Until Proven Innocent: Life after prison for 3 men now free after wrongful conviction
He lost 11 years after a wrongful conviction. Who can blame Kerry Porter for being angry?
Until Proven Innocent: Life after prison for 3 men now free after wrongful conviction
He lost 11 years after a wrongful conviction. Who can blame Kerry Porter for being angry?
Philadelphia’s newly minted district attorney, Larry Krasner, was meeting constituents in a packed church in West Philadelphia earlier this month to discuss his plans for the job. The meeting was unique in that it quickly revealed to community members what local civic leaders and officials have already learned about Krasner: He is making good on his promise to revolutionize the job of district attorney and, in the process, offering an extraordinary experiment in criminal justice reform at the municipal level that could serve as a national model.
In the church, queries and complaints from constituents that might have made his predecessors cringe were softballs for Krasner: a loved one has been wrongfully incarcerated? Send the case to the revamped Conviction Review Unit, a sort of in-house innocence project. How can lying officers be kept off the stand? He has staff working to verify and expand a formerly secret “do not call” list of 29 suspect officers. Late in the meeting, one elderly woman asked a question that cuts to the core of concerns for those who doubt Krasner’s reforms: What would he do about the drug dealers and users on her street that make her feel unsafe? He didn’t miss a beat: “The past solution was to lock [corner drug dealers] all up and that didn’t work. We have to go after root cause,” he says. This came after an extended riff promising “to go after doctors, and pharmaceutical corporations” for their role in the nation’s opioid crisis. Notably, his office had already initiated legal proceedings against some of those pharmaceutical companies.
Back on the campaign trail last year, Krasner, a former civil rights and criminal defense attorney who had been best known for suing police officers, offered a stump speech that condemned the criminal justice system for being racist and for criminalizing poverty and addiction. He was an unusual candidate to be the city’s top law enforcer. Voters swept him into office. Now, two months into his term, DA Krasner is virtually undistinguishable from candidate Krasner.
Read about the reforms Krasner is making here
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It is too easy to convict an innocent person. The rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be somewhere between 2% to 10%. That may sound low, but when applied to a prison population of 2.3 million, the numbers become staggering. Can there really be 46,000 to 230,000 innocent people locked away? Those of us who are involved in exoneration work firmly believe so.
Millions of defendants are processed through our courts each year. It’s nearly impossible to determine how many of them are actually innocent once they’ve been convicted. There are few resources for examining the cases and backgrounds of those claiming to be wrongfully convicted.
Over the past 25 years, the Innocence Project, where I serve on the board of directors, has secured through DNA testing the release of 349 innocent men and women, 20 of whom had been sent to death row. All told, there have been more than 2,000 exonerations, including 200 from death row, in the U.S. during that same period. But we’ve only scratched the surface.
John Grisham continues by discussing the 8 major reasons for wrongful convictions. Read his 8 reasons here.
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Experts in forensics, statistics and the law will convene for a conference at the University of Virginia School of Law on March 26 to mark the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc., which reshaped how judges evaluate scientific and expert evidence.
Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York will deliver the keynote address at noon. The conference begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Law School’s Caplin Pavilion.
The Daubert ruling coincided with a surge in scientific research relevant to criminal cases, including the development of modern DNA testing that both exonerated hundreds of individuals and provided more accurate evidence of guilt.
“Leading scientific commissions have pointed out real shortcomings in the use of forensic evidence in the courtroom,” said professor Brandon Garrett, a participant in the conference and a principal investigator for the Law School’s Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensics Evidence, or CSAFE, projects. “The CSAFE collaboration, extending across four universities, including UVA, has been working with generous support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to research these questions.”
Panelists will discuss how to develop better forensic evidence, how to analyze it more accurately in the crime lab and how to present it more effectively in criminal cases. Several contributions will be published in a special symposium issue of the Virginia Journal of Criminal Law.
The conference is sponsored by the Virginia Journal of Criminal Law and the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence.
The talks are free and open to the public. Attendees may contact Garrett at email@example.com or (434) 924-4153 for more information.
Click here for more information on the speakers and schedule.
Citing a rise in wrongful-conviction claims by inmates, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is launching a unit of veteran prosecutors to review the integrity of past convictions, joining a small but growing number of prosecutorial agencies around the country devoting resources to identify innocent prisoners.
Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey is asking county supervisors for nearly $1 million to fund the new team, which would include three prosecutors, a senior investigator and a paralegal.
