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Book Review: “Forensic Science Reform – Protecting the Innocent”

 

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For the last 8 1/2 years, I have been working to ‘help’ overcome the devastating effects that incorrect, bogus, and non-scientific forensics has had on our justice system in producing wrongful convictions.  And I’ve also been writing about it on this blog since its inception.

C.M. (Mike) Bowers has teamed up with Wendy Koen to produce a definitive work addressing many of these issues. Mike is forensic dentist who has been at the forefront of debunking the junk science of bite mark analysis. Wendy Koen is a former attorney with the California Innocence Project. Mike also maintains the website CSIDDS dedicated to promoting truth, reason, logic, and actual science in the discipline of forensics.

The data below from the National Registry of Exonerations shows that false or misleading forensic evidence is a contributing factor in 24% of all the wrongful convictions logged by the registry to date.

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This book provides substantial reinforcement for the ground-breaking “NAS Report,” published in 2009. Please see:  https://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/2013/06/29/the-nas-report-aftermath/  However, this book also includes material not covered by the original NAS report. This book is a “must” for the library of anyone committed to ensuring that ALL forensics is based upon true science, logic, reason, and fact.

Justin O. Brookes, Director of the California Innocence Project: “My former brilliant student, Wendy Koen, along with Dr. Michael Bowers (the expert behind the Richards’ exoneration) have written a new book you all should consider ordering–“Forensic Science Reform:Protecting The Innocent.”  It’s an excellent addition to the scholarship in our world and could be helpful to those of you struggling with forensic issues. I’m going to have our library order a hard copy.”

Valena Beety, Deputy Director of the WVU Law Clinical Law Program, chairing the West Virginia Innocence Project: “I’ve just ordered it for our law library at WVU and I anticipate it being a helpful resource. Thank you to everyone involved in making this book happen!”

You can purchase the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Forensic-Science-Reform-Protecting-Innocent/dp/0128027193/ref=mt_hardcover?_encoding=UTF8&me=

Columbus Will Pay Ohio Innocence Project For Witholding Public Records

Click to read the original article and listen to the WOSU interview

The city of Columbus and a group that works to free wrongly convicted people ended a years-long fight this week.

The city will pay $19,000 dollars for legal expenses incurred by the Ohio Innocence Project, which is based out of the University of Cincinnati school of law. Columbus will also pay the Ohio Innocence Project $1,000 in damages for illegally withholding public records.

Attorney Donald Caster, a clinical professor of law at the University of Cincinnati who works for the Project, explained in an interview with WOSU how the case unfolded and what it means for transparency in the state.

The below is an automated transcript. Please excuse minor typos and errors.

Sam Hendren: When did the Ohio Innocence Project first encounter resistance from the city of Columbus to public records requests?

Donald Caster: We’ve been encountering resistance from Columbus for several years. Sometimes we could work around the resistance with the Franklin County prosecuting attorney and sometimes we couldn’t. We noticed that it wasn’t just Columbus, it was other areas in Ohio as well. So at some point we decided that we needed to challenge the law enforcement agencies who were telling us that we weren’t entitled to get public records to investigate claims of innocence.

Sam Hendren: So the Ohio Supreme Court then did what?

Donald Caster: The first thing that happens is the filing of a complaint. The city of Columbus then filed an answer and a motion to dismiss the complaint and said, “Look, even if everything the Ohio Innocence Project is saying is true, they’re still not entitled to relief.” The Ohio Supreme Court turned down that motion in order and ordered us to submit full briefs on the case. We did that.

The Ohio Supreme Court then heard oral arguments, they heard from the attorneys for the city of Columbus, they heard from attorneys for me and the Ohio Innocence Project, in this case Fred Gittes and Jeff Vardaro of the Gittes law firm. And then they eventually issued a decision just after Christmas.

Sam Hendren: And that decision says what?

Donald Caster: That decision says that a case that law enforcement agencies had been relying on, a case called “Steckman,” which suggested in some ways that public records pertaining to criminal cases would never be accessible until a particular defendant or inmate were released from prison, is no longer good law. And it’s no longer good law because some of the rules that control pretrial discovery between the state and the defendant had changed.

So the Ohio Supreme Court said it didn’t need that rule any more. Now as soon as a criminal case is done, as soon as the trial is over, the public can go ahead and seek those records out from law enforcement agencies.

Sam Hendren: Because in one or perhaps many more cases, the city of Columbus for example was withholding records from the Ohio Innocence Project for decades.

Donald Caster: And what Columbus was saying was that they were going to withhold the records for decades. In this particular instance they said you won’t be entitled to these records until the defendant in the case your researching is done serving his entire sentence. In this case, it’s a life sentence, so it would have been upon the defendant’s death.

Sam Hendren: Now we’re talking about Adam Saleh, who was imprisoned or who is imprisoned for killing a woman named Julie Popovich.

Donald Caster: That’s correct.

Sam Hendren: Right. Why is it important to have timely access to documents that the police department was refusing to hand over?

