Category Archives: wrongful conviction

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.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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.

Courtney Bisbee – Released . . . But Not Free.

We have reported extensively on the Courtney Bisbee case here on the blog.

Please see: HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE .

In my 8 1/2 years of doing this work, this is one of the worst travesties of justice I have encountered. And it all took place in that snake pit cesspool of a justice system called Maricopa County, AZ.

Courtney served her full sentence (11 years), and was released from prison on November 17. But she is NOT free. One would think that once you’ve served your full sentence and were released, that would be it; and you should be able to start rebuilding your shattered life, albeit with a prison record, but NO.

Courtney has been fitted with a GPS ankle bracelet, and registered as a sex offender – a life sentence. And get this – she is not even on probation; she’s on parole (“community supervision”) with harsh conditions, just like she’s still considered a prisoner. And indeed, she is still under the custody of the Department of Corrections, which limits her ability to take any kind of legal action. AND THIS IS ALL FOR A “CRIME” THAT NEVER HAPPENED.

Courtney’s habeas petition is still pending before federal court, as it has been since 2012. We can only hope that true justice will ultimately be done.

We’re thrilled that at least Courtney is out of prison, and is being allowed to live with her parents as she works mightily to start putting the pieces back together.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

In groundbreaking partnership, Innocence Project trains New Orleans detectives

From: The New Orleans Advocate

They could almost be taken for a class of undergraduates, sitting in the dark hush of a university amphitheater, sipping from water bottles and scribbling notes while a lecturer guides them through a PowerPoint presentation.

Except that these students were only taking a quick break from their day jobs. They are the New Orleans Police Department detectives who investigate rapes, murders and robberies.

And on one recent weekday they found themselves taking part in an unprecedented experiment.

 Under heavy pressure from the federal government to reform, a police force with an alarming record of putting innocent people behind bars has called in an unlikely pair of teachers — two attorneys from the Innocence Project New Orleans, a group best known for freeing the wrongfully convicted. Perhaps no other place needs this education like New Orleans.

Louisiana has the second-highest rate of exonerations of people who were wrongly convicted of any state, according to the National Registry on Exonerations. And Orleans Parish has the highest exoneration rate of any major county or parish in the country.

“We are like an airline that has historically had the most crashes,” said Emily Maw, director of the Innocence Project. “It would be really weird of us not to want to look at what led to those crashes.”

Nationally, more than 1,900 people have been exonerated since 1989, thanks in part to DNA technology and psychological research on false confessions. In Orleans Parish, 18 people have been freed, along with 11 from Jefferson Parish.

Some of that record is the result of the work of Maw’s group, a local offshoot of the national Innocence Project that has repeatedly secured freedom for inmates by unmasking egregious missteps by police and prosecutors — like a crucial report on a murder case that was mysteriously misplaced for years — as well as innocent slips such as false witness identifications.

Given the often adversarial role the Innocence Project has taken against prosecutors and police, it was probably no surprise that a class run by the group’s attorneys began with assurances that they were only there to help the assembled cops.

Innocence 101

“They are here to make your job better,” said Chris Goodly, the commander of the NOPD Training Academy.

Maw and a colleague then walked through the whole litany of mistakes that can lead to a wrongful conviction. To illustrate a point about the unreliability of witness identification, they played a quick, shaky video of a dodgy-looking man setting a bomb. Minutes later, the detectives were asked to pick the bomber out of a lineup.

The results weren’t good, even for this group of seasoned investigators. Only three of 39 got the answer right.

But then Maw, in her characteristically excited English accent, explained what went wrong. The “bomber” was not in the lineup at all. The correct answer was none of the above.

It’s a well-established fact in psychological research on lineups that the power of inadvertent suggestion will foil nearly everyone who runs through a similar exercise.

In fact, thanks to its post-2012 court-ordered reforms, the NOPD requires detectives to instruct witnesses that the perpetrator of a crime might not be in a lineup. One of the detectives who got the answer right was quick to remind her colleagues about that. In the new NOPD, detectives also must videotape formal interviews.

At the same time, the Innocence Project instructors were at pains to avoid laying all blame for poor police work at the feet of overworked officers.

The room grumbled in agreement as Maw told the detectives that wrongful convictions are more likely to come from overstretched prosecutors and cops than from malicious ones.

