Category Archives: Legislation

New York passes massive innocence reform bill…

From The Innocence Project:

(Albany, NY — April 10, 2017) – The New York Legislature has passed the FY18 budget that incorporated reforms which will greatly reduce wrongful convictions. Specifically, these changes will mandate law enforcement to record interrogations and adopt standardized best practices for conducting police lineups, and respective safeguards to prevent false confessions and eyewitness misidentifications.

“We applaud lawmakers in Albany for taking a tremendous step forward in protecting New Yorkers from wrongful convictions,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “I want to especially thank the governor for sticking by these key reforms right through the end of this process, and Assemblyman Joe Lentol for championing the wrongful conviction bill over the past 10 years.”

“The provisions mandating the recording of interrogations are some of the most stringent in the country, which we know will makes a huge difference in preventing false confessions,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project. “The new rules for identification procedures, which require that the lineups be conducted by an officer that is unaware of the identity of the suspect, include the most critical reforms. These changes will immediately make a tremendous difference in establishing a reliable and accurate criminal justice system.”

There have been 224 wrongful convictions overturned in New York. In the 30 that have DNA-based evidence, misidentification or false confession played roles in all of them. This ultimately means that every time someone is wrongfully convicted and incarcerated, the person who committed the crime went free, posing a threat to public safety and committing more crimes.

“This has been a long time coming for those of us who have suffered the horror of being imprisoned for a crime someone else committed. No financial settlement or words can replace the decades stolen from us and our families. However, knowing we have finally changed New York law gives us some solace and hope for the future,” said Yusef Salaam, a member of the Central Park Five and now an advocate for interrogation reform.

“We have worked over the years to make sure that what happened to us 28 years ago doesn’t happen to anyone else. It’s incredible to know we finally have made a difference, and maybe our conviction, as terrible as it was, has some meaning,” said Raymond Santana, also a Central Park Five exoneree and New York advocate.

Kevin Richardson, also exonerated of the notorious Central Park jogger rape case, and now a criminal justice advocate added, “If this had been law when we were interrogated, we may have never seen the inside of a prison, but now we can say, these long–awaited changes shows New York’s commitment to preventing the crime of putting innocent people behind bars and allowing the guilty to remain free.”

Rebecca Brown, policy director for the Innocence Project added, “Getting this critical legislation passed wouldn’t have been possible without the help of many people, but especially New York exonerees who never missed an opportunity to explain to lawmakers why these reforms are needed to prevent other people from being wrongly convicted.”

New York has 35 exoneration cases that involved false confessions and 76 where witness misidentification was a factor. If electronic recording of entire custodial interrogations had already been adopted, these numbers would likely be much lower. Recording is the most commonly recommended safeguard against wrongful convictions stemming from false confessions. It deters against coercive or illegal interrogation practices and alerts investigators, judges and jurors if suspects have mental illness, intellectual disabilities or other vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to false confessions.

The U.S. Department of Justice, National Academy of Sciences and International Association of Chiefs of Police all recommend identification best practices—which includes using a “blind administrator” who is unaware of the suspect’s identity to conduct a lineup and therefore unable to provide unintentional cues—for reducing the risk of eyewitness misidentification.

“We applaud the governor, the legislative leaders and the entire legislature for passing this law to address wrongful convictions, by requiring video recording of custodial interrogations involving serious crimes and reforming eyewitness identification procedures—a long-standing legislative priority of the New York State Bar Association,” New York State Bar Association President Claire P. Gutekunst commented. “The new law is a positive step toward addressing wrongful convictions and rebuilding public trust and confidence in New York’s criminal justice system. It is essential to ensure that those who are innocent of crimes remain free and that the guilty are not free to commit more crimes. Wrongful convictions erode that fundamental tenet of our society.”

“Today, we embrace the passage of the New York Budget. In 2008, I first testified for the passage of legislation that required the electronic recording of interrogations.  Year after year, when called upon, I testified before the senate, assembly, city council—anywhere my voice could be heard.  Hopefully, from this day forward, interrogations will be recorded and we can avoid as many wrongful convictions as possible,” said Marty Tankleff, a New York exoneree, attorney and advocate.

Judge Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals remarked: “I could not be more delighted that the wrongful conviction legislation for which we have fought for so long has finally passed. I salute the Innocence Project for its stellar leadership and unswerving commitment to ensuring that this day would come to pass. The work of the Innocence Project and the court system’s own Justice Task Force paved the way for this monumental achievement. Today, New York moves one step closer to making the ideal of equal justice a reality each and every day in our state.”

