One of, if not the most, frequent occurrences of prosecutorial misconduct is withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense; which prosecutors are required by both law and ethics to share. The state of California has taken this “bull by the horns,” and made withholding evidence by prosecutors a criminal felony.
Under the new law, prosecutors who alter or intentionally withhold evidence from defense counsels can face up to three years in prison.
EVERY one of the remaining 49 states needs to follow this example. This is a major step in establishing the kind of accountability prosecutors MUST face if we are to ever achieve the necessary level of ethical conduct on the part of prosecutors.
See the reason.com story here.
Yet another classic case of self-serving adults forcing/coercing children to lie about sexual assault that never happened.
This is a scenario that is all too common. In innocence work, we see it regularly; for example, the Courtney Bisbee case.
See the CNN story here.
We have reported extensively on the Courtney Bisbee case here on the blog.
Please see: HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE .
In my 8 1/2 years of doing this work, this is one of the worst travesties of justice I have encountered. And it all took place in that snake pit cesspool of a justice system called Maricopa County, AZ.
Courtney served her full sentence (11 years), and was released from prison on November 17. But she is NOT free. One would think that once you’ve served your full sentence and were released, that would be it; and you should be able to start rebuilding your shattered life, albeit with a prison record, but NO.
Courtney has been fitted with a GPS ankle bracelet, and registered as a sex offender – a life sentence. And get this – she is not even on probation; she’s on parole (“community supervision”) with harsh conditions, just like she’s still considered a prisoner. And indeed, she is still under the custody of the Department of Corrections, which limits her ability to take any kind of legal action. AND THIS IS ALL FOR A “CRIME” THAT NEVER HAPPENED.
Courtney’s habeas petition is still pending before federal court, as it has been since 2012. We can only hope that true justice will ultimately be done.
We’re thrilled that at least Courtney is out of prison, and is being allowed to live with her parents as she works mightily to start putting the pieces back together.
Well ….. it’s about time!
This is a “biggy” – a significant step in establishing prosecutorial accountability and exposure to sanctions.
California has just enacted a law that exposes prosecutors who withhold or tamper with exculpatory evidence to felony charges, with up to three years imprisonment.
Please see the LA Times story here.
Now we just need to have this migrate to all the rest of the states and the Department of Justice.
We had hope, back in 2009, when the National Academy of Sciences report Forensic Science in the United States; A Path Forward was published, that there might finally be some remedy for all the junk science being used to convict innocent people. The report painted a scathing picture of the lack of true science contained in, and the invalidity of, traditional forensic disciplines; the sole exception being DNA. The report did spawn the creation of the Federal Commission on Forensic Science, which has proven, over the last three years, to be a totally toothless tiger, accomplishing essentially nothing.
Now recently, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has issued an additional report that is highly condemning of current forensic practices. You can see the PCAST report here: pcast_forensic_science_report_final
HOWEVER, even in light of this recent report, both the FBI and the Department of Justice have stated they have no intention of changing the way they currently address forensics.
Please see the Intercept article, FBI AND DOJ VOW TO CONTINUE USING JUNK SCIENCE REJECTED BY WHITE HOUSE REPORT, by Jordan Smith here.
This from a recent story on Slate by Mark Joseph Stern: “The Arizona Supreme Court issued a stunning and horrifying decision on Tuesday, interpreting a state law to criminalize any contact between an adult and a child’s genitals. According to the court, the law’s sweep encompasses wholly innocent conduct, such as changing a diaper or bathing a baby.”
Not only that, but this law places the burden upon the accused to prove that there was no sexual intent. This throws presumption of innocence (innocent until proven guilty) out the window!
“Arizona prosecutors can now dangle the threat of a probable child molestation conviction to coerce any parent of a young child into taking a plea deal on unrelated charges. With the state Supreme Court’s help, Arizona’s child molestation laws have been weaponized into a tool for prosecutorial harassment, allowing the state to target any parent or caregiver—out of spite or malice, or simply to boost their conviction rates.”
Arizona has, once again, proven that the inmates are truly running the asylum. This is so absurd, it would be laughable – if it weren’t so tragic.
Please see the full story on Slate by Mark Joseph Stern here.