The NOPD has lost hundreds of officers over the past five years, leading to skyrocketing caseloads for those who remain. Homicide detectives now handle roughly twice the nationally recommended number of cases.

An hour into the class, phones across the room lit up with an announcement. Just across the street from police headquarters, another man had been shot to death.

With nearly half the homicide squad out of service for the training, one detective made the obvious joke: Who was left to handle this one?

Ugly history

The NOPD’s partnership with the Innocence Project follows a string of developments in old cases that showed just how fallible police work can be.

Reginald Adams was freed from prison in 2014 after the district attorney acknowledged that two former homicide detectives had lied on the stand in order to convict him of killing a cop’s wife in New Orleans East in 1979. He has since sued the district attorney and the city over his decades behind bars.

In September, U.S District Judge Sarah Vance ruled in favor of John Floyd, a convicted double murderer who claimed that a homicide detective had liquored him up at a French Quarter tavern before extracting a confession from him in 1980.

And Jerome Morgan has long maintained that police pressured two witnesses to identify him as the killer of a 16-year-old boy at a 1993 birthday party in Gentilly. His conviction was vacated in 2014, and the district attorney has dropped an effort to bring him to trial again.

“I wouldn’t have guessed that (the NOPD) would have been the first one to invite an Innocence Project in,” said Richard Leo, a professor at the University of San Francisco and an expert on false confessions. “They’ve had, as you know, a long history of racism and corruption and misconduct and shady things.”

Indeed, a previous attempt at detente between the Innocence Project and law enforcement fizzled. In 2014, the group announced a partnership with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office based on the notion that everyone in the system wanted to free the truly innocent. The partnership collapsed a year later, having sprung a single convict.

But Maw insisted that current detectives have no reason to feel offended by revelations of wrongful Orleans Parish convictions from decades ago. Also, many sprang from errors by prosecutors, not police.

 Over two hours of the training, no detectives raised objections to Maw’s points.

“We have been really impressed with how interested and open the detectives have been,” she said. “They want to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. That is the healthiest approach any organization can have.”

‘Impressive’ initiative

The Police Department’s collaboration with the Innocence Project is still in its infancy. But it already has won praise from the federal monitors overseeing a 2012 consent decree mandating NOPD reforms that was prompted in part by notorious cases of police misconduct in the chaos following Hurricane Katrina.

The monitors don’t often dish out praise for police academy classes, but in their most recent report to a federal judge they spoke of the wrongful conviction training in glowing terms. “The topic was important, the instruction was impressive, and the exercises were instructive,” they wrote.

Maw said that in eight sessions, roughly 200 detectives have already taken the three-hour course, and she hopes to train more in the future.

As with many of the initiatives under the federal consent decree, the question of whether the training will improve the Police Department’s record in the long run remains unanswered.

The average exonerated person in Louisiana has spent 20 years in prison before being freed, according to the National Registry on Exonerations, so the answer may lie decades in the future.

Mike Glasser, the president of the Police Association of New Orleans, is doubtful training will help avoid wrongful convictions.

“It’s an ethical issue. It’s not really a professional one,” he said. “We remain confident that we’re ethical and we do the best job possible.”

But James Trainum, a former Washington, D.C., homicide detective who took part in the U.S. Justice Department’s review of the NOPD in 2010, said he wishes he had had the benefit of such training before he investigated his first homicide in 1994.

Trainum has written a book about that case, in which he extracted a false confession from a woman accused of murder. The woman was eventually freed because a homeless shelter’s sign-in logs proved she could not have committed the crime.

When Trainum went back and watched the videotape of his interview, he realized that he had inadvertently fed the woman details of the killing.

“Those are some lucky detectives to be getting that training,” he said. “They’re being taught how to avoid the mistakes that we’ve learned through experience.”

