©Ric Sweitzer
the System 

“People think they’re free in this country, Don’t kid yourself. This is a police state. The government can pretty much do whatever it wants.”

                -  Dr. Steven J. Hatfill

The Wrongly Convicted

Why more falsely accused people are being exonerated today than ever before

By Emily Barone

Excerpted from the Time book:

Innocent: The Fight Against Wrongful Convictions

Click book to buy it.

When the Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution, its authors clearly intended to protect the rights of persons accused of crime.  Those simply stated protections have been continuously eroded over the past 200 years.  For each interpretive appellate decision that attempts to even the playing field, there are five more that steepen the grade.  Our concern has turned from seeking truth to seeking convictions, and our post-conviction efforts are focused on denying any further review.

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Sending Innocent People to Death Row
Criminal snitching is an enormous problem for our justice system, in part because it’s an enormous source of error.  Snitches can be unreliable because the prosecution tempts them to offer testimony against the defendant with a number of enticing incentives: a reduction in sentence, for instance, or a move to a more desirable prison.  A jailhouse snitch was used in 23 percent of death penalty cases where the defendant was later exonerated. Jailhouse snitches have replaced faulty eyewitness identification as the #1 cause of wrongful convictions.

Stirring the Pot
"Stirring the pot" refers to doing something to make another course of action happen. That is the course taken by a Milwaukee (Wisconsin) PD detective and an ATF agent involved in an undercover operation against the Outlaws Motorcycle Club during the 1990's.  ʺWhat if someone leaked fictitious grand [j]ury testimony?  You know, we can just make something up.  If itʹs fictitious itʹs not a  violation of [f]ederal rules, and weʹre not in any trouble,ʺ went the defective reasoning.  The plan went forward, with the active participation of Asst. US Attorney Paul Kanter and the explicit approval of U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller.  The problem?  Judge Stadtmueller subsequently presided over the prosecutions that resulted from this undercover trickery, in spite of a conflict the size of an elephant.  How could he do that? He kept his involvement hidden, until one of the participants wrote a book about it.

Bad science puts innocent people in jail — and keeps them there
Our courts strive for finality because, the thinking goes, if verdicts can be overturned on a whim, the public will lose faith in the integrity of the system. And if the courts were to truly reckon with the mess wrought by bad forensics, we’d see a lot of overturned verdicts, certainly enough to sow doubt about the system.  But refusing to rectify unjust verdicts doesn’t preserve the integrity of our system, only the appearance of it. Meanwhile, innocent people remain behind bars.

Epic Fail
When Cedar Park, TX police received a report that a 4-year-old boy had been sexually assaulted while at day care by someone named "Greg,", they focused on Greg Kelley only because he lived in the house where the day care was located.  The detective never visited the scene, and dismissed without investigation information from another child implicating a different person as perpetrator.  Greg was convicted -- without physical evidence -- and spent 3 years in prison before being exonerated.  How was he cleared?  His telephone.  Neither prosecution nor defense had bothered to look at it.

Let's say you've been charged with murder and the state is seeking the death penalty against you.  You insist you are innocent, that you have an alibi, and you adamantly refuse to take a plea.  Your lawyer tells you he is going to concede your guilt at trial, and even though you tell him not to do it, he tells the jury you are guilty.  You are convicted and get the death penalty.  Is he allowed to do that?  The US Supreme Court will soon decide.

Twenty million viewers of "Making a Murderer" had ring-side seats to the interrogation of Brendan Dassey. The video is a play-by-play of how to extract a confession using what is known as the Reid Method.  This interrogation technique is employed by virtually every law enforcement agency in North America. Over the past half-century, hundreds of thousands of officers have been trained to use it. The point of the Reid Method is not to gather information that will help solve the crime; it is to obtain a confession from a suspect that the police have decided is guilty.  To that end, the detectives bullied and cajoled their 17-year old, 73-IQ suspect, all the while feeding him information about the case, which Dassey compliantly regurgitated. These were not overzealous, rule-breaking detectives. They were following protocol.

Over the last decade, “true crime” has saturated American pop culture, with an offering of serialized documentaries, television shows and podcasts that revel in their potential as crusaders for truth and justice.  At the same time, traditional journalism -- newspapers, in particular -- has changed from print to electronic format, and has lost readers -- at least, readers who read all the way through an article.  Since 2011, “new true crime” documentaries and podcasts have been instrumental in helping get at least three wrongfully convicted men released from prison (Paradise Lost), at least two convictions overturned (Making a Murderer and Serial), and one suspected serial murderer arrested (The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Hurst).  Is this the wave of the future?