You may, or may not, have noticed that for quite some time, I have withdrawn from writing about SBS-related cases and issues (shaken baby syndrome). The reasons for this are many, complicated, and really of no consequence to the reader. However, a recent article about the role that child abuse pediatricians (CAP’s) play in these travesties of justice demands widespread exposure.
Please see our earlier post: The Child Abuse Pediatrician (CAP) – Just Another Term for Medical “Cop.”
The recent article by Monica Mears for the Health Impact News goes to the heart of the problem with CAP’s. This from the article: “More shocking are the many ways in which the medical profession and its child abuse pediatric specialty hide stereotyping, arrogance, abuse of authority and twisted “science” when it claims to “diagnose” child abuse – which is in fact a legal allegation, not truly a medical diagnosis.”
Please see the powerful and compelling Health Impact News story by Monica Mears here.
Anyone who has followed my stuff on this site knows that prosecutors are not my favorite people. This is not because they are inherently bad, evil people, but it’s because of what the structures and incentives of the justice system turn them into – personally ambitious and politically motivated inquisitors with practically ultimate power and little regard for true justice.
As I’ve studied prosecutorial abuses of the justice system over the last eight and a half years, there are two prosecutors that emerged as what I would term the “most vicious.” Those would be Anita Alvarez (Cook County, IL – Chicago) and Angela Corey (Florida 4th Judicial Circuit).
Anita Alvarez was defeated in her primary re-election bid last March. See our previous story on this here.
I can now also report that Angela Corey has lost her primary re-election bid to a challenger by a margin of 64% to 26%. Corey’s most infamous cases include the failure to convict George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the unfortunately successful and ugly conviction of Marissa Alexander for firing a warning shot at her abusive boyfriend. Please see the USA Today story here.
Johnson, Wheatt, Glover – this was the very first case I worked on with the Ohio Innocence Project eight and a half years ago. At the time, it was a GSR case (gunshot residue). The GSR evidence was always highly questionable, but it was a major factor in their conviction. As it turns out, not only was the GSR evidence bogus, but the case is also an example of egregious prosecutorial misconduct.
Please see the story by Maurice Possley on the National Registry of Exonerations website here.
I hope that by now, everybody knows that Debra Milke, previously convicted and inprisoned in Maricopa County, AZ, for contracting the murder of her young son, has been exonerated.
We’ve posted about the Debra Milke case on this blog several times previously. In chronological order – here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (The red link is particularly germane to the subject of this post.)
Pursuant to her wrongful conviction, wrongful imprisonment (22 years on death row), and eventual exoneration, Debra filed suit with five claims against four defendants, including two former Phoenix police officers and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (Bill Montgomery), stating that that she was denied a fair trial and due process of law. The two police officers and the Maricopa County Attorney filed a motion with the court to dismiss the suit. Judge Roslyn O. Silver of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona has denied the motion to dismiss, and is allowing the suit to go forward.
See the story from azcentral here.
You can read the decision by Senior United States District Judge Roslyn O. Silver here: 97-OrderreMotionstoDismiss
We have previously written about the Jack McCullough case here, here, and here.
Jack was convicted in 2012 of the 1957 abduction and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, IL. Jack was a neighbor of the Ridulph’s at the time. This used to be called the coldest case ever “solved.”
The current DeKalb County prosecutor, Richard Schmack, felt ethically compelled to review the case, and determined that evidence proved Jack could not be guilty. Consequently, he filed a motion with the court to dismiss charges. Just this past April, Judge William Brady did dismiss the charges, but declined to do so “with prejudice.” This now leaves Jack vulnerable to being re-charged and re-tried. Maria Ridulph’s brother is continuing to seek appointment of a special prosecutor to re-open the case against Jack.
Now, a witness for the prosecution, who was incentivized to testify at Jack’s trial, has come forward to claim the the state did not live up to its part of the deal they made with him.
Well, if you’ve ever doubted the politically-driven and self-serving nature of the justice system, please see the recent CNN story HERE.
“Culture and law conspire to make prosecutors hostile to constitutional rights.”
Ken White is a former prosecutor who now practices criminal defense law. Consequently, he has unique insight into what causes prosecutors to act the way they do. As we have posited on this blog before, it’s not because prosecutors are inherently unethical or evil people (although the position does tend to attract people who seek power). It is the inescapable end result of how the justice system is set up and administered, and how the motivational incentives of the position are structured.
