Category Archives: Commissions/Innocence Commissions/Governmental Case Review Agencies

How Janet Reno bolstered the innocence movement

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno was remembered for many things after her death this week. But one of her most important accomplishments was  greatly overlooked — how she fostered the innocence movement. Defense attorney James M. Doyle explains how in a column here.

New Zealand Supreme Court Judge calls for Criminal Review Body

supportnationNew Zealand has seen a few high profile miscarriages of justice in recent years, yet successive governments have ruled out the possibility of setting up a body – similar to the Criminal Cases Review Commision in the UK – to investigate potential miscarriages of justice. Justice William Young said courts could benefit from having a Criminal Cases Review Commission, like that established in the UK – an idea backed by the Police Association and most political parties. In a rare interview –  which you can listen to here: Supreme Court Judge interview – the Justice discusses welcoming the introduction of such a body – despite being recently dismissed by the Ministry of Justice.  There is also a handy guide to the New Zealand post-conviction relief here: Reviewing Criminal Cases. While in  2012 – Malcolm David Birdling published a PhD thesis examining the two systems (available here): Corrections of Miscarriages of Justice in New Zealand and England and Wales (PhD Thesis).

 

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Junk Science Reigns ____ So Much for True Science in the Courtroom

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.

Australia – still reliant upon flawed policing techniques.

7762600-3x2-940x627Australia is viewed by many as an idyllic continent, where people can feel safe, and the rule of law prevails. Yet despite being a first world nation, policing can often be outdated and primitive. The use of paid-informants, and the reliance upon supposed ‘jail-house’ confessions has been known to cause wrongful convictions for decades. Yet as recently as 2009, the police of New South Wales used a paid informant to secure a confession from a young vulnerable Sudanese refugee. This supposed confession was obtained while the young man believed the informant had been brought to him to offer support during questioning by the police.

Such tactics not only smack of the worst kind of trickery, they also provide the flimsiest of evidence upon which to base a prosecution. However, this is exactly what the prosecution in the murder case against JB – a Sudanese refugee aged 15 at the time – did. Not only did they rely upon this evidence, they then proceeded to cover it up. It was not disclosed at trial, nor at a subsequent appeal, that the man known as A107 was a police informant, who then avoided his own criminal charges after this assistance with the case against JB.

There is now – belatedly – an inquiry into the police – including the ‘editing’ of contemporaneous notes – and the prosecution (for non-disclosure). This comes 7 years after the jailing of an innocent teenager. The inquiry should be asking why the police, as recently as 2009, were using such methods to try and obtain confessions, and then conspiring to cover their methods up.

Read more here:

Probe launched into wrongful conviction of Sudanese refugee jailed over Edward Spowart murder

 

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Alaska Legislature Passes Common Sense Criminal Justice Reform

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.

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Colorado Prosecutors Practice ‘Spin’ and Deceit

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.

 

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“Conviction Integrity Units” – Foretelling the Future?

We’ve posted previously about our (my) high degree of skepticism regarding the actual integrity of, and motivations for, so-called “conviction integrity units” in prosecutors’ offices. Please see:

A Word About Conviction Integrity Units

Conviction Integrity Units – A Skeptic’s Perspective

In both of these articles we made note of the fact that the New Orleans District Attorney and the Innocence Project – New Orleans had agreed to establish a joint conviction integrity unit. This would be “ground breaking” for a prosecutor to team up with an innocence organization for this, because it would provide absolutely objective oversight of the CIU (which none of them have, because they are totally contained within the prosecutor’s office); and we said this will bear careful watching.

In the second of the above articles, we stated that when the conviction integrity units eventually start to be disbanded (which I believe they will), we will hear one of these reasons, or a combination of the two, as the justification:

1) We’ve fixed everything there was to fix, and we promise to behave ourselves in the future, so the CIU is no longer needed.

2) Budget constraints and the requirements of ongoing prosecutions force us to apply the resource devoted to the CIU to more urgent business.

Please see Mark Godsey’s “Quick Clicks” from Monday, Jan. 11, 2016 here for news that the project between the New Orleans District Attorney’s office and the Innocence Project – New Orleans to form a joint conviction integrity team has been abandoned. And the reason? Budget.

Hmmm. Really?

Final comment. The very existence of “conviction integrity units” begs the question – why? Because they can’t get it right the first time? But given that honest errors leading to a wrongful conviction may occur, leaving it to the prosecutors to correct their own mistakes and misdeeds is not the right way to do it. Having prosecutors oversee prosecutors is like having cops oversee cops, and we know how that works.