Author Archives: justinobrooks

Chilean Prisoners: Denied Human Rights and a Voice

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Chile has one of the highest incarceration rates of Latin America. However, according to the 2012 Human Rights Report from the University of Diego Portales, the country has the lowest number of violent crimes in the region.

This problem manifests in two ways: many basic needs of prisoners are ignored; meanwhile, they are unable to voice their concerns. It has become a public interest concern. For instance, on August 14 twenty-four prisoners were injured in a fire at the Penitentiary in Quillota. Three years earlier, a fire in San Miguel killed eighty-one.

The problem persists because the government does not recognize its fundamental role to protect all citizens, including incarcerated ones. In 2012, President Sebastián Piñera promised to build more jails in order to circumvent the evident prison overcrowding. Nevertheless, the treatment of the convicts themselves has improved little.

Prisoners are subject to torture, cruel and inhumane treatment. Any sense of rehabilitation is far from reality for Chilean inmates.

On the other hand, the 16th and 17th amendments of the Chilean constitution prohibit detainees from participating in the voting process. Thus, they lack a vehicle to improve their conditions—53,410 citizens are being disregarded. This is not the case in countries such as Canada, Iran, South Africa, and Ukraine.

It is evident Chile is not facilitating the successful reentry of its inmates into society. Not only are they being discriminated against, but they are often from the most marginalized areas of the country to begin with. Though these individuals may deserve to have their liberty restricted, it is indefensible to strip them of their dignity.

Follow me on Twitter @justinobrooks

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

For more information from the original article: http://www.elquintopoder.cl/justicia/la-indolencia-con-los-privados-de-libertad/

This photo is taken from: http://www.pulsamerica.co.uk/2010/12/12/chile-this-week-4/

Kimberly Long–An Innocent Woman and One of the California 12

The California Innocence Project’s 660 mile Innocence March from San Diego to Sacramento to ask for clemency for the “California 12” is reaching the halfway point.  Today the team marched through Santa Barbara County toward Pismo Beach where they will rest at the home of Exoneree John Stoll.  Here is an article and video about one of the cases–Kimberly Long http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/05/20/innocence-project-kimberly-longs-in-prison-while-killer-walks-free

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A Tale of Two Moms

Alice Leong and Leomia Myers have something in common. They both have suffered the pain of watching their sons wrongful convictions. For one of them, the suffering is over. Her son, Brian Banks, is now an NFL linebacker. The other still suffers everyday with her sons wrongful incarceration http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/05/14/california-innocence-project-marches-for-mothers-of-wrongfully-convicted
innocencemarch.aliceandleomiebrian and his mom

A Former Prison Warden’s View on Innocence Work

Several years ago I got an unusual request.  A former prison warden wanted to volunteer for the California Innocence Project.  I was cautious at first, but soon learned what a great resource and great person Jim Allen is.  Read here what he thinks about the plight of the wrongfully convicted.

http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/05/09/San-Quentin-prison-crosses-paths-with-the-innocence-march

Day 11 of the Innocence March

innocencemarch.milesToday is Day 11 of the California Innocence Project’s 660 mile march from San Diego to Sacramento to ask Governor Jerry Brown to give clemency to 12 of our innocent clients.  Mike Semanchik, Alissa Bjerkhoel, and I have walked 152 miles so far…many more miles to go.  From the RV where I am sleeping at night, I wrote the following blog about 3 of our cases and the first week of our journey.

http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/05/07/california-innocence-project-three-horror-stories