Mr. White has authored an article titled “Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor,” and you can see that article by Ken White on reason.com here.
This quote from the early section of the article:
“…. nobody taught me to think that way, and nobody had to. I learned it by watching how the system ground up clients indifferently and mercilessly. I learned it by watching prosecutors make the sorts of arguments and decisions I had made, and seeing how they actually impacted human lives. I learned it by watching prosecutorial suspicion—and even paranoia—from the wrong end. I learned it by watching how the system crushed indigent clients, and by how it could destroy the lives of even wealthy clients with minimal effort or cause.”
Until the day that prosecutors are rendered subject to meaningful oversight and sanctions for wrongdoing, and until the day that state-level prosecutors are no longer politically elected, we’re going to be stuck with this problem.
“Complete and Utter Failure of the Criminal Justice System.” Michigan Radio
Davontae Sanford was 14 years old when he confessed to a quadruple murder after a police interrogation that lasted two days. His parents were not contacted. He attempted to recant, but was convicted and sent to prison. It didn’t help that he had a do-nothing, incompetent defense attorney. (In my experience, bad defense attorneys are responsible for as many wrongful convictions as anything else.)
Eight years ago the real killer not only confessed, and said Davontae had nothing to do with it, but he also led police to the gun that was confirmed to be the murder weapon.
Finally, after eight years, the state of Michigan has overturned his conviction, and he has been released from prison.
See the CNN story here.
What the hell happened (or didn’t happen) here?! We have yet to hear an explanation from the state of Michigan. I can only sit here slack-jawed, shaking my head in disbelief.
Furthermore, I’ll make a prediction. We’ll hear some kind of non-specific boilerplate excuses from authorities, but nothing substantive or fundamental will change in the system as a result of this. A few people may get a “wrist slap,” but then the whole thing will sink into the murky political-bureaucratic swamp and disappear.
If you were able to read my recent article, Comment on the Nature and State of the (US) Justice System, you’ll know that I bemoaned the fact that the justice system has become an end unto itself, and gets itself (and defendants) endlessly tangled up in “procedure,” ignoring actual guilt or innocence. And if you’re an actually innocent, wrongfully convicted defendant, the situation gets ten times worse.
Interestingly, here is a recent article from InjusticeWatch that underscores much of what I had to say.
Over the decades, driven by political expediency, “the law” has become ever more complex, restrictive, and punitive. U.S. Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski stated, “We need to repeal three felonies a day for three years.”
In Alaska, they haven’t repealed any felonies, but the state legislature has enacted a law to bring a higher level of common sense and fair treatment to the Alaska criminal justice system – Alaska Senate Bill 91. With a recidivism rate in excess of 60% in Alaska, they finally figured out that continuing to put people in prison with long sentences for just about any offense is not working.
The bill incorporates recommendations of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission to adopt data-driven and research-based criminal justice reforms. These reforms include:
- A new risk-based system for release of defendants from jail pretrial, and supervision of those defendants in the community;
- Sentencing reforms that focus prison beds for serious violent offenders;
- And evidence-based practices to strengthen probation and parole supervision.
See the Alaska Dispatch News story here.
Last report was that the bill was awaiting transmittal to the governor.
It’s long, long past time that the legislators around the country started actually looking at the DATA and RESEARCH on criminal issues before they go passing knee-jerk, blatantly political criminal justice legislation. Hats off to Alaska for this. At least it’s a step in the right direction.
While writing the latest post about Jack McCullough‘s exoneration, and while reading Courtney Bisbee‘s latest filing with the US District Court for Arizona, I got to reflecting on my experiences with the justice system over the past eight years, and I thought I would share some of my (unvarnished) observations. Clearly, this will be very editorial. It will probably help to understand my comments to know that I am not an attorney. I am an engineer by training, and that’s what I did for my entire working career – until I started doing innocence work pro bono. So I see the justice system with the naivete’ of someone who is an “outsider” and is not a functionary of the system; but I do see the system as someone who has spent his entire life founded in objective truth and logic and fact. Again, this article will be editorial in nature, and represents my views and only my views. It will also be pretty bleak; however, I see no viable path to fixing the monster we’ve created over the course of multiple decades of politics and the frailties of human nature. This has been bottled up inside me for some time, and the cork has finally popped. And just for reference, my definition of the justice system includes the law, legislators, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the police.
