Category Archives: Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad)

UK: Reports Point to Ongoing Disclosure Failings – Cause of Miscarriages of Justice

cardiff3Two very interesting reports have been published in the UK, both detailing the continuing crisis in disclosure, which is key to a just criminal process and crucial in ensuring a fair trial and preventing miscarriages of justice. Yet numerous reports and reviews always find disclosure to be a serious problem among the police and prosecuting authorities (the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in England and Wales).

Firstly, in a joint report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (a national oversight body for the police) and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (providing oversight of the CPS), the findings are yet again damning:

“The inspection found that police scheduling (the process of recording details of both sensitive and non-sensitive material) is routinely poor, while revelation by the police to the prosecutor of material that may undermine the prosecution case or assist the defence case is rare. Prosecutors fail to challenge poor quality schedules and in turn provide little or no input to the police. Neither party is managing sensitive material effectively and prosecutors are failing to manage ongoing disclosure. To compound matters, the auditing process surrounding disclosure decision-making falls far below any acceptable standard of performance. The failure to grip disclosure issues early often leads to chaotic scenes later outside the courtroom, where last minute and often unauthorised disclosure between counsel, unnecessary adjournments and – ultimately – discontinued cases, are common occurrences. This is likely to reflect badly on the criminal justice system in the eyes of victims and witnesses.”

As well as a series of pragmatic recommendations, the report authors refer to a needed change in ‘culture’: “However, just as importantly as responding to each issue, is a need for a change in attitude to ensure that disclosure is recognised as a crucial part of the criminal justice process and that it must be carried out to the appropriate standards.”

The Criminal Cases Review Commission reported in their 2015/2016 Annual Report that they have seen a “steady stream” of miscarriages where the primary cause was a failure to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defence. The inspection concentrated upon ‘volume’ crime – as the focus on serious crime means that those cases considered less serious are often given a low priority – yet individuals are routinely remanded in custody, convicted and imprisoned wrongly on ‘minor’ charges. Read the Inspectorate report here: MAKING IT FAIR: A JOINT INSPECTION OF THE DISCLOSURE OF UNUSED MATERIAL IN VOLUME CROWN COURT CASES, JULY 2017.

Secondly, the case of the Cardiff Three – one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice in British history, led to the trial of 8 police officers for their role in the arrest and prosecution of five men (three were convicted). However, the case collapsed after crucial evidence went ‘missing’. An inquiry into the collapsed trial has now reported after 2 years, and concluded that the collapse (the missing evidence subsequently surfaced after the police staff were formally acquitted) was due to ‘human error’ and not ‘wickedness’.  The report makes 17 recommendations for the disclosure process – the author stating: “Disclosure problems have blighted our criminal justice system for too long and although disclosure guidelines, manuals and policy documents are necessary, it is the mindset and experience of those who do disclosure work that is paramount.”

Read the full report here: Mouncher investigation report, July 2017

Media reports here: Trial of Cardiff Three police collapsed due to human error, inquiry finds

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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.”

Jack McCullough, Exonerated, Sues Prosecutors for “Pervasive Misconduct”

We’ve reported about Jack McCullough on this blog several times previously. See here, here, here, and here.

Prior to having his conviction overturned and being exonerated, this case was touted as the “oldest cold case ever solved.”

It will be interesting to see where this suit goes, since prosecutors are supposed to have absolute immunity to civil suit for actions taken while pursuing their duties as prosecutor. They can, however, be held responsible for criminal actions.

See the CNN story here.

 

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.

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.

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Jeffrey MacDonald actual innocence appeal

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Green Beret surgeon who was first cleared in the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters and then convicted in 1970, will have what may be his final chance at overturning his conviction after spending the past 36 years in prison for a crime that many experts now believe he did not commit.  Oral arguments before a federal appeals court will commence on January 26.  The crime took place prior to the use of DNA analysis and new DNA evidence and a lot of other evidence, including evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, flawed forensic testimony, and botched crime scene analysis, provides powerful support for his story that intruders killed his family in what was in some ways similar to the “Manson family” murders in that same era.  People Magazine investigative reports will culminate in its major cover story, available on newsstands on Friday, January 20.  Here is a link to the People Magazine digital story today that precedes the cover story:

Former Green Beret Surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald Says There’s Evidence He Didn’t Kill His Family: ‘I Am Innocent’

Innocence Project Northwest Client Freed

Lester Juan Griffin Jr. walked free last week after serving 8.5 of a 24-year sentence for burglary and assault.  Story here, earlier decision in the case, overturning conviction, here.  Congrats IPNW!

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.

 

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Ireland’s Ministry for Justice compensates man for wrongful conviction

connemaraMichael Hannon was accused of sexual assault by a 10 year old neighbour, in 1997. He was convicted and yet in 2006, his accuser came forward and retracted her statement, confessing that she had made a false allegation. Despite this, the Ministry of Justice ‘lost’ Hannon’s case files. It was not until 2009 that he was able to have his case certified as a miscarriage of justice. The Ministry and Hannon have now reached an out-of-court settlement after his claim for compensation went to the High Court. The case is a stark example of what can happen when police pursue allegations in spite of a total lack of evidence. This failure was compounded by incompetence on behalf of the prosecutors and Ministry of Justice staff who not only ‘lost’ his file for 15 months, but continued to protest against his case being declared a miscarriage of justice.

Mr Hannon has thanked his family and supporters but spoke of the need for an inquiry into the actions of the Ministry, and why the retraction by the complainant was not forwarded to him or his legal team. He said that it is ‘impossible to summarise the impact of a wrongful conviction upon a person.”

Read more here:

Two Decades On…. Closure for Connemarra Neighbour falsely convicted of child sex abuse

 

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