed on ABC

Amanda Knox will give her first TV interview, since being absolved of murder charges in Italy, with Diane Sawyer on ABC April 30, 2013.

See story here.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…


Project Innocence France

History has a unique way of repeating itself. Consider, for example, the question of wrongful conviction in France.The first French association designed to fight wrongful conviction was created in 1787! It was called “Association de Bienfaisance Judiciare (“charity judiciary association”), and was created by M. Boucher d’Argis. The Association both defended the poor in court, and provided them with compensation upon release. The members of the Association were booksellers, printers, nobles, and lawyers, and women were also admitted. The Association alerted the Monarchy about wrongful conviction, so in 1788, King Louis the 16th declared that it is necessary “to prevent wrongful conviction.” And this was one year before the Revolution! So while we in the United States should take great pride in the work that’s been done over the course of these last fifteen years, the French appear to be the first country that I’ve seen where wrongful conviction was officially acknowledged, and by the King no less. It’s not clear how many people were exonerated by the Association, this is a question that I plan to investigate with my French colleagues. The seeds of innocence were planted in France in 1787 and have been germinating ever since.

Project Innocence France, the twenty-first century cousin of the Association de Bienfaisance Judiciare, is preparing to launch. Once established, it will be the first innocence organization in France, and will join the growing number of international member organizations in The Innocence Network.

On Friday, January 11th I was joined by DNA expert, Dr. Greg Hampikian, to deliver a presentation at the Lyon III School of Law on the topic of wrongful conviction and innocence organizations, and the role played by DNA analysis in righting injustice. Dr. Hampikian and I were the guests of Mr. Sylvain Cormier, a criminal defense attorney from Lyon, France and the guiding force behind Project Innocence France. Dr. Hampikian and I presented the work of the Innocence Network to more than 200 people in an overrun law school auditorium (people were turned away). There is clear excitement and intrigue regarding our work, especially from students, but also from faculty and administrators, and the French press. Mr. Cormier has assembled some of the most impressive, important, and diverse justice officials in France to serve on his Board. I met a few of these people, and was introduced to the others by reputation. So far prospective members include forensic experts, retired police, retired judges, law faculty (Lyon III), and attorneys.

As with most law schools in Europe, there is no tradition of clinic work. However, at Lyon there are opportunities for apprenticeships. In addition, a course will need to be created by the law school to explore the subject of wrongful conviction. This may take time, as presently in France there are no required courses in Criminal Law or Criminal Procedure. Students are expected to learn this trade through apprenticeship (The one book that has been written on the topic of criminal procedure was first published in 2000 and is now in its 7th edition. I have made the acquaintance of the book’s author, Francois Saint-Pierre. While I was in Lyon last week, Mr. Saint-Pierre received word that he had just won judgement against France in the European Criminal Court in a homicide case. He is on the IP Board, is a law partner to Mr. Cormier, and is a powerful figure among French criminal lawyers and members of the High Court). Structurally, there are important changes being introduced to the law school by implementation of the innocence project and this is thrilling, promising, and will require patience. The law school Dean threw a reception for us after our conference and was overjoyed with the presentations, and the promise of the work. While I can’t read into the future, I do believe that there is great support and enthusiasm for the project at the law school.

Perhaps most promising and exciting was the response to our work from students at the law school. They understand the significance of innocence work as part of a broader movement for human rights and, at least for those with whom I spoke, they were committing to learn more about prospective involvement with Project Innocence France. While not something that is new to me at this point in my career with The Network, I’m still deeply touched when exposed to the awakening of spirit and commitment in young people.

The struggles confronting the French with regard to wrongful conviction are in large part shared by all jurisdictions regardless of country of origin. Evidence preservation, coerced confession, false eyewitness testimony, and poor defense were repeatedly mentioned. The French are prepared to conduct the necessary research into the causes of wrongful conviction to contribute to the growing international database.

Here are some links to articles about our presentation; they are in French. Le Monde will also be publishing a story regarding the conference and Project Innocence France which will likely appear on Wednesday, January 16th.
To my dedicated, generous, and friendly French colleagues now entering the fray, you have my heartfelt support. The Innocence Network enthusiastically awaits your arrival, and looks forward to long lasting partnership in the eradication of wrongful conviction.

International Expansion of the Innocence Movement in 2012

The purpose of this post is to briefly summarize organized innocence activity around the world during 2012 (If I have left items out, please let me know so I can supplement this post).  The calendar year 2012 undoubtedly saw the largest expansion of organized innocence work in history.  Well-attended innocence conferences were held in 5 different continents.  Organizations designed to free the innocent operated in every inhabited continent, and new projects launched in various Latin American countries, France, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Israel, and Taiwan, among others.  Here is a brief summary:

  • The Innocence Network, which currently consists of more than 60 member projects in the U.S., UK, Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia, issued its 2012 report, which lists the members and summarizes the 22 exonerations  its members obtained in the calendar year.  Major conferences on the subject were held in Australia, the UK and the U.S.
  • A network of organizations fighting for the innocent was launched in Latin America, Red Inocente (website here).  Red Inocente held its first annual conference in July, which was attended by more than 70 representatives from various Latin American countries.  Presentations were made about innocence efforts underway in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Puerto Rico.  Details of conference here.  The second annual conference will be held in 2013 in Buenos Aires.  Red Inocente has already seen its first exoneration, which occurred this year in Argentina.
  • In Europe, the UK has had a rich history of innocence work for decades, most recently spearheaded by the Innocence Network UK, and many other university-based groups not part of INUK.  This past year has seen innocence organizations launch in the Netherlands and in Lyon, France.  The Innocence Law Clinic in Warsaw, Poland, successfully continued its operations, which have been ongoing since 1999, and the Supreme Court of Poland held a lecture on the international expansion of the Innocence Movement, sponsored by the Helsinki Foundation.  Also in Poland, a conference was held in Krakow on on the topic of wrongful convictions, attended by judges and prosecutors from across the country.  In the Czech Republic, lectures on wrongful convictions were held at 2 major law schools, summarized in this news clip.  Interest in starting an innocent project is budding in Italy, with representatives from a major law school there planning to attend the 2013 Innocence Conference and to shadow the Ohio Innocence Project this summer.
  • In Africa, the highly-organized Wits Justice Project in South Africa continued its operations with many successes; and a new Innocence Project South Africa launched
  • The Israeli Wrongful Convictions Clinic launched
  • In Asia, projects launched with much acclaim in Taiwan and the Philippines.  China held its first major conference on the topic of wrongful conviction, attended by hundreds of judges, prosecutors, professors and defense attorneys.  Two books on wrongful convictions, False Justice and Illustrated Truth, were translated and published in China.