Category Archives: Legislation

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

New Attorney General Jeff Sessions “Tough on Crime”

The newly anointed US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, in his first major address has proclaimed a policy of “tough on crime” – particularly violent crime.

Here we go again – the “war on drugs” redux. How many prosecutors have been elected running on a “tough on crime” platform? I would say most, if not all.

So how do prosecutors “deliver” on their campaign promise of “tough on crime?” They arrest a lot of people, obtain a lot of indictments, secure a lot of convictions, and send a lot of people to prison. The only problem? A lot of these people may be actually innocent. But they’ve been scooped up into the frenzy of proving that law enforcement is “tough on crime.” People get convicted through intimidating and coercive plea bargains, phony evidence and false testimony, bad forensics, and police and prosecutor misconduct.

Criminal prosecution MUST rest upon the foundations of truth, logic, real evidence, and prosecutorial ethics – not upon hysteria hyped by politicians and the media.

You and see the CNN coverage of Mr. Sessions address here.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Prosecutorial Misconduct is Now a Felony in California

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.

 

Justice System Out of Control —- If You Change a Baby’s Diaper in Arizona, You Can Now be Convicted of Child Molestation.

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.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

We Are All Sex Offenders

This is incredibly powerful. A TEDx talk by Galen Baughman, who was released, by jury trial, from indefinite civil commitment for being a sex offender.

It’s 17 minutes. You have to watch this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYt-3fai-PI&feature=youtu.be

One quote from the talk that really struck me: [in today’s environment of sex offender laws, enforcement, and prosecution] “Your child has a higher probability of being put on the sex offender registry than ever being touched by a stranger.”

At Last. The Exonerated Get a Tax Break.

If you’ve been wrongfully convicted, and wrongfully spent years, if not decades, of your life in prison, you may or may not be entitled to compensation after exoneration. Thirty states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government provide some form of compensation to the wrongfully convicted. The conditions under which compensation is paid, and how much is paid, vary widely from state to state. And there are twenty states that provide nothing.

Now imagine this. You’ve been exonerated of a crime you never committed after spending many years in prison. You successfully sue the state for compensation, and then find out the federal government is going to levy income tax on your award. Does that sound right? Of course not, but that’s the way it’s been.

Thankfully, Congress has just passed The Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief Act of 2015, which will eliminate federal income tax on wrongful conviction compensation.

See the story from The Innocence Project here.

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Ohio Moving to Curtail Civil Asset Forfeiture

In many states, including Ohio, the police may seize and keep a person’s assets merely with evidence that “wrongdoing” has occurred. This includes cars, houses, boats, and cash. A person does not have to be convicted of a crime to suffer civil asset forfeiture, and in many instances “evidence of wrongdoing” is very subjectively interpreted by the police.

There is currently a bill moving through the Ohio legislature that would curtail this practice, and if passed, would require a conviction before the police could keep seized assets.

See the WCPO Cincinnati story here.

Criminal Law 2.0, by The Hon. Alex Kozinski (Why the US Justice System Really Isn’t Just)

Alex Kozinski is a judge on the U.S. Ninth Circuit. He has recently authored an article for the Georgetown Law Journal, which he simply titles “Criminal Law 2.0.” It is a comprehensive review and critique of the flaws and shortcomings of the current US justice system. My opinion is that this article is a masterpiece, a classic. Here is an experienced, seasoned, knowledgable justice system “insider” who has “figured it out.” And not only has he figured it out, but he also has some very good ideas about fixing the problems, or at least some of them. You can see the full text here: Kozinski, Criminal Law 2. I strongly encourage reading the full article.

Here is a topical summary: (Please see the full article for Judge Kozinski’s discussion of each point.)

A. The myths that cause us to think that the justice system is fair and just, when it’s really not.

  1. Eyewitnesses are highly reliable.
  2. Fingerprint evidence is foolproof.
  3. Other types of forensic evidence are scientifically proven and therefore infallible.
  4. DNA evidence is infallible.
  5. Human memories are reliable.
  6. Confessions are infallible because innocent people never confess.
  7. Juries follow instructions.
  8. Prosecutors play fair.
  9. The prosecution is at a substantial disadvantage because it must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
  10. Police are objective in their investigations.
  11. Guilty pleas are conclusive proof of guilt.
  12. Long sentences deter crime.

B. Recommendations for reform – Juries

  1. Give jurors a written copy of the jury instructions.
  2. Allow jurors to take notes during trial and provide them with a full trial transcript.
  3. Allow jurors to discuss the case while the trial is ongoing.
  4. Allow jurors to ask questions during the trial.
  5. Tell jurors up-front what’s at stake in the case.
  6. Give jurors a say in sentencing.

C. Recommendations for reform – Prosecutors

  1. Require open file discovery.
  2. Adopt standardized, rigorous procedures for dealing with the government’s disclosure obligations.
  3. Adopt standardized, rigorous procedures for eyewitness identification.
  4. Video record all suspect interrogations.
  5. Impose strict limits on the use of jailhouse informants.
  6. Adopt rigorous, uniform procedures for certifying expert witnesses and preserving the integrity of the testing process.
  7. Keep adding conviction integrity units.
  8. Establish independent Prosecutorial Integrity Units.

D. Recommendations for reform – Judges

  1. Enter Brady compliance orders in every criminal case.
  2. Engage in a Brady colloquy.
  3. Adopt local rules that require the government to comply with its discovery obligations without the need for motions by the defense.
  4. Condition the admission of expert evidence in criminal cases on the presentation of a proper Daubert showing.
  5. When prosecutors misbehave, don’t keep it a secret.