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Update for Taiwan Association for Innocence

The success of Taiwan’s developing Innocence Movement was recently celebrated at the Taiwan Association for Innocence‘s annual conference, held August 27-28. TAFI sent out the following announcement about the event, also providing case updates. We here at the Wrongful Convictions Blog wanted to share the information to highlight the great work being done over in Taiwan.
The annual conference of  Taiwan Association for Innocence took place on August 27-28 in Taipei, Taiwan. About 200 people participated in the conference, including Mr. Cheng Hsing-Tse, who was a death roll inmate recently released from prison awaiting for retrial. Unlike most of our cases, Mr. Cheng’s successful retrial petition was filed by the prosecutor’s office. The court granted retrial in May and set him free after 14 years of imprisonment. The success of this case echoes with one of the themes of the Innocence Network conference in San Antonio this past April. It reminds us that prosecutors should be involved in the innocence movement. To promote this idea, we invited Ms. Inger Chandler from Harris County DA Office to share how the conviction integrity unit operates. Ms. Chandler gave two speeches at our annual conference, and was also invited to talk about CIUs at the Ministry of Justice with local prosecutors.
In addition to Ms. Chandler, another highlight of the conference was a speech by a prosecutor in Taiwan who requested a retrial for Mr. Lu Chieh-Min. Mr. Lu was convicted of murder and sentenced to 13 years of prison. He was exonerated by new DNA evidence last December.
The cases of Mr. Cheng and Mr. Lu show us the possibility of working with prosecutors to exonerate the innocent. Despite the difficulties, we will continue to help those who have been wrongfully convicted.

Best regards,
Shih-Hsiang
Yu-Ning
Taiwan Association for Innocence

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Four Lesbians Were Wrongly Convicted of Child Abuse. Why Haven’t They Been Exonerated?

Originally published on Slate.com

By June Thomas

On the night of Saturday, Oct. 15, every LGBTQ person and ally—and anyone who wants to see unequivocal proof of how messed up the American criminal justice system is—should plant themselves in front of a TV set and watch Southwest of Salem. The documentary, which airs on Investigation Discovery at 8 p.m., tells the story of the San Antonio Four—a group of Latina lesbians who were wrongly convicted of gang-raping two girls in the mid-’90s. Each served more than a decade in prison.

Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez, all now in their early 40s, were found guilty of aggravated sexual assault on a child after two of Ramirez’s nieces, then 7 and 9, claimed the four women had raped them with various objects while they were staying in Ramirez and Mayhugh’s home. As Linda Rodriguez McRobbie explained in a 2013 Slate piece, the case was a product of “a weird, panicked time in recent American history, when the word gay or lesbian was too often conflated with pedophile.” Despite inconsistencies in the girls’ stories; the fact that their father was angry at Ramirez, his former sister-in-law, for rejecting his romantic advances and coming out as a lesbian; and evidence of overt and coded homophobia in the women’s trials, all four ended up behind bars.

More than 16 years later, one of the accusers recanted her story, claiming that both she and her sister were pressured by their father into making the claims. The scientific expert, who had testified that physical evidence proved the girls had been abused, also recanted. And after the Innocence Project of Texas got involved, the women received early releases—though the crimes are still on their records.

Thanks to the national media, the story of the San Antonio Four finally became known outside of south and central Texas earlier this decade. And while Deborah S. Esquenazi’s film doesn’t bring new facts to light, it communicates the sting of injustice with the immediacy of a slap to the face. There is a bracing contrast between the four women we first meet in prison visits—where they seem calm and centered, despite having been robbed of an average of 14 years of their lives—and the teenage lesbians we glimpse in home movies and candid photos. Those young women in love look happy and ready to take on the world: Vasquez and Rivera were raising Rivera’s two children together, and we see the whole group celebrating at a baby shower for Ramirez. A few scenes later, they’re in a courtroom, shocked to see that the accusations they considered ridiculous have landed them before a judge. They didn’t even consult an attorney at first, believing their innocence would be obvious. “That turned out to be a mistake,” Vasquez later observes.

The movie doesn’t linger on the women’s trials, but it effectively exposes the raw homophobia that the prosecution exploited relentlessly. It also explains how the case fit into the Satanic abuse panic that infected America in the 1980s and ’90s. After the juries convict all four women, they’re sent to prison—locked up and without the financial wherewithal or connections to bring attention to their case.

Then Darrell Otto, an academic from Yukon College in Canada, becomes aware of the case, decides that “it just didn’t make sense,” and begins corresponding with Ramirez. Before long, the National Center for Reason and Justice and the Innocence Project of Texas are involved—and, largely unmentioned in the film, the San Antonio News-Express tackles the story. Witnesses recant, junk science is debunked, and eventually the women are given early release.

