Botched Execution in Arizona

Joseph Wood was put to death by the state of Arizona yesterday.

“It took one hour and 57 minutes for the execution to be completed, and Wood was gasping for more than an hour and a half of that time.”

See the AOL story here.

New Scholarship Spotlight: Innocence Found: The New Revolution in American Justice

Keith Findley, President of the Innocence Network, has posted the above-titled chapter on SSRN.  Download here:  The summary says:

This short extract — the first four pages of Chapter 1 in an edited volume, Controversies in Innocence Cases in America — begins to describe the history and significance of the Innocence Movement in the American Criminal Justice System. The full chapter traces the origins of the innocence organizations that came together to form the Innocence Network and fostered the new Innocence Movement, the manner in which the Innocence Movement has created an impetus and model for criminal justice reform that shifts the focus from the Warren Court’s due process revolution of the 1960s to a more substantive focus on reliability. In this framework, the chapter then considers some of the specific reforms that have emerged from the Innocence Movement’s focus on substantive justice, and the challenges that lie ahead.

Kevin Martin Exonerated after 26 Years in Prison; FBI Forensic Hair Analysis in Error

The Washington Post has reported that Kevin Martin’s conviction of the 1982 murder of Ursula C. Brown was vacated on Monday. Brown had been abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered after her car was struck from behind during a rash of similar crimes that authorities had dubbed the “bump-and-rob” assaults in Washington, D.C. Martin had long contended his innocence in the killing.

Martin is the fifth person to have his conviction overturned as a result of a recognition of inaccurate FBI hair analysis. The FBI and Justice Department review of all convictions involving FBI hair matches in the 1980s and 1990s continues. Two comprehensive reports linked here provide an indication of the bumpy road to truth years and even decades after miscarriages were prompted by an unjustifiable trust in unreliable science presented by a highly credible source.

Highlights directly from the Washington Post: Continue reading

In Netherlands, New Evidence in the Deventer Murder Case

From the Knoops Innocence Project in the Netherlands:

Further research into Deventer Murder Case

On Monday July 7, 2014, Attorney General D.J.C. Aben of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands granted a request for further research in the Deventer Murder case. The request was submitted by Mr. G.G.J. Knoops and P.B.A. Acda of the Knoops’ Innocence Project on March 21, 2013.

Under a new law, which was enacted in the Netherlands on October 1, 2012, it is possible to request the Attorney General to conduct further research into a case, if there are “indications” that a novum exists. A novum is necessary to successfully reopen a criminal case before the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. It is a new “finding” that was not known to the judge, and this finding must be of such a nature, that if the judge was aware thereof, it would have most likely resulted in a different verdict.

A request for further research on the basis of “indications that a novum exists” must be directed at the Attorney General, who has the authority to initiate a new investigation if he beliefs that there are sufficient indications of a novum.

The defense team of Ernest Louwes in the Deventer Murder case established sufficient indications, upon which the Attorney General decided to have the case re-investigated. The new research will focus on three aspects: the blouse of the victim, telephone data between the victim and Mr. Louwes and the time of death estimation.

The blouse of the victim

Small traces of touch DNA were recovered from the blouse of the victim, which traces turned out to match with Mr. Louwes. Louwes, who worked as a tax consultant of the victim, had visited her on the morning of the murder.

The defense team convincingly argued, on the basis of new forensic reports prepared by two DNA experts from the United States, that Louwes’ DNA on the victim’s blouse was the result of a peaceful (instead of a violent) encounter between the two. The defense could only do so after a lawsuit against the State because the Dutch Forensic Institute was initially unwilling to provide the underlying forensic data.

The Attorney General has requested the Dutch Forensic Institute to comment on the new DNA reports. If the Dutch Forensic Institute agrees with the “peaceful contact claim” the reports will be submitted to a third independent DNA expert for further examination.

Telephone data

The defense, backed by forensic experts, demonstrated in its request for further investigation that the telephone data used to convict Mr. Louwes, were wrongly interpreted. Louwes’ mobile telephone communicated with a base station near the crime scene. This “evidence” was used to convict Mr. Louwes. The judges did not know, however, that the “evidence” was presented without an accurate report on the weather conditions at that time, which may explain why a mobile phone does not communicate with the nearest base station.

Mr. Louwes has always claimed that he was in a traffic jam at the “alleged” time of the murder. This was, according to the Prosecutor and appellate judges, an indication of his “deceptiveness”, as it did not correspond with the telephone data. Yet, as it turns out now, the precise location of Mr. Louwes at that time could have caused a mobile phone to communicate with a base station further away than the one expected (i.e. the nearest station). The fact that there was a traffic jam had not been on the news, so this de facto supported the story of Mr. Louwes, as it was insider information.

The Attorney General has now decided to (re)investigate the impact of the weather conditions and the geographical position of Mr. Louwes at that time on the likelihood of communicating with a base station further away than expected in the case of Mr. Louwes.