We’ve been posting here about the exoneration of Jack McCullough in the 1957 abduction and murder of then 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, IL. The current DeKalb County prosecutor, Richard Schmack, felt ethically compelled to review the case, and determined that evidence proved Jack could not be guilty. Consequently, he filed a motion with the court to dismiss charges with prejudice; meaning that Jack could not be charged and tried for the crime again. For previous posts, please see here, here, here, and here.
Judge William Brady did dismiss the charges, but declined to do so “with prejudice.” This now leaves Jack vulnerable to being re-charged and re-tried. See the latest CNN story here.
And so grinds the justice system. And now with the decision by the judge not to dismiss with prejudice, there is a petition going around Sycamore, IL calling for the appointment of a “special prosecutor.” Despite facts, logic, and reason, people will just not give up their biases, beliefs, and prejudices. And just as an aside, prosecutor Schmack can probably ‘kiss goodbye’ to any chance of being re-elected – all because he did the right thing. Such is politics, and such is the justice system. And we can only speculate about how politics in this ultra-high-profile case may have influenced the decision of the judge.
In our recent post about the exoneration of Jack McCullough (see here), we made special note of the fact that a prosecution is not supposed to be just about ‘winning’ for the prosecutor. It’s supposed to be about seeing that true justice is done. A new article by Radley Balko in the Washington Post is an excellent follow-on to that post.
Please see the recent piece by Radley Balko in the Washington Post here:
I have long been dismayed by the state of ethics within the prosecutorial community. Here is just one more example of why. This one stretches the limits of credibility to the point of being sadly laughable.
Between 2010 and 2014, prosecutors in Colorado conducted what was called the “Justice Review Project,” which was federally funded for $2.6 million. The objective was to review over 5,000 convictions to determine if DNA testing could prove any of the defendants actually innocent.
The “Project” consisted entirely of prosecutorial staff, with the exception of the “Review Board,” which did have representation from the legal defense community. However, there was only one case that ever came before the review board, and that case was imposed upon the “Project” by outside defense counsel, which had already paid for independent DNA testing. This one case was also the only one out of over 5,000 that the “Project” determined was suitable for DNA testing. The “Project’s” selection criteria had been set up to allow off-hand disqualification of essentially every case.
The prosecutors then went on to claim (boast) that the “Project” proved that the Colorado justice system is infallible, and that Colorado prosecutors “get it right the first time” all the time. Not only that, but they also had the unmitigated gall to state in their final report on the “Project” that the one case in which DNA was tested (which they had forced on them), and proved innocence, was their “crowning achievement.”
Now the prosecutors are refusing to release (hiding) records of the “Project.” So, the Exoneration Project is suing in Denver District Court to have the records released.
See the Colorado Independent story here.
Photo: Chicago Sun-Times
See our recent post on this case here.
An Illinois judge has freed Jack McCullough from prison, and ordered a new trial. Jack was convicted in 2012 of the 1957 abduction and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, IL. Jack was a neighbor of the Ridulph’s at the time. This used to be called the coldest case ever “solved.” And I guess we can now call it an “exoneration,” since the prosecutor has indicated his intention to have the charges against Jack dismissed with prejudice; meaning Jack can never be brought back into court for this crime again.
CNN just published an article that includes an interview with Jack. This very insightful comment from that interview:
“People have to realize, it’s not about winning. It’s about justice. And this brave man — I probably shouldn’t talk about him at all — but he put his career on the line for me,” McCullough said. He thought a moment and carefully chose the words that followed:
“It isn’t about winning a case, it’s about justice. And God bless the man who stood up for justice. He’s probably going to pay a penalty for that because to everyone else it’s about winning. But it’s not about winning. It’s about doing the right thing.”
Let me add the editorial note that this is where politically ambitious, politically elected prosecutors get it wrong. It’s not supposed to be about “winning.” It’s supposed to be about seeing that justice is done. But … winning is much more important for your political record than is providing true justice. The prosecutor in this case is a rare and marvelous exception to that rule.
See the CNN story with the interview here.