In seeking the funds, Lacey’s office said it wanted to keep up with an increasing number of wrongful-conviction claims that have followed the advent of similar units around the country, a growing number of innocence projects and heightened publicity surrounding innocence claims, county spokesman Dave Sommers said.
Innocence project groups and others hailed the move, saying that it would send a dramatic statement that the office is serious about reversing injustices and could spur the creation of similar units in smaller counties across California.
“This is exactly what should happen in every district attorney’s office in America,” said Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law in San Diego. “We all have the same goal: to make sure the right people are in prison.”
Read more on the proposal here
Should lawyers share evidence before criminal trials? Va. Supreme Court considers changes to discovery rules
Kansas man wrongfully imprisoned [based on prosecutorial misconduct] for 23 years receives no compensation from state
In an announcement late Friday, Harris County, Texas, District Attorney Kim Ogg revealed that a former prosecutor had withheld a key email that could have prevented Alfred Dewayne Brown from receiving the death penalty.
As the Houston Chronicle writes, the email helped establish “a clear alibi” for Brown, who was convicted in a high-profile murder case in 2005 that landed him a death sentence.
Brown always maintained his innocence, and spent nearly 10 years on death row before his case was dismissed in 2015 and his conviction overturned. According the Chronicle, the 36-year-old Brown later sued a slew of Harris County officials, including the DA’s office, the prosecutor and police officer who handled the murder case, accusing them of hiding and falsifying evidence against him and violating his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.
The new e-mail, which came to light because of Brown’s lawsuit, backs up his claims, showing that the prosecutor at the time, Dan Rizzo, was aware of evidence that could exculpate Brown.
Read more about the withheld information and Brown’s case here
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HUNTINGTON – Newly tested DNA evidence would exonerate some men convicted in the 2002 murder of 21-year-old Deanna L. Crawford and might instead point to someone who has a history of abuse, according to documents filed with the Cabell County circuit clerk this week.
Phillip Scott Barnett, 37; his brother Nathaniel Barnett; and Justin Keith Black, 34, who are working with the Chicago-based Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School and West Virginia Innocence Project, are asking their convictions be overturned and for new trials.
Crawford was found Aug. 8, 2002, in Salt Rock by two men walking along Hickory Ridge Road.
Investigators believed her death had followed an Aug. 5, 2002, party at Justin Black’s house. That evening involved drinking alcohol, playing video games and a vehicle ride that turned violent. The motivation for her death remains a mystery.
Crawford’s family then waited more than six years for an arrest.
The request for a new trial comes nearly two years after Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred E. Ferguson approved a request for possibly exonerating DNA evidence to be tested.
Read more about the trial, appeal, and DNA results here
Radio Atlantic: How Innocence Becomes Irrelevant
Some Missouri lawmakers want to privatize the public defender system. For one county, it starts March 1.
[On 2-21-18] Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Rod Rosenstein gave a plenary address at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences where he outlined plans that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would be implementing regarding forensic sciences. While short on details, his remarks renew concerns that the DOJ is backtracking on progress to ensure that forensic disciplines are guided by the best science and that safeguards were enacted to insulate practitioners from law enforcement influence.
“We’ve known since 2009 that there are problems with the scientific validity of forensic disciplines used to identify suspects with the exception of DNA evidence. Yet after this administration shut down the National Commission of Forensic Science — the first inclusive and transparent effort to address these fundamental flaws in evidence that is used in countless prosecutions across the nation — there was no mention by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein of how the Department of Justice plans to address this core validity problem,” said Chris Fabricant, director of Strategic Litigation at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.
Read more about DAG Rosenstein’s announcement and concerns here.
I Sent an Innocent Man to Prison. A juror’s regret.
Criminal justice reformers aim big by targeting local DA races
A former Naperville resident who spent two decades imprisoned for arson and murder in the death of his mother-in-law was acquitted of those crimes Wednesday by a DuPage County judge who called the case “fatally compromised.”
As Judge Liam Brennan was finishing reading his ruling in the retrial of William Amor, the defendant — aware he was about to be found not guilty — let his head drop and took off his glasses a moment later to wipe away tears. Lauren Kaeseberg, one Amor’s attorneys from the Illinois Innocence Project, who was seated next to Amor, quietly placed her hand on his back.
“I’ve always been hopeful. I’ve always thought essentially that the system would do the right thing,” Amor, 62, said afterward. “It’s unfortunate it took 22 years.”
Amor thanked Brennan, who vacated Amor’s 1997 murder conviction last year in the wake of advances in fire science that undercut his 1995 confession. Amor had been out on bond since May.
Following closing arguments earlier this month, Brennan set Wednesday for his ruling to give himself time to review evidence, which included testimony from three arson experts.