Time of Death Estimation

According to Dutch forensic experts, certain marks on the victim’s body signaled that the initially accepted time of death estimation was incorrect. The time of death was supposedly later than the time of death assumed by the appellate court. The Attorney General will appoint a team to investigate to what extent different experts diverge or correspond in their professional opinions in this regard.

The Knoops’ Innocence Project has been investigating the Deventer Murder case since 2003. Mr. Louwes was acquitted by the lower court in 2000, the Court of Appeals in Arnhem convicted him in 2001. In 2003, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands granted a request for review on the basis of wrongfully conducted dog scent line ups. Yet, the Court of Appeals in Den Bosch, who was appointed to retry the case, convicted him again. In 2007, a new request for review was submitted to the Supreme Court; this request was rejected in 2008. This is the first request for further investigation in this case under the new law.

Knoops’ Innocence Project

G.G.J. Knoops, Counsel
P.B.A. Acda, Counsel

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

New Scholarship Spotlight: In Defense of American Criminal Justice

The Honorable J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has published the above-titled article in the Vanderbilt Law Review.  It argues that the system is not nearly as broken as many critics allege, some convictions of innocents is part of a necessary trade-off, and that the reforms pushed by the Innocence Movement often go to far.

Have a read here.

Camera Perspectives Important in Videotaped Interrogations

Op-ed from the NYTimes:

By Jennifer Mnookin, law professor at UCLA:

LOS ANGELES — LAST week the F.B.I., the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies instituted a policy of recording interrogations of criminal suspects held in custody. Only a minority of states and local governments have a similar requirement, but the new rule, which applies to nearly every federal interrogation, will most likely spur more jurisdictions to follow suit. It’s not far-fetched to think that such recordings may soon become standard police practice nationwide.

Supporters of the practice present recordings as a solution for a host of problems, from police misconduct to false confessions. But while there are lots of good reasons to require them, they are hardly a panacea; in fact, the very same qualities that make them useful — their seeming vividness and objectivity — also risk making them misleading, and possibly even an inadvertent tool for injustice.

Support for electronic recording has been accelerating in recent years, and its backers now come from all sides of the criminal-justice process. Though some in law enforcement remain critical of the idea, firsthand experience with recording tends to turn law enforcers into supporters — it eliminates uncertainty about police conduct and lets investigators focus on the interrogation rather than taking detailed notes.

Likewise, criminal prosecutors find that when a defendant confesses or provides incriminating information, the video offers vivid and powerful evidence. At the same time, it aids defendants because the very presence of the camera is likely to reduce the use of coercive or unfair tactics in interrogation, and documents illegitimate behavior if and when it does occur. And a recording provides judges and juries with information about what took place in a more objective form.

Given this chorus of support, what’s not to like?

The short answer is that, according to recent research, interrogation recording may in fact be too vivid and persuasive. Even seemingly neutral recordings still require interpretation. As advertisers and Hollywood directors know well, camera angles, close-ups, lenses and dozens of other techniques shape our perception of what we see without our being aware of it.

In a series of experiments led by the psychologist G. Daniel Lassiter of Ohio University, mock juries were shown exactly the same interrogation, but some saw only the defendant, while others had a wider-angle view that included the interrogator. When the interrogator isn’t shown on camera, jurors are significantly less likely to find an interrogation coercive, and more likely to believe in the truth and accuracy of the confession that they hear — even when the interrogator explicitly threatens the defendant.

Professor Lassiter and other psychologists have consistently shown this “camera perspective bias” across a substantial series of experiments, finding in one study that even professionals like judges and police interrogators are not immune.

Experiments like these feed a larger concern: whether the police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges or jurors can actually tell the difference between true and false confessions, even with the more complete record of interactions that recorded interrogations provide.

We know that false confessions really do occur, even in very serious crimes, and probably more frequently than most people expect. But why? We know something about certain interrogation techniques, as well as defendant vulnerabilities like youth or mental disability, that may create heightened risks for false confessions. But we don’t yet know enough about the psychology of false confessions to be able to accurately “diagnose” the reliability of a given confession just by watching it.

And yet by making confessions so vivid to juries, recording could paper over such complications, and sometimes even make the problem worse. The emotional impact of a suspect declaring his guilt out loud, on video, is powerful and hard to dislodge, even if the defense attorney points out reasons to doubt its accuracy.

This doesn’t mean that mandating recording of interrogations is a bad idea. Routine recording will serve to make them fairer and less coercive — and this might well help reduce the number of false confessions.

But we need to recognize that by itself, video recording cannot stop all the problems with interrogations, prevent false confessions or guarantee that we will spot them when they do occur.

We are still a long way from fully understanding why the innocent confess during interrogations, and why we believe them when they do — regardless of what we see on camera.