Donald Caster: For a couple of reasons. First of all, from a general standpoint, in Ohio we value the transparency of our public servants and that means being able to access the documents that they generate and that they rely upon in making our decision. From the standpoint of post-conviction work, of helping free people who have been wrongfully convicted, oftentimes the only way that we can prove that something went wrong at trial is to access the public records about that case.

Sam Hendren: And what has been the track record of the Innocence Project? Have innocent people been freed?

Donald Caster: That’s correct. We’ve been around since 2003, and since 2003, 23 people have been released on grounds of innocence as a result of our work

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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’

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

How Many Indigenous Prisoners In Australia Are Innocent?

An interesting question, with, I suspect, a terrifying answer. But who knows when miscarriages of justice in Australia are so notoriously difficult to overturn. Particularly if you are an indigenous prisoner, as this article points out:

For Aboriginal people who already have the justice system stacked against them, the avenues to protest a guilty verdict are limited, and it is unlikely you will be believed.

image-20160726-24908-1or4wo6Remember that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are massively overrepresented in the criminal justice system of Australia.Aboriginal people represent only 3% of the total population, yet 28% of Australia’s prison population are Aboriginal.

This podcast details one case in particular of a suspected miscarriage of justice – of an Aboriginal man sentenced for a murder in 1991, that it is highly unlikely he was involved with despite his confession (most of which was thrown out of court for being involuntary). This is a case that is worthy of support – but points to a deeper problem: that there are most likely to be many many more like it, hidden from view not just because of the systemic hurdles in overturning wrongful convictions, but the almost blissful ignorance of the public that there are serious flaws in their justice system that only very rarely come to the surface.

Read more here… Curtain And The Case For Freedom: How Many Indigenous Prisoners In Australia Are Innocent?

 

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Call for Papers Innocence Network Conference

The Innocence Network is now seeking papers for presentation at the 2017 Innocence Network Conference. See below for details.

The Innocence Scholarship Committee of the Innocence Network is seeking high quality social science and legal scholarship for presentation at the 2017 Innocence Network Conference in San Diego, California on March 24-25(http://www.innocencenetwork.org/conference).

Areas of research are open but should touch upon the multifaceted causes, implications, and/or remedies of wrongful conviction. International papers are welcome but must be submitted in English. Please submit a title and paper proposal to the Innocence Scholarship Committee at this Gmail account: innocencescholarship@gmail.com by February 1, 2017. Paper proposals must be no more than 200 words. Completed drafts must be submitted to the Committee by March 17, 2017.

The Innocence Scholarship Committee is actively seeking publication for those papers accepted for Conference presentations in a law review symposium edition. More information about that is forthcoming.

The Innocence Scholarship Committee is composed of the following Members: Professor Aliza Kaplan, Oregon Innocence Project, Lewis & Clark Law School, Portland, Oregon; Professor Valena Beety, West Virginia Innocence Project, West Virginia College of Law; Professor Keith Findley, Wisconsin Innocence Project, University of Wisconsin Law School; Professor Stephanie Roberts Hartung, New England Innocence Project, Northeastern Law School; and Associate Clinical Professor Paige Kaneb, Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara Law.

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“San Antonio Four” Exonerated in Child Rape Case

Yet another classic case of self-serving adults forcing/coercing children to lie about sexual assault that never happened.

This is a scenario that is all too common. In innocence work, we see it regularly; for example, the Courtney Bisbee case.

See the CNN story here.

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Editorial: Critical of Conviction Integrity Unit, Supportive of Transparency

An editorial in The Inquirer (Philadelphia) calls out District Attorney Seth Williams whose Conviction Review Unit has produced more hype than results; warns against assaults on transparency in criminal justice; and applauds public officials who are getting it right. This is the critical role of reputable journalism and media in informing and educating voters. Thank you, Philly.com.

Wrongful Convictions in the Netherlands: how many are there?

On 22nd November 2016, a book will be published in the Netherlands (sadly, in Dutch) which aims to answer the question: How many people in the Netherlands are wrongly convicted? (amazon page here). 51ygmyvj3vl

Some news coverage (in English) relating to the book release (Read here…   and here… ) have declared that one in nine convicted people in the Netherlands may be victims of miscarriages of justice. That figure, the author suggests, may be even higher in countries like Norway but he estimates that in most countries, the wrongful conviction rate will be between 4 and 11 percent.

The author, Ton Derksen, is emeritus professor of philosophy of science and has spent his career looking at questions of ‘truth’ and ‘evidence’ and how people inteton-derksenrpret evidence and statistics. He famously became involved in a notorious Dutch case of a nurse, Lucia de Berk, convicted of the multiple murders of patients, purely on statistical evidence. She was later released after his book was published concerning her case. He has subsequently written on lots of other cases where he examines the operation of the burden of proof.

His latest book is based upon new research among prisoners and forensic experts. He comes to some shocking conclusions. While Derksen’s work clearly focuses upon the Netherlands, it appears his research could have widespread application internationally, particularly his work on the nature of ‘truth’ and criminal investigations and trials. One has to hope that his work will be translated into English for the mono-linguists among us.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…