Convicted for Not Speaking Spanish

TWO NAHUA INDIGENOUS MEN INCARCERATED IN MEXICO FOR NEARLY THREE YEARS FOR NOT SPEAKING SPANISH

Nahuas
José Ramón Aniceto Gómez (64-years-old) and Pascual Agustín Cruz (48-years-old) were recently exonerated by the Supreme Court of Mexico after almost three years in prison. The nahua men from Atla, a community north of Puebla, Mexico, were arrested in January of 2010. In 2008, the men were chosen by their community to lead a movement to ensure free water. If they were successful, their efforts would harm the economic and political interests of the Mexican PRI political party. The men were sentenced to six years and 10 months for a crime against which they could not even defend themselves because they did not speak Spanish.
Before the case was resolved, Amnesty International declared the men “prisoners of conscience” after more than 30,000 letters were delivered to the Mexican government asking for the men’s freedom. The Supreme Court of Mexico ruled in the men’s favor 4 to 1 after noting multiple inconsistencies in the case. Prosecutors claimed the men robbed a truck; a crime shown to never have occurred. The court also ruled the men’s due process rights were violated because they were not allowed access to an interpreter during their incarceration and trial process.
The men were defended by lawyers from the Center of Human Rights Augustín Pro Juárez. A representative from Amnesty International, Daniel Zapico, said “there may be many other cases of innocent people in jail.”
For more information visit the following source of this information: http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=326474 Photo credit to Centro Prodh

The Death Penalty in California

The death penalty in the state of California continues to be a major focus, due in part to the burden it places on taxpayers. The California Innocence Project‘s goal with this infographic was to examine the facts, and the facts alone. Even though California’s Proposition 34 did not pass in the most recent election, this issue will continue to be argued and remain a pressing issue, especially during difficult economic times.

Death Penalty Infographic - An Infographic from CA Innocence Project

Embedded from the California Innocence Project

Redinocente Hosts First Latin American Innocence Conference

This past week lawyers, activists, and law professors from throughout Latin America gathered in Santiago, Chile for the First Latin American Innocence Conference. The conference was hosted by Redinocente (www.redinocente.org), an organization launched this year with the mission of assisting in the creation and support of innocence efforts throughout Latin America. The event made national headlines in Chile and had outstanding speakers including the former President of Bolivia (Eduardo Rodriguez), the Michael Moore of Argentina (Enrique Piñeyro), the National Public Defender of Chile (Georgy Schubert Studer), and exoneree Eric Volz.

There were presentations about innocence efforts underway in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Puerto Rico. The conference was attended by more than 70 representatives.

During the conference Redinocente hosted the Chilean premier of El Rati Horror Show, a film by Enrique Piñeyro which documents the story of Ariel Fernando Carrera who was wrongfully convicted of a high-profile murder of three people. Carrera was recently released by the Argentine Supreme Court after spending seven years in prison. The film has been widely credited for bringing the story to light.

There are already plans underway for next year’s conference which will be held in Bueno Aires.

American Man Held Without Charges in Bolivia for 11 Months Goes on Hunger Strike

Jacob Ostreicher, who has been held in prison in Bolivia for 11 months without any formal charges, is on a hunger strike.   Ostreicher’s lawyer and family contend that he is an innocent man who has been falsely linked to a drug and money laundering investigation.   They claim that Ostreicher’s was involved in a a rice operation in Santa Cruz and they presented more than 1,000 documents in preliminary hearings proving that Ostreicher has conducted nothing but legitimate business transactions in Bolivia.

Ostreicher is being held in the notorious Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz.  The prison is well known as being run by the inmates.  The perimeter is controlled by guards, but they do not control the activities by the inmates housed in the facility.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/12/world/americas/bolivia-american-hunger-strike/index.html

http://abcnews.go.com/International/american-investor-sits-year-isolated-bolivian-prison-uncharged/story?id=16329344#.T680yugV19n

US lawmakers Urge Nicaraguan President to Review Jason Puracal’s Case

Forty three U.S. Congressmen have signed on to a letter to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega urging him to review the case of American Jason Puracal.  Mr. Puracal, a former  Peace Corp volunteer, was working for Remax Real Estate Company in San Juan del Sur when his home and office where invaded by police.  No evidence of drugs or any other criminal evidence was found, yet Mr Puracal was arrested, charged with drug trafficking and money laundering, and sentenced to 22 years in prison.  At his trial, there was no evidence of drugs presented and the evidence of money laundering consisted of legitimate purchase agreements in the escrow account from the Remax Real Estate office.  Mr. Puracal was not allowed to call witnesses for his defense.