E. Recommendations for reform – General

  1. Abandon judicial elections.
  2. Abrogate absolute prosecutorial immunity.
  3. Repeal AEDPA § 2254(d). (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act)
  4. Treat prosecutorial misconduct as a civil rights violation.
  5. Give criminal defendants the choice of a jury or bench trial.
  6. Conduct in depth studies of exonerations.
  7. Repeal three felonies a day for three years. (Refers to the fact that there are too many vague, overlapping laws on the books.)

I would add two more to the General category:

•  Have all trial counsel, prosecution and defense, sworn in at the beginning of every trial.

•  Abandon political election of prosecutors.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

The New Jersey legislature has passed a bill that will increase the availability of DNA testing for all inmates claiming to have been wrongfully convicted…

The Michigan Supreme Court has granted a new trial for a Michigan Innocence Project client Leo Ackley…

Rhode Island expands law to allow DNA testing for those convicted of any violent crime…

Steve Wax of the Oregon Innocence Project explains the new Oregon DNA testing law

Sharing Views on Prosecutorial Reform

If you’ve read much of my stuff on this blog, you must know that prosecutors, as a group, are not my favorite people. I am a person driven by logic, fairness, reason, and justice. Given their position, I would expect prosecutors to be the same. After all, they’re supposed to be “ministers of justice,” but my observation is that it’s so often not the case. I will grant that because of the work that I do, I routinely have exposure to prosecutorial behavior that is less than ethical, is not in the interest of true justice, and is sometimes just criminal. And because they’re “prosecutors,” they get away with it. I do not believe that prosecutors are inherently evil and unethical people; but they are human beings, subject to all the same human frailties that we all are. In fact, I believe their behavior is exactly what you would expect, given the incentives built into the system and the power with which they are endowed. What the actual extent of this problem is I’m sure we’ll never know, but I do know that I see it routinely, and I can only report what I observe.

As background, it would be helpful for you to see our earlier post regarding prosecutorial misconduct from two years ago: Prosecutorial Misconduct – What’s to be Done? A Call to Action. And as an update to this article, the National Registry of Exonerations now totals 1,618 wrongful convictions overturned as of this writing, and 46% of those had “official misconduct” as a contributing factor.

Continue reading

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Jennifer Thompson Promotes the Justice for All Act

Jennifer Thompson has been featured on the WCB before.  She authored, along with Ronald Cotton, the book Picking Cotton.  Ms. Thompson incorrectly identified Ronald Cotton as the man who raped her, and Cotton spent 11 years in prison before DNA proved he was not guilty.  After his release, Ronald and Jennifer became friends, and co-authored the book, which chronicles the events of the rape and the wrongful conviction.

Ms. Thompson has recently written an op-ed for The Hill in support of reauthorization of the Justice for All Act to ensure that post-conviction DNA testing remains accessible.

See the original posting on The Hill here.  The text of her piece appears below:

October 26, 2014
Harm multiplies when the innocent are wrongly convicted
By Jennifer Thompson

In June of 1995, I found myself on a journey I never wanted, never asked for and never would have wished on another human being. I learned that the man whom I had identified in court as my rapist – the man whose face, breath and evilness I had dreamt about for 11 years – was innocent. The man whom I believed had destroyed me that night, who had stolen everything from me, and whom I hated with an all-consuming rage had lost 4000 days, eleven Christmases, eleven birthdays, and relationships with loved ones. And on June 30th of 1995, Ronald Cotton, the man I had hated and prayed for to die, walked out of prison a free and innocent man.

My rage and hatred had been misplaced. I was wrong. I had sent an innocent man to prison. A third of his life was over, and the shame, guilt and fear began to suffocate me. I had let down everyone — the police department, the district attorney’s office, the community, the other women who became victims of Bobby Poole, and especially Ronald Cotton and his family.

Several years after Ronald was freed, I received a phone call from Bobby Poole’s last victim. I remember hearing her story about what happened to her and realizing that we all had left him on the streets to commit further crimes – rapes — that we possibly could have prevented if Ronald had not been locked up for something he had never done. The knowledge that Mr. Poole had been left at liberty to hurt other women paralyzed me and sent me into a backward spiral that took years to recover from. This journey has taught me that the impact of wrongful convictions goes so much further than a victim and the wrongfully convicted. The pool of victims from 1984 was huge – me, Ron, the police department, our families, and the other women who became victims of Bobby Poole all suffered.

This case crystalized for me why it is so important to have laws in place that protect the innocent. Those laws would be important enough if they only protected the innocent, but they do so much more. They also protect the potential victims of real perpetrators, the families and children of the wrongfully convicted person, and – ultimately – the victim who learns the truth.

The Justice for All Act, which is up for reauthorization by Congress, allows men like Ronald to obtain post-conviction DNA testing that can lead to their freedom and to the conviction of the guilty. Without access to such testing, innocent men will remain in prison, real perpetrators will remain free, and new victims will have to experience the same horrors and indignities that I did. I urge Congress to pass the Justice For All Act now so that we can live in a world where the truly guilty are behind bars and the innocent are free.

Thompson is the co-author with Ronald Cotton of the book Picking Cotton, a memoir they wrote together after DNA testing proved that Cotton had been wrongly convicted of raping Thompson as a college student.

California Governor Vetoes Bill to Protect the Innocent

Jerry Brown, the same California Governor who recently signed an ‘anti-junk science forensics bill‘ into law, has vetoed a bill that would provide protection for the innocent, and hold prosecutors “mildly” more accountable.

The vetoed bill would have allowed judges to inform juries when prosecutors had been caught intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence, which is already a breach of ethics and arguably illegal.  Note that the bill did not even include sanctions for ethics-breaching prosecutors.

See the San Francisco Examiner story here.

See the Washington Post story here.