And that’s where things get really heartbreaking. Vasquez, released first, in 2012, is placed on the sex offender registry and subjected to all manner of restrictions. We see her driving to the grocery store on a route provided by her probation officer in order to avoid schools, parks, and any other places children might be found. The next year, the others leave prison, and the reunions are emotional. Ramirez and Rivera are reunited with the children—now teenagers—they haven’t seen in more than a decade. (Because of the nature of their convictions, they weren’t allowed contact visits with their kids.) “I’m your grandma, baby,” Rivera says, meeting her granddaughter for the first time in the moments after she leaves jail.

For me, the most affecting line in the whole movie is Vasquez’s observation that “Inmates can’t write to one another.” Isolated during their years behind bars, the women later discovered that they had all been writing letters to try to bring attention to the case—and like Vasquez, Rivera and Mayhugh had also refused to participate in their prisons’ sex-offender program, even though it cost them privileges and even a chance of freedom. There was, in addition, a personal dimension: Vasquez and Rivera had been a couple for seven years when they were locked up. “Cass and I, we never broke up,” Vasquez told me when I met the four women in New York in September. “We were forced to separate for many years. We’re both in committed relationships, and our partners know that there’s nothing that could ever come between us. We still have that love and respect. I don’t think that will ever change.”

In person, and in the film, the women are astonishingly free of bitterness. All acknowledged that they had experienced moments of anger—“I had a lot of anger because I was taken from my children,” Ramirez told me. But none are mad at the girls who falsely accused them. “There were six victims, not four,” Ramirez added. The film includes an emotional scene in which the recanted accuser, then 27, meets her Aunt Liz for the first time since her release. Amid many tears, the two embrace. How, I asked Ramirez, was that reconciliation possible?

“They didn’t know any better,” she told me. “I don’t think they really understood the impact it was going to have. They were victims themselves—of this father, the charges, and having to go through everything.”

In what might be the most enraging scenes in the documentary, Judge Pat Priest, who presided over the initial trials, refuses to exonerate the women—even after a key witness has said that she lied under oath and evidence that was used against them has been proved false. In a telling interaction, the judge skeptically questions a polygraph expert who has declared that there is no evidence of the women indulging in “deviant sexual behavior”—clearly signaling that he believes lesbianism itself is deviant.

The women’s fate is now in the hands of the nine judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Vasquez is no longer subject to sex offender restrictions, but the convictions are on all the women’s records and their lives are in limbo. “It’s hard to plan for the future,” Mayhugh told me. “I hesitate to get into a relationship, because I don’t know what’s going to happen. Am I going to go back to prison? I don’t want to put somebody through that. You want to purchase a vehicle, and you’re going to leave the bill with your family or leave it unpaid and come out to trouble with that.”

For Vasquez, the current situation is eerily familiar, an echo of the period between the seemingly absurd accusations and their eventual imprisonment.

“We’re hopeful,” she told me, “but it still doesn’t change the fact that I could go back. Look what happened in the beginning. We never thought that we would go to prison.”

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Trump’s Insistence that Central Park 5 are Guilty Reveals Frightening Ignorance and Worse

Donald Trump doesn’t acknowledge wrongful convictions proven by DNA and by the credible, delayed confession of a convicted murderer and rapist. Insisting on Friday that the Central Park 5 are guilty of the 1989 high-profile horrific attack and rape of an investment banker jogging in Central Park, he revealed he knows nothing about DNA, the dynamics of false confessions, or contemporary understandings relating to criminal justice and wrongful convictions.

Shortly after the crime occurred Trump paid thousands to run full-page ads in newspapers calling for reinstatement of the death penalty in New York. The ads fueled a fever pitch of outrage over a crime that had already stunned the nation. His insistence on inserting his opinion could only exacerbate tempers in a difficult time of race relations.

In his statement Friday, Trump revealed he is woefully uneducated in the realities of criminal justice miscarriages. This is frightening when the need for criminal justice reform has reached an awareness level great enough to find a place in both the Republican and Democrat national political platforms.

For those who study wrongful convictions and even for the informed everyday citizen, Continue reading

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…