The Congressman expressed their dismay at this wrongful conviction and also the fact that Mr. Puracal is being held in a crowded, unsanitary cell where he does not have access to clean water.  They urged that the conviction and the conditions of confinement be reviewed.

Mr. Puracal’s case has received the support of many lawyers in the innocence project network including the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego.

http://freejasonp.com/

NEW INNOCENCE EFFORT UNDERWAY IN MEXICO

This past week a conference was held at Universidad Autonoma de Baja California in Tijuana, Mexico with the goal of launching the first innocence project in Mexico as a joint project of UABC and the California Innocence Project at California Western Law School in San Diego.  The proximity of UABC to the California border makes it a short commute from San Diego, creating an opportunity for international coordination where the two innocence projects can work closely together.

The Director of UABC Law School, Mario Herrera, recognizes the value of innocence projects to the educational mission of the law school, as well as the service it provides to clients.  Commenting on these dual missions he said, “Tener un Proyecto Inocente en Tijuana será una gran oportunidad para que nuestros estudiantes de derecho aprendan el procedimiento penal, se conviertan en mejores abogados y ayuden a liberar a personas condenadas injustamente.” (To have an innocence project in Tijuana will be a great opportunity for our law students to learn the criminal process and become better lawyers while helping to liberate the wrongfully convicted.)

Marco Macklis, a graduate of UABC Law School who works for the California Innocence Project, initiated this conference and partnership.  “It’s great to be able to bring together the law school I graduated from and the law school I work for.  This will be an amazing program that is greatly needed in Mexico.”

Brian Banks: The Case for Taking on Post Release Sex Offender Innocence Cases

Brian Banks had the world in his hands.  He was a star high school football player. Every major college program in the country wanted him to play for them.  There was already talk of an NFL career.  That all ended when he was falsely accused of rape.  His lawyer told him to plea bargain even though there was no physical evidence of the crime.  He was told that he might spend the rest of his life in prison even though the case was built on the shaky testimony of his alleged victim, a fellow high school student.

Brian took the deal and went to prison for several years.  His scholarship disappeared, his dreams disappeared, but when he got out of prison he was determined to get those dreams back.   Had he been convicted of any other crime, even a murder, he would have had an easier time, but convicted sex offenders are  in a class all their own.  The time is never served.  For the rest of his life he would be on sex offender lists, the government would need to know where he lived, and he would have trouble getting jobs or coping with the relationship issues that come with explaining to your girlfriend that you were convicted of rape, you plead, but you were actually innocent.

All innocence projects are overwhelmed with work.  Thus, as directors we must make tough decisions about what cases to take on.  In reviewing cases, priority is often determined based on the punishment the potentially innocent person is facing.  Death penalty cases have the highest priority.  Life cases are just behind them.  Cases with significant terms of years are third.  Most of us never get to the cases where a client has been released.  There are too few resources.  The cases take too much time and too much money.

Sex offender cases should be treated differently than other cases.  They are life sentences.  Brian’s case is a reminder of what gets taken away when someone is falsely accused of rape.  It is also a call for all projects to at least consider taking on these cases.

Brian Banks Website

Are We Going to Let Jason Puracal Die in a Nicaraguan Prison?

This past month, while hundreds of men burned in their cells in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Jason Puracal lay on a concrete floor 150 miles away in Tipitapa, Nicaragua, where he shares a small, bug infested cell with seven other inmates.  Jason is trapped in that cell 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, except for one hour he gets to spend outside next to the prison’s open sewer system.  There are exposed electrical wires and no running water. There is a hole in the corner that serves as a toilet, a drain for bathing, and a sink for washing dishes.  Buckets of parasite infested water are carried in, and the only way to drink the water is to boil it with a makeshift heating system that caused Jason severe burns this past September.  The burns blistered and became infected.  The bugs chewed away at his wounds.  He has since developed an inflammatory condition in his bowels that makes it extremely difficult to eat.  He has lost a tremendous amount of weight and it is unlikely he will survive even a portion of his 22 year prison sentence.

