Citing U.S. Innocence Model, Israel Grants Inmate Right to Post-Conviction DNA Testing In Case of Murdered Judge

From Haaretz:

The state has agreed to let a man convicted in the 2004 murder of Judge Adi Azar to send cigarette butts that were collected from the crime scene for DNA testing as part of his request for a retrial to prove his innocence, after the High Court of Justice suggested it do so.

The prosecution had originally refused to hand over the evidence to Yitzhak Zuziashvilli, based on the doctrine of finality of judgment. But during a hearing last week on a petition Zuziashvilli had submitted to the High Court, Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Hanan Melcer and Anat Baron suggested that the prosecution reconsider because they planned to accept the petition.

The Public Defender’s Office, which had joined Zuziashvilli’s petition, cited data from the Innocence Project in the United States, which is dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing. According to the data, DNA tests have led to the exposure of 329 wrongful convictions since the project was launched in 1992. In 149 cases, the testing led to the identification of the real criminal.

In addition to finality of judgment, the prosecution objected to the testing because Azar’s widow strenuously objected to have the case reopened, saying it would cause the family pain. To this defense attorney Shay Hemo countered with a quoted from Judge Dafne Barak-Erez in a different murder case in which additional forensic testing was requested by a defendant, who said, “The opposition of family members cannot be the only or determining factor, since the fate of the defendant is also at stake.”

The Public Defender’s Office criticized the policy of the state prosecution, which it said poses many obstacles to conducting testing on evidence for the purpose of requesting a retrial. According to the Public Defender’s Office, this policy has blocked the discovery of wrongful convictions and other errors in ostensibly conclusive verdicts, errors of the type that have been exposed in other countries by post-trial testing conducted on pieces of evidence.

The Public Defender’s Office cited seven instances in which it had sought help from the prosecution in locating investigative material to examine it after a trial. In four of them, the defense attorneys wanted the evidence to undergo scientific testing. In two of these cases the evidence had been destroyed, even though these were murder cases, for which evidence is meant to be kept forever. In the two other cases, the prosecution simply refused to give them access.

In the other three cases the defense attorneys wanted to read through and photocopy investigative material, but in two of them the material was never handed over, despite repeated requests.

UK’s restrictive compensation scheme for exonerees upheld by High Court

In a long running issue over exoneree compensation in the UK – or the lack of it – that I have blogged on previously (here…,here… and here)  Sam Hallam and Victor Nealon, who spent 24 years in prison between them, have now lost their argument that UK law wrongly restricts compensation in miscarriage of justice cases. Hallam and Nealon’s solicitors had judicially reviewed the government decision to not compensate them for the years they spent imprisoned when innocent.untitled

The Secretary of State for Justice denied Nealon compensation for his years in jail, on the grounds that the Court of Appeal’s verdict  – which said that  “the fresh evidence has not ‘demolished’ the prosecution case” – meant that he was not a victim of a miscarriage of justice. In Hallam’s case – his appeal judgement partially laid the blame for his wrongful conviction at his door as the phone evidence that exonerated him 7 years after his conviction had been in his possession.

On Monday, Nealon and Hallam lost their bid to persuade British judges to accept that denying compensation broke the European Convention on Human Rights. The case is the first legal challenge to be heard to the decision to narrow eligibility grounds for compensation, which effectively requires people to prove that they did not commit the crime.

Wrongfully jailed men lose high court actions in battle for compensation

Irish man fails in compensation bid against British government

Victor Nealon falsely imprisoned for 17 years denied compensation

 

“Anti-Snitch” Bill in North Carolina ‘Dies’ in the Legislature

Making deals with snitches — just one of the more loathsome practices of prosecutors, and it happens all the time. Here’s how it works. A prison inmate (snitch) who has contact in prison with the defendant in a case comes forward, and claims that the defendant confessed to him in prison, or that the defendant bragged about the crime, or said things that implicated himself in the crime. In “exchange” for his testimony against the defendant the snitch is granted favorable treatment by the prosecutor – reduced sentence, reduced charges, early release, etc. Snitches can also be people who are not in prison, and get paid money for their testimony, or have pending charges dropped. Snitch testimony is often totally fabricated, and the snitch is lying just to get the deal from the prosecutor or to get the money. Snitches will read newspaper reports of crimes to learn just enough detail about a crime to give some credibility to their fake claims about what the defendant said to them. And when prosecutors put snitches on the witness stand, you can’t tell me they don’t know the testimony is bogus. However, it’s not uncommon for snitch testimony to be the deciding factor in a conviction.

