Category Archives: Conviction Integrity Units

4th of July Quick Clicks…

Exoneration and Freedom for Evin King in Ohio

Today, prosecutors in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland)  vacated the conviction of long-time Ohio Innocence Project client Evin King.  King was convicted in 1995 of murdering his girlfriend despite no direct evidence of guilt (eyewitness or forensic).  He always maintained his innocence, from arrest and trial and then throughout his 23 years of incarceration.

When he is released, which will hopefully be later this week, King will be the 25th person the OIP has freed on grounds of innocence since its founding in 2003.  Together the 25 innocent Ohioans spent more than 470 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

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Evin King prison photo

DNA testing confirmed that the semen found in the victim’s vaginal cavity after the attacked matched male skin cells found under her fingernails (a hand-to-hand struggle appeared to have taken place during the attack, as the victim was strangled).  This male DNA in both locations did NOT match Evin King, but rather, an unknown male.
[Watch this moving video of Assistant Clinical Professor Jennifer Bergeron informing Evin King, in prison, that he is about to regain his freedom after 23 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit…]
Prosecutors had for years failed to respond to King’s motions for relief, even after the exclusionary DNA test results were obtained.  And the trial court sat on King’s post-conviction motions for nearly a year-and-a-half before denying relief.  Fortunately, the 8th District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision last year and sent the case back to the trial court for a hearing, while specifically observing that the DNA evidence supports King’s innocence claim.  On Friday, the OIP learned that after newly-elected prosecutor Michael O’Malley took office in January, he put new prosecutors on the case to look into it with a fresh eye.  When O’Malley was later informed of the details of King’s case from these prosecutors, he ordered that King’s conviction be overturned and that he be released.
OIP Assistant Clinical Professor Jennifer Bergeron has represented King for many years, as did OIP staff attorney and Ohio Public Defender attorney Carrie Wood (now at the Cincinnati Public Defender’s Office).  OIP student fellows on the case include Taylor Freed, Katie Wilkin, Mallorie Thomas, Joe Wambaugh, Bryant Stayer, Steve Kelly, Morgan Keilholz, Jon Walker, Scott Leaman, Thomas Styslinger, John Markus, and Julie Payne.  The Ohio Public Defenders Office, particularly Kris Haines, worked on King’s case as well for many years.  King’s case is another example of the importance of determination and perseverance, as Bergeron, Wood, Haines, and the students never gave up even though at times King’s prospects appeared bleak given the initial stiff resistance of the trial court and the prosecutors.
OIP co-founder and director Mark Godsey said, “While the initial delay in obtaining justice for Mr. King is disturbing, Michael O’Malley and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office deserve credit for turning this case around and correcting an injustice.  As we have seen in other counties with other cases, prosecutors far too often fight back hard against an exoneration even when the evidence of innocence is strong.  But in several past cases in Cuyahoga County, and today with Evin King’s case, the prosecutors in Cleveland put justice above winning.  O’Malley’s involvement in the case since his recent election, along with his decision to put new prosecutors on the case, may have been the pivotal factor that secured freedom for an innocent man, and we are thankful for his heroic intervention.”

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

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.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Field-test errors may lead to thousands of wrongful drug convictions

At least 100,000 Americans plead guilty every year to drug-possession charges that rely on often-inaccurate field-test results as evidence. At that volume, even the most modest of error rates could produce thousands of wrongful convictions, yet police and prosecutors continue to rely on the tests, Pro Public reports here.

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Most Brooklyn wrongful convictions preventable, analyst says

Examination of the 19 Brooklyn Conviction Review Unit exoneree cases suggests that most of the wrongful convictions were highly preventable, City University of New York doctoral student Rakiya King says in a Viewpoints Column for The Crime Report. You can read her analysis here.

 

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Quattrone Center issues national report on best practices for Conviction Review Units

The University of Pennsylvania Law School has issued the following press release announcing the publication of Conviction Review Units: A National Perspective a report put together by it’s Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice…

The Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School has released the first national review of Conviction Review Units (CRUs, sometimes called Conviction Integrity Units), a growing trend in criminal justice reform. The publication,“Conviction Review Units: A National Perspective,” provides recommendations for best practices by CRUs.

Conviction Review Units are units within a district attorney’s office that exist to review plausible claims made by a convicted inmate that he or she is actually innocent of a crime. Americans have grown more aware of the number of individuals across the country who have been convicted of crimes they did not commit. As of April 18, 2016, the National Registry of Exonerations has identified 1,773 exonerees in the United States.

The recommendations in the Quattrone Center’s report will help jurisdictions with existing CRUs learn from their peers on ways to improve the operations of the Unit; help jurisdictions interested in starting a CRU consider the best structure, staffing, policies, and procedures for the Unit; and help communities advocate for high-quality CRUs that provide measurable and impactful reforms.

There are now over 25 CRUs across the United States, making them an increasingly important part of the criminal justice system’s response errors in the administration of justice. More than half of these CRUs have been created in the last two years, and because each unit has been an independent creation, there has been no guidance on how a Unit can best be constructed and operated to achieve its goals.

“It is encouraging that so many jurisdictions have declared a public commitment to conviction integrity,” said John Hollway, executive director of the Quattrone Center. “More and more DAs are accepting their role as ministers of justice. Beyond enforcing the laws, they are acknowledging the potential for human errors in the work they do, and using CRUs as part of a constant and ongoing commitment to accuracy in determinations of guilt and innocence. Our report hopes to enhance the work of these important organizations, and improve confidence in the criminal justice system.”

The report recommends that Conviction Review Units emphasize independence, flexibility, and transparency in their daily operations.

CRUs should ensure their independence by reporting directly to the District Attorney, installing leaders with firsthand prosecutorial and criminal defense experience who are respected within the jurisdiction’s criminal justice community, and including objective review participants from outside the DA’s office.

In addition, CRUs should have flexibility to deal with a wide variety of claims of innocence, providing procedural support for fact-based case reviews, reviewing each petition on its factual merits, and allowing for resubmission of a petition whenever additional credible evidence is brought to light.

Finally, CRUs should operate transparently, sharing information about its policies and procedures and decision-making criteria with the public and reporting in a regular and timely fashion on decisions made in cases that are granted review, as well as cases that may not be suitable for review.

“While I don’t believe that any CRU has embraced all of the best practices listed in the Quattrone Center’s report, it’s important that we as prosecutors share our experiences with conviction review and learn from each other, and this report provides unique insights into what is useful, and what may be difficult, in launching and running a CRU,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. Under District Attorney Thompson’s leadership, Brooklyn’s CRU has vacated the convictions of 19 people since Thompson took office in 2014.

“Good faith CRUs that operate with independence, flexibility, and transparency,” the report states, “can build bridges across what is too often a bitter ideological divide between prosecutors and defense counsel, and between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and restore the community’s faith that each part of the system is operating to ensure that perpetrators of crime — and only perpetrators of crime — are held accountable for their acts in ways that preserve the constitutional freedoms of all.”

The Quattrone Center is a national research and policy hub created to catalyze long term structural improvements to the U.S. criminal justice system. The center takes an interdisciplinary, data-driven, scientific approach to identifying and analyzing the most crucial problems in the justice system, and proposing solutions that improve its fairness for the long term benefit of society. Its research and programs are independent and unbiased, engaging all parties — academia, judiciary, law enforcement, defense and prosecution, legislative, forensic and social scientists, media, and other participants — required to effect substantial change for the better.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Jack McCullough Exoneration – The Continuing Update

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.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

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.