The conditions that Jason lives under would be horrible for anyone.  What makes them shocking is that he is an innocent man, wrongfully convicted by a failed justice system.

Jason’s current reality is not the life he imagined when in 2002, after obtaining a degree in Zoology from the University of Washington, he moved to Nicaragua to serve in the Peace Corps.  He fell in love with the country and a beautiful Nicaraguan woman.  When his tour ended he stayed.  He married his girlfriend, had a son, and started a career as a realtor in the beach town of San Juan del Sur.  His life seemed like a dream.  He was even featured on HGTV’s House Hunters International with cameras following him around as he showed beach homes to enthusiastic Americans looking to invest in the “new Costa Rica.”

That life ended on November 11, 2010, when armed and masked Nicaraguan police forced their way into his office and his home without a warrant and seized all his computers and files.  No evidence of criminal activity was found.  Nonetheless, Jason was arrested and later charged with money laundering and drug trafficking.

Jason’s trial was a sham.  It was overseen by a 27 year old judge who was not even a licensed attorney.  His real estate office’s escrow account was used as alleged evidence of money laundering and Jason wasn’t permitted to call his accountant to explain the escrow process and document all of the money that had moved in and out of the account as a result of property purchases.  The key prosecution witness did not even know what an escrow account was.

No drugs were found in Jason’s home or office.  The only “drug evidence” was testimony by a police officer about a VaporTracer test that can detect microscopic traces of drugs, but has been widely panned by courts due to cross contamination of evidence.  In fact, initially Jason’s car and clothes tested negative, but after they were taken into custody, and likely came into contact with other evidence or officers who had been exposed to drugs, there was an alleged 70% reading.  That meant a 70% chance that his car and clothes came into contact with drugs.  This flimsy evidence was unsupported by documentation at trial and riddled with contamination problems.

In a United States court the evidence against Jason would never support a conviction, or even probable cause to hold him in jail pending trial.  In Nicaragua, it was enough for a conviction and 22 year prison sentence.  Yet, Jason’s family has faced an uphill battle in fighting for his freedom.  Even though the United States has condemned the recent elections in Nicaragua as riddled with corruption, with Hillary Clinton calling the elections a “setback for democracy,” Jason’s case has largely been treated by U.S. government officials as just another drug case where an American got caught up in international trafficking.  His case has not received the attention of political cases where injustice is obvious and this is very dangerous precedent.

If other countries know that all they have to do is call a case a drug case, even when there are no drugs recovered, all Americans become potential targets when they travel outside the country.  We should all be concerned for Jason.  He represents the treatment we are willing to accept when our fellow citizens are wrongfully arrested and convicted in foreign countries.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2017712442_guest12brooks.html

www.FreeJasonP.com

http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/16/world/american-nicaragua-prison/index.html

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Training for Latin American Lawyers Seeks to Decrease Wrongful Convictions

This past week more than one hundred lawyers from Argentina, Chile, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela participated in a five day intensive trial training course at California Western School of Law in San Diego.  The program was sponsored by ACCESO Capacitación, with the goal of teaching lawyers how to prepare better for trials.  This training is particularly important as many Latin American countries, including Mexico, transition to oral adversarial trial systems.  The program included training on investigation, opening statements, direct and cross-examination, and closing arguments.  There was also a training session on the causes of wrongful conviction and the need to develop innocence projects in Latin America.

There are two upcoming programs sponsored by ACCESO Capacitación.  One in San Diego April 28-30th on advanced trial skills and another in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 11-15th on basic trial skills.  For more information go to www.accesocapacitacion.com

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The First Latin American Conference on Innocence Work to Take Place July 5th and 6th in Santiago, Chile

The movement to free the innocent is coming to Latin America.  Currently there are efforts to establish projects in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Puerto Rico. Join us for the inaugural Inter-American conference on Innocence Projects, to be held July 5 … Continue reading