North Carolina has been among the leaders in addressing the problem of wrongful convictions, including establishing the first state innocence commission, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, in 2002. And recently in North Carolina, the issue of perjurious snitch testimony has bubbled to the surface. A bill under consideration in the legislature would bar a conviction based solely upon incentivized (snitch) testimony. However, that bill has now essentially died in the legislature after intense lobbying from the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

This from the publication INDY Week: “Supporters called it one of the strongest bills in the country that would protect criminal defendants from lying jailhouse snitches. But now, the I. Beverly Lake, Jr., Fair Trial Act is on life support, blocked by N.C. House leadership after pressure from the state’s Conference of District Attorneys.”

See the INDY Week story here.

Given North Carolina’s heretofore forward thinking on wrongful convictions, I am dismayed by this; but, it’s just yet another obstacle to overcome – so upward and onward. The fact that this bill has even been under consideration is a source of encouragement, because it means that some legislators actually understand some of the problems.

 

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Executions in Japan — A Consideration of Judicial Hanging

I have posted in the past about how executions in Japan are carried out.

The Osaka Bar Association made a 25 minute segment on the mechanism of judicial hanging in Japan in 2014. It is now posted on its website. You can watch the English version here.

Please note that it contains forensic explanations of how hanging occurs and may be disturbing for some viewers.

FBI crime lab admits to errors in DNA profiles

There are lies, damn lies and statistics.

The Washington Post reports that the FBI has notified local crime labs that it has discovered errors in data used by forensic scientists in thousands of cases to calculate the chances that DNA found at a crime scene matches a particular person.

The FBI is downplaying the significance of the problem, but a scientist who identified errors 10 years ago in the DNA profiles the FBI analyzed to generate the population statistics data called the consequences of the disclosure appalling and said they could have led to wrongful convictions. You can read the story here.

Judge Disqualifies All 250 Orange County, CA Prosecutors !

In Orange County, CA, a case, in which the justice system should have been at its best, has deteriorated into a revalation of incompetence, corruption and perjury involving police, sheriff’s deputies, county counsel, and prosecutors. It has also come out that this systemic corruption, involving rights violations, “professional” jailhouse snitches, and secret police files, has been going on for decades.

As a result of these disclosures, the judge in the murder trial of the worst mass murderer in Orange County history has disqualified all 250 Orange County prosecutors from the case.

See the Daily Kos story here.

And see a supporting story from the OC Weekly here.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

New Doubts are Cast on Shaken-Baby Diagnoses

Here is a recent article from the Boston Globe on developments in the diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS/AHT), and their relation to the justice system. See the article here.

One more step on the road to scientific truth, but it’s going to be a long journey. To paraphrase Nobel physics laureate Max Planck, “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

Another Success For Knoops Innocence Project in the Netherlands…

From website:

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands decided on Tuesday (26 May 2015) to reopen the case against Martien Hunnik and referred the case to the Court of Appeals for a new trial. Martien Hunnik was convicted in 1984 for killing the Hilversum record label boss, Bart van de Laar, in 1981.

Hunnik was convicted for manslaughter and sentenced to two years imprisonment and “TBR”, a closed treatment facility for mentally ill offenders with diminished criminal responsibility. In the Netherlands, there is a gradual system of accruing criminal responsibility to mentally ill offenders; therefore it is possible to impose both a prison sentence and to order treatment in a mental facility.

Hunnik, who is represented by Mr. Knoops and Ms. Vosman of the Knoops’ Innocence Project, was convicted on the basis of false confessions he made in January 1983 and which he retracted in April of that year. Behavioral research demonstrated that Mr. Hunnik, at the time of his false confessions, had the tendency to confabulate and to distort the facts. Mr. Hunnik himself says he was mentally ill at that time and in search of attention.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

A Profile in Courage – Ricky Jackson’s 39 Years in Prison

This past Wednesday, I was privileged to be present when Ricky Jackson addressed a group of people at the University of Cincinnati. In November, 2014, Ricky, along with two of his boyhood friends, the Bridgeman brothers, was exonerated of a murder he did not commit, and for which he spent 39 years in prison, including 2 1/2 years on death row.  See the previous WCB coverage of this here. I was so moved, that I felt compelled to write about my impressions.

Ricky spoke at some length about his experiences, his feelings about it all, and his perspectives and future plans.  I must say he is eloquent, articulate, intelligent, compassionate, humorous, and possessed of humility. He is the kind of person I would be honored to call a friend.

I won’t try to relate the details of his case or his experiences. For that, please check the link cited above, and the links within that article.  But know that I sat there in wonder as he spoke about all this without the slightest trace of anger, resentment, or bitterness. How a person can endure what he did, and come out of it with his attitude and perspective is just about incomprehensible to me.

I have to wonder also what this man might have accomplished during those 39 years had he not been in prison. Those 39 years were stolen not just from Ricky Jackson, but from us – all of us – because this is a man who clearly has the ability to have a positive influence on other people and on society as a whole. I’m sure Ricky has very definite knowledge of what this has cost him, but we’ll never know what this has cost us. And on top of that . . . the real murderers are still out there.

