Category Archives: North America

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Clinton-era bill makes it harder to reverse wrongful convictions, writer says

Critics of how the 1994 crime bill spurred mass incarceration have overlooked another Clinton era bill that had an equally damaging effect on the U.S. criminal justice system, Liliana Segura writes in The Intercept.

Segura says the politically motivated Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, or AEDPA, merits debate because of how it “has shut the courthouse door on prisoners trying to prove they were wrongfully convicted.”

“Americans are mostly unaware of this legacy, even as we know more than ever about wrongful convictions,” she says. You can read her article here.

You can read about the Wrongly Convicted Group’s petition urging the AEDPA’s reform here.

 

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New Report Details Need for Greater Transparency and Accountability for Prosecutors

The Innocence project (NY) has announced the release of a new report calling for greater transparency and accountability for prosecutors.

On the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Connick v. Thompson, which granted prosecutors broad immunity for their misconduct, a coalition of innocence organizations today released a new report, Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson, calling for greater transparency and accountability for prosecutors. Although prosecutors have long argued that there are sufficient systems in place to guard against misconduct, the report reviewed court findings of misconduct over a five year period for five states, documenting 660 findings of misconduct – a likely undercount given the difficulties in identifying this behavior. Of these cases, we know of only one prosecutor who was disciplined for his misconduct, and that took a change of law by the Texas Legislature. The report, which was produced in conjunction with forums featuring a broad array of criminal justice stakeholders in the five states surveyed, provides a list of recommendations that states should pursue to increase prosecutorial transparency and accountability.
This report was a collaborative effort by several organizations that oversaw the design and implementations of the research process. The organizations primarily responsible were the Innocence Project, the Veritas Initiative at Santa Clara University School of Law, Innocence Project New Orleans and Resurrection after Exoneration. A number of additional organizations also provided support in hosting and presenting the prosecutorial oversight forums. These included the Arizona Justice Project, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and the Actual Innocence Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

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A new study suggests that North Carolina’s reckless use of the death penalty threatens the innocent…

Exonerated death row inmate Glenn Ford died yesterday a year after being released from prison…

In Alaska, an inmate’s confession promises new trial for the Fairbanks Four…

$9.2 Million Awarded in Wrongful Conviction that Underscores FBI Forensic Problems

February 28, 2015 – Yesterday Washington D.C. Superior Court Judge Neal E. Kravitz ordered $9.2 million be paid by the District to Kirk L. Odom, 52, in compensation for more than 21 years of imprisonment after he was wrongfully convicted of a 1981 Capital Hill rape and burglary. The Washington Post reported (here) that “Odom is one of five D.C. men convicted of rape or murder whose charges have been vacated since 2009 because they were based on erroneous forensics and testimony by an elite unit of FBI hair experts.”

In his District-record award, the judge provided one formula for calculating compensation damages: $1,000 per day for wrongful incarceration, $250 per day for parole time and $200 for each day between his exoneration and trial. The article noted that Judge Kravitz’s opinion comes “as courts are coming to terms Continue reading

Christopher Abernathy Exonerated and Freed after 30 Years in Prison

Christopher Abernathy, 48, was released from prison on Wednesday after Cook County (IL) Judge Frank Zelezinski vacated his 1987 conviction for a rape and murder Cook County (IL) officials now acknowledge he did not commit. Abernathy had served nearly 30 years of a life sentence for the crime.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit reviewed DNA evidence from the crime, presented by Abernathy’s attorneys, which Continue reading

North Carolina Innocence Commission’s success has yet to inspire other states to follow suit

With eight exoncerations to its credit, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is living up to its goals when it was established in 2006. With official powers that others who investigate possible wrongful conictions don’t have, The Atlantic reports here, the commission has been able to crack cases that others might not have been be able to. That should make it a national model for how states could correct wrongful convictions, but it hasn’t been so far. Money is one reason. A lack of commitment may be another.

Connecticut Awards $6 Million to Wrongfully Convicted Man Now Serving On Parole Board

The state of Connecticut is awarding Kenneth Ireland $6 million after he was wrongfully convicted and served 21 years in prison for the 1986 rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey, a young mother of four.

According to the New Haven Register (here), effective immediately, Ireland will receive “$2.5 million for loss of liberty and enjoyment of life; $1.5 million for loss of earnings and earning capacity; $300,000 for loss of reputation; $1.5 million for physical and mental injuries; and $200,000 for costs and expenses.”

As reported by Phil Locke on this blog (here), this is the state’s first award by the Continue reading

National Registry of Exonerations: 2014 was Record-breaking with 125 Exonerations in U.S.

For the first time, more than 100 exonerations were recorded in the United States in one year. According to The National Registry of Exonerations Report for 2014, 125 exonerations of innocent criminal defendants mark an increase of 34 over the prior record of 91 in 2012 and 91 again in 2013. The report notes the work of Conviction Integrity Units in the increase.

“The big story for the year is that more prosecutors are working hard to identify and investigate claims of innocence. And many more innocent defendants were exonerated after pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit,” said Michigan Law Professor Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations and the author of the report.

Both the number of Conviction Integrity Units and the exonerations they produced increased in 2014. There were 49 CIU exonerations in 2014, including Continue reading

Derrick Hamilton exonerated in New York; Alan Beaman pardoned in Illinois

In two separate cases, men who were convicted and imprisoned for murders they did not commit had a very good week as officials recognized their innocence on Friday, January 9. Both had been released after years in prison but had continued to fight to clear their names and reputations.

Derrick Hamilton spent 21 years in prison for the 1991 murder of Nathanial Cash in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York. In prison, he steadfastly proclaimed his innocence knowing that this worked against his opportunities for early parole. He remained in prison even after the sole witness — Cash’s girlfriend whose Continue reading

Jane Raley: Tenacious Advocate for the Wrongfully Convicted

All who have followed the accomplished work of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law are saddened by the loss of the Center’s Co-Director, Jane Raley, 57. Surrounded by her loving family, Raley died peacefully at her home on Christmas Day after battling cancer.

Raley had been a member of the legal staff of the Center on Wrongful Convictions since 2000. An exceptional lawyer and teacher, Raley was instrumental in the cases of eleven inmates who were eventually released, according to an obituary in the Chicago Tribune (here). Continue reading

Prosecutors turning to ‘PowerPoint justice’ to win the day

The Marshall Project reports that prosecutors have found a new tool with which to convict the innocent as well as the guilty: PowerPoint. You can see some examples of their improper “visual advocacy” here.