A prosecution expert had testified that he believed the Sept. 10, 1995, fire that killed Marianne Miceli, 40, was set using an open flame on a living room cloth chair. But the judge said that opinion presented a highly unlikely timeline of how the fire spread.
Read more about the case and junk science here
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When Jennifer Brown isn’t working on compliance issues like food and product safety or on environmental health issues for Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc., she’s been known to spend hours at a time scouring court documents from cases involving those held behind bars in the Pacific Northwest.
In fact, she dedicated more than 40 hours of her time last year to looking through court filings and trial transcripts from just one individual case.
Brown is one of the Amazon in-house lawyers who have volunteered their time to do pro bono work for Innocence Project Northwest, a nonprofit that provides legal services for prisoners hoping to prove their innocence.
The organization helps combat wrongful convictions in the state of Washington and, to date, has assisted in 14 exonerations. It works independently of other similar groups, including the well-known Innocence Project based in New York—though the two have similar goals.
So, how did members of Amazon’s legal team get to work behind the scenes on wrongful conviction cases that look a bit like those chronicled in famous podcasts like “Serial” or documentaries like “Making a Murderer” or “West of Memphis”? It started at the top of the department.
Malcolm Alexander, who was just 21 years old when he was wrongfully convicted of aggravated rape and sentenced to life in Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola), was released from prison Monday after Jefferson Parish Judge June Darensburg overturned his conviction.
In February 1980, Alexander had a consensual sexual encounter with a white woman who asked him for money and later accused him of sexual assault.
Even though the woman’s charges were unsubstantiated and no charges were ever filed against Alexander, authorities had his photo on file.
Gretna police showed the antique-store owner Alexander’s picture, and she “tentatively” identified him as her assailant out of hundreds of photos shown to her. Three days later, police placed Alexander in a lineup, and by that time, the store owner was “sure” that he was the man who had attacked her.
This was four months after she was attacked in the dark, from behind, at gunpoint. Alexander was the only man in the lineup whose picture had also been in the photo array.
Research has shown that multiple identification procedures can contaminate a witness’s memory, causing a witness to become confused about whether he or she recognizes the person from the event or the earlier procedure, while also making the witness more confident in his or her identification.
After a trial that lasted one day—during which Alexander’s attorney, Joseph Tosh, failed to make an opening statement or call any witnesses for the defense, and failed to adequately cross-examine the state’s witnesses about the identification—Alexander was sentenced to life in prison on Dec. 10, 1980.
Still, he never stopped insisting that he was innocent.
Read the rest of Alexander’s story here
BY SARAH TURBERVILLE AND LARS TRAUTMAN, OPINION CONTRIBUTORS — 02/12/18 12:10 PM EST
Our Sixth Amendment right to counsel is one of our chief defenses against the power of the government to take the property, the liberty — and in some cases, the life — of the accused. Yet it is sadly and routinely abused by the government. The well-documented failure of state and local governments to respect this critical constitutional right has resulted in unjust convictions, hurt public safety and cost taxpayers dearly.
Unfortunately, it came to light last Thursday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has effectively shuttered the Access to Justice Office, the very section of the Department of Justice that was created to help protect this essential constitutional right. While it is quite common for a new administration to shift priorities and reshuffle departments, the closure of this office is a real blow and should be reversed.
Each day, thousands of people are incarcerated in states, counties and municipalities without ever speaking to an attorney and in flagrant violation of their constitutional right to counsel. For those that do get an attorney, a defendant is too often assigned a lawyer beholden to the presiding judge to secure future court appointments, or one driven by financial incentives to dispose of the case quickly. Or, she may be represented by a public defender office, which is likely to be understaffed, underfunded, undertrained and overworked, and often lacking the oversight necessary to ensure constitutionally adequate representation.
The Access to Justice Office helped preserve our Sixth Amendment rights by intervening in cases challenging the denial of effective counsel to indigent defendants. Its work on behalf of the American people led to agreements by states and counties to reform their justice systems to ensure that people accused of crimes — including children — do not lose their constitutional rights simply because they are too poor to afford an attorney.
The move to effectively close the office is shortsighted, particularly for those concerned about public safety. Poor lawyering is the chief cause of wrongful conviction in almost a quarter of the cases in the National Registry of Exonerations. When law enforcement resources are misdirected at the innocent, guilty perpetrators remain at large, free to commit new crimes and harm new victims. As such, our Sixth Amendment crisis has the potential not only to harm those directly caught up in the criminal justice system, but society at large.