And of course, this begs the question – how many more Ricky Jackson’s are there still in prison in this country?

 

Court tosses convictions but won’t say couple is innocent

No matter how much evidence of innocence might exist, it is sometimes next to impossible to get the courts to fully admit error. That’s what happened yesterday, when Dan and Fran Keller, who were convicted on “satanic daycare abuse” charges in 1992, finally had their convictions overturned by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. While the court ruled that the Kellers were wrongly convicted, the Austin American-Statesman reports here, it just couldn’t come around to admitting the Kellers, who were released in 2013, were actually innocent.  The Kellers plan to continue their fight.

1,600 U.S. Exonerations Highlight Unacceptable Error in Criminal Justice

The National Registry of Exonerations has announced a chilling milestone, the 1,600th known exoneration in the United States since 1989. The tally of persons known to have been convicted of crimes they did not commit has grown rapidly from the Registry’s launch three years ago. The 1600th exoneration, that of Michael McAlister, occurred last week.

Maurice Possley’s Registry report on Michael McAlister (here) provides the telling details — case unique and yet familiar — of a tragic miscarriage. Police and prosecutors would come to doubt McAlister’s guilt and subsequently joined a long effort to correct this stubborn error. Continue reading

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

These Are the Wrongful Conviction Cases That Haunt Me

I’ve been doing “innocence work” for seven years now.  So …. just what is it that I do? I am Science & Technology Advisor to the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and to the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic at Duke University. This means I advise on cases that include factors involving science and/or technology – usually forensics. I will also advise any innocence organization or agent that requests my input, and I do this pro bono. I do some other stuff too, like write for this blog, but those are the roles in which I get involved in case work.

During this seven year period, I’ve had personal involvement – meaning I’ve actually done work – in 63 cases in eight states and two foreign countries; and have had exposure to the details of probably 100 more cases on top of that. I’ve been privileged to be a small piece of the puzzle in five exonerations; and, in four cases, my work has contributed to confirming that the defendant was actually guilty. We consider confirming guilt to be a good outcome, because it means that justice has been properly served. We’re not trying to get everybody out of prison – only the people who are actually innocent.

We relish talking about the successes, the exonerations, but nobody ever hears about the failures. I count a failed case as one in which, based upon careful and intensive study of all the facts, testimony and evidence, we (I) are absolutely confident that the defendant is actually innocent; but our efforts to exonerate have not succeeded, and there’s really nothing more we can do. Sadly, the failures occur much, much more frequently than the successes. There are no good data for this, but in my experience, an exoneration takes years of time (average about 7), thousands of hours of total effort by a great many people, and, in some cases, thousands of dollars. And the failures can take just as much as the successes, if not more.

Most of the cases I’ve worked remain “open,” at least technically, but there are some for which we have seemingly come to the end of the legal road, and there’s little, if anything, that can still be done. There are five of these cases, in particular, that keep me awake at night, because I get so outraged and frustrated by the injustice. I thought I would share them with you, so you might get some idea of what the people doing innocence work have to deal with on a daily basis. Since these cases are unresolved, I will not reveal any names, dates, or places, and will provide only sketchy details of the incidents involved, but you’ll get the idea.

Continue reading

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

New Research Elevates Concerns over Snitch Testimony

Testimony from jailhouse informants has been a known factor in wrongful convictions, and new data indicates the use of this risky evidence has been more frequent in the worst crimes, according to the May 2015  report of The National Registry of Exonerations. While snitch testimony has been a factor in 8% of exonerations across all crimes, it has been a contributor to wrongful conviction in 15% of murder exonerations and in 23% of death penalty exonerations.

Snitch testimony is compelling to a jury but often unreliable because it can be compromised by incentives for the informant to lie. A factor in 119 of 1,567 known exonerations (tallied from 1989 up to March 17, 2015), the new data reveals the risk not only of convicting the innocent but also of enabling the guilty to escape justice and continue perpetrating the most heinous of crimes. An accompanying consideration: Jailed snitches have been compensated for their testimony with reduced sentences, another risky practice.

Access The National Registry of Exonerations May newsletter (here).

Exonerees Earn Law Degrees; Become Innocence Attorneys

Many exonerees, upon release from prison, undertake some form of innocence work. After all, being wrongfully convicted and incarcerated has to qualify as one of the most profoundly life-altering events a person can endure. So it’s not surprising that many dedicate the rest of their lives to trying to fix the broken system that wronged them so terribly.

There are even some who go on to earn a law degree, so they can confront the system in a personal and “head-on” way. Several of these “JD-carrying” exonerees were featured in the recent edition of the American Bar Association Journal.  See the article from the ABA Journal here.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…