Category Archives: Uncategorized

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Federal Judge Overturns Conviction of Brendan Dassey

On Friday, August 12, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey, one of the defendants highlighted in the documentary ‘Making A Murderer.’ The judge has given the state 90 days to either initiate proceedings to retry him or release him from prison.

In his 91-page decision, the judge concluded:

“The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about. These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.”

Law Professors Steven A. Drizin and Laura Nirider of the Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth represented Dassey in the appellate process. The Clinic has represented Dassey since 2008.

View the full decision here.

Read the Center on Wrongful Convictions press release, which includes links to instructive  information regarding youth interrogation and false confessions.

Higashi Sumiyoshi Arson Case, Finally Acquitted Today.

I have posted several times about Higashi Sumiyoshi arson case. The Osaka District Court finally acquitted Ms. Keiko Aoki and Mr. Tatsuhiro Boku today.

From the Japan Times:

Retrial acquits Osaka woman, former partner in daughter’s 1995 fire death

Kyodo, Aug 10, 2016

The Osaka District Court acquitted a couple on Wednesday over the 1995 death of an 11-year-old girl, in a long-awaited retrial.

Keiko Aoki, 52, and Tatsuhiro Boku, 50, each served a little over 20 years for the murder of Aoki’s daughter in a house fire in Osaka Prefecture.

In the retrial, the court found no credibility in confessions that the pair allegedly gave during interrogation.

“I was given a complete acquittal. It was a great judgment,” Aoki said after the ruling.

She plans to sue the state for compensation for being deprived of liberty on false grounds. The pair were serving life terms when they secured the retrial.

It is the 10th case since 1975 in which a person sentenced to either the death penalty or life in prison has been acquitted in a retrial, according to the Supreme Court.

In Wednesday’s ruling, presiding Judge Goichi Nishino said none of the confessions made by Boku during investigations could be taken as evidence of guilt. The court similarly found no credibility in Aoki’s confession during investigations.

“There is a possibility that the two were forced into making false confessions after (investigators) instilled fear in them and applied excessive psychological pressure,” the judge said.

The ruling said the fire could have been accidental, adding that Boku’s confession contained nothing that could be considered first-hand insight.

The court also said it was possible that an interrogator coerced Boku into making an “unnatural” and involuntary confession.

But the court did not address the reason for the judiciary’s wrongful conviction, or apologize to Aoki.

Aoki and Boku were retried separately, with their verdicts given on the same day.

Prosecutors decided in March not to pursue fresh convictions against the couple as they could not prove the two were guilty of the crime in the retrial. The move effectively ensured the couple’s acquittal.

Aoki and Boku were convicted by the district court in 1999. Their conviction mainly relied on Boku’s confession that he spread gasoline inside a garage and set it on fire with a lighter.

Aoki and Boku have maintained their innocence throughout the retrials. They requested in 2009 that their cases be retried.

The couple were granted retrials by the court in 2012. The decision was upheld by the Osaka High Court last October and the two were subsequently released from prison.

But doubts were raised about Boku’s confession as evidence, following experiments conducted by both prosecutors and defense lawyers after their sentences were finalized by the Supreme Court in 2006. The experiments indicated the possibility that the garage blaze could have been accidental.

Another key piece of evidence that led to their retrials was an Osaka police diary detailing forceful police questioning.

The defense lawyers presented the diary during Aoki’s trial and also disclosed beforehand a portion of it to reporters.

In her retrial session in April, Aoki told the court she had falsely confessed to her daughter’s murder as she “felt like dying” after a prolonged interrogation by an investigator who continued to shout at her.

The couple were arrested in September 1995 on suspicion of lighting a fire that killed the girl at their Osaka home in July 1995. A life insurance policy had been taken out for the girl, then a sixth-grader in elementary school.


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Wrongfully convicted man receives $10.1 million compensation

Francisco Carrillo Jr. was exonerated after serving 20 years in prison for a homicide he did not commit. The case involved eyewitness testimony that resulted from unethical police influence on the witness. A re-enactment of the scene showed that it was highly unlikely that the eyewitnesses could have seen the shooting.  Mr. Carrillo was awarded $10.1 million for the 20 years he served in prison. This compensation is the highest amount awarded in the State of California on a per year basis – – about $500,000 per year served in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Link to LA Times article:

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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.


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What If America Approached Crime Like Treating a Disease?

The case for an outcomes-based approach to criminal-justice reform

From: The Atlantic

What if doctors prescribed the same treatment to every patient with a particular symptom, without trying to diagnose its cause? Or if they offered powerful medications, without bothering to figure out if they worked?

That, Marc Levin argues, is how America’s criminal-justice system presently operates. “We’re still basing the sanction on the specific offense they’ve committed,” Levin said, without attempting to figure out its underlying causes. “We need to diagnose someone as soon as they’re arrested, and figure out what would reduce their criminogenic needs.”

That argument is part of a broader push by Levin, and like-minded reformers, to overhaul the criminal-justice system with evidence-based programs. Levin is the director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a free-enterprise oriented think tank. He made the comments on Monday at a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.

“Releasing people directly from solitary confinement to the public which we know happens thousands of times a year? It’s illogical,” Levin said. Those inmates aren’t equipped to reintegrate directly into society, and face high recidivism rates. “By and large, we ought to be focusing on getting results rather than getting even.”

There are, however, significant impediments to pursuing such an approach. For one thing, there’s no shortage of groups that benefit from the status quo. “Yes, you have privately operated prisons,” said Glenn Loury, a professor of social science and economics at Brown University. “But you also have corrections-officers unions … Self-interested behavior in the system is not limited to profit.”

“We have perverse incentives in what we call the criminal-justice system,” Levin added. He pointed to police officers, rewarded more for making arrests to solve the crimes that have already occurred, than to prevent those crimes from taking place, or to prosecutors rewarded for securing convictions, and not for reintegrating offenders into society.

Then there are the steep costs of rehabilitation programs, where a day of treatment can be more expensive than a day of prison. “The key is getting way from the obsession with the duration and focusing on the quality of the time,” Levin argued. Perhaps offering treatment for substance abuse or mental health problems costs more per day, “but overall, in the long-term, the person would be kept there for a much shorter period and so ultimately you would be saving money.”

Skeptics of data-driven approaches also point to cases in which models produce disparate outcomes, yielding harsher sentences for members of ethnic or racial minority groups. Levin acknowledged the concern, but argued that “tweaks and adjustments to ensure they don’t have a disparate impact” could solve the challenges of actuarial modeling.

The proliferation of data gathering and of local reform efforts have, Levin argued, started to acquire a momentum of their own. “It seems like there’s just a culture at the state level,” he said, as governments commission studies and issue reports. “When you build a budget around controlling the growth of a prison population, even though there’s people who attempt to derail it, almost always it ends up going through.”

Despite that optimism, shifting to an outcomes-based approach, though, still faces one key hurdle. It will—invariably—lead to the release of some individuals who reoffend. When that happens, there’s often a political backlash, as voters seek an infallible approach.

“We should tell the public: Nothing’s perfect,” Loury said. “We’re going to do better here than we would do if there weren’t this intervention.” He argued that leveling with the public could help change expectations, creating the political space for experimentation and reform. Public officials, Loury said, need to tell the public that no matter how effective a particular change, it’s “going to leave us with some risk; there is no zero-risk environment.”

But not all of those who have tried that in practice are convinced it’ll prove politically viable. “I would love to agree with you,” said Roberto Villasenor, a retired chief of the Tuscon police department. “Unfortunately my experience has been that that just doesn’t happen and doesn’t work.”