New York has now joined 20 additional states that employ the blind administration of lineups and is 1 of 22 states that require the recording of interrogations.

This critical budget bill had recently gained strong support from the New York Hotel Trades Council and their President Peter Ward, placing their efforts behind what has been a decade-long advocacy campaign for the Innocence Project.

Many players have helped see this bill to fruition and it would not have been possible without the help of the New York State Bar Association and former president Glenn Lau-Kee;  Peter Ward and the New York Hotel Trades Council; Families of the Wrongfully Convicted and Lonnie Soury;  Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Jarrett Adams, Sharonne Salaam, Marty Tankleff, Jeff Deskovic, Johnny Hincapie, David McCallum, Derrick Hamilton, Shabaka Shakur, Steven Barnes, Sylvia Barnes, Frank Sterling, Al Newton, Fernando Bermudez, Everton Wagstaffe, Doug Warney, Kevin Smith, Dewey Bozella, Barry Gibbs and Alice Lopez, widow of William Lopez.

 

Federal Judge Overturns Arizona’s Diaper Changing Child Molestation Law

Arizona’s justice system is truly something to behold. After all, it’s the home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And get this – Arizona’s Attorney General and Maricopa County’s Attorney have publicly stated that there are “no” wrongful convictions and “no” Brady violations in Arizona. Really?!   Arizon Bradypdf

But here’s one for the books. Arizona actually has a law that says anyone who knowingly and intentionally touches a child’s genitals is guilty of child molestation – without a requirement of sexual intent. So anyone who changes a child’s diaper or bathes a child can be charged with child molestation. All it takes is a vindictive spouse or partner, or even just a casual witness (eg: changing a baby’s diaper in a public restroom) to make a charge. And as you certainly would guess, numerous innocent parents and caregivers have been ensnared by this law.

When the Arizona legislature wrote and passed the law, they specifically removed the requirement for sexual intent. The governor signed it, and the Arizona Supreme Court upheld it.

Recently Federal District Judge Neil V. Wake, in a testy opinion, ruled the law unconstitutional. See that ruling here.  Thank goodness sanity has prevailed. Hopefully this will eventually lead to relief for all those wrongfully imprisoned by this bogus statute.

Last week Judge Wake also overturned the conviction of Stephen May, a school teacher and swim instructor, who was convicted largely based upon this law’s definition of child molestation.  See the article by Jacob Sullum on Reason.com  here.

See the story by Mark Joseph Stern writing for Slate here.

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Maine law makers consider expanding timeframe for inmates to bring innocence petitions with new evidence beyond current one-year limit; prosecutors oppose.
  • New study suggests that when indigent defendants get to choose their public defender, the system works better
  • A new bill under consideration in Montana would require prosecutors to tell defendants that they plan to use an incentivized witness and the terms of the deal made in exchange for testimony. It also would allow defense counsel to request a pre-trial hearing where a judge can weigh the credibility of the testimony and if there is enough other evidence to corroborate the witness’ story. The judge could then choose to bar the testimony as inadmissible or issue a jury instruction, similar to how courts currently review the credibility of some scientific witnesses before a trial starts.
  • Dallas’ exonerees mission to free the wrongfully convicted is the focus of a new film

Maryland Justice Professional Opposes Revisiting Death Penalty

“At a time when there are calls for criminal justice reform, it is important to ensure any reforms are based on sound research and data-driven, fact-based information. Calls for re-establishment of the death penalty in Maryland are not based on the aforementioned.” — Karl Bickel

Karl Bickel, a career law enforcement officer and former proponent of the death penalty, has offered a well-researched argument against making any exception to the repeal of Maryland’s death penalty, implemented in 2013. The state has opted for life in prison without the possibility of parole for its worst offenders. House Bill 881, introduced on February 6, 2017, calls for an exception for first-degree murder cases in which the victim is a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or first responder.

A key issue for Bickel is avoiding the risk of wrongful conviction and execution of an innocent.

Bickel is retired from the Department of Justice, and has been a major city police officer, an assistant professor, and second in command of the Frederick County (MD) Sheriff’s Office.

Read his commentary here.

The National Registry of Exonerations has identified 116 cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death, before being exonerated.

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…