The rate of criminal exonerations in America is at a record high. But experts say that, in many instances, these cases are getting harder and harder to litigate because so many of them now stem from cases that lack concrete DNA evidence.  According to the nation’s largest database on wrongful convictions, while DNA evidence accounted for nearly 40 percent of all exonerations a decade ago, much has changed. In 2015, DNA evidence played a role in less than one-fifth of cases where sentences were overturned.

Criminal defense attorneys who were never prosecutors themselves often assume that prosecutorial misconduct is rife because prosecution attracts authoritarian personality types. Although it is surely true that some are natural bad actors, experience demonstrates that prosecutors are strongly influenced to disregard and minimize rights by the culture that surrounds them. Disciplining or firing miscreants may be necessary, but it's not enough: It doesn't address the root causes of fearful culture and bad incentives.

Dean Strang has long been regarded as one of Wisconsin’s best criminal defense lawyers. More recently, he has also received international acclaim for his role in defending Steven Avery, as captured in the smash-hit Netflix series, Making a Murderer.  His candid discussion with The Progressive Magazine editor Bill Lueders underscores the role of the media in making wrongful convictions possible.

Of all the shockers in the film Making A Murderer, the most disturbing was Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz's press conference on March 2, 2006.  Mr. Kratz destroyed both Mr. Avery's and Mr. Dassey's "presumption of innocence."  What makes Mr. Kratz's conduct especially galling is that he had to know he was breaching both ethical rules governing pre-trial publicity and special rules which expect an even higher duty of prosecutors in criminal cases. He just didn't care.

Science Misused
"Bad" cold DNA hits are far more common than thought.  Because of errors in the databases, a DNA match probability reported as 1 in a billion turned out, when corrected, to be 1 in 3.  The problem is especially acute when old, degraded DNA from unsolved cases is used.
Closed, proprietary software can put you in prison or even on death row. And in most U.S. jurisdictions you still wouldn’t have the right to inspect it.   The reliability of proprietary software producing a DNA match, for example, cannot be challenged.

Wrongful Convictions and Bad Jails.  Judge Alex Kozinski’s Preface to the Georgetown Law Journal’s 44th Annual Review of Criminal Procedure is a scathing indictment of the criminal justice system in the U.S.  Combine the ease with which the innocent can be (and are) convicted with jails where we wouldn't put a dog, and we have a system that should give us the same kind of torment that our justice system inflicts on its prisoners.

Why is it so difficult for wrongfully convicted women to get justice?  Of 1,628 exonerations nationwide since 1989, only 148 are women.  Karen Daniel and Judy Royal, lawyers at Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions,
concluded that most innocence projects—including their own legal clinic—are failing to bring justice to wrongly convicted women. They have identified factors that make female clients more difficult to exonerate, and uncovered startling facts that distinguish the cases of wrongly convicted women from those of men. And they have launched a project that could change how the American innocence movement helps these women get justice.

The Fourth Estate

The term "Fourth Estate" refers to the press.  Novelist Jeffrey Archer in his work The Fourth Estate made the observation: "In May 1789, Louis XVI summoned to Versailles a full meeting of the 'Estates General'. The First Estate consisted of three hundred clergy. The Second Estate, three hundred nobles. The Third Estate, six hundred commoners. Some years later, after the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, looking up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, said, 'Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.'" 

We agree. 
The press are our eyes and ears, our consciences, compassion and common sense.  And we agree with journalist Steve Weinberg that better journalism about crime and punishment is a simple prescription for reducing wrongful convictions. Innocent Until Reported Guilty. 

Newsroom Cuts are Blow to Death Penalty Opponents. Opponents of the death penalty looking to exonerate wrongly accused prisoners say their efforts have been hobbled by the dwindling size of America’s newsrooms, and particularly the disappearance of investigative reporting at many regional papers.  In the past, lawyers opposed to the death penalty often provided the broad outlines of cases to reporters, who then pursued witnesses and unearthed evidence.  Now, the lawyers complain, they have to do more of the work themselves and that means it often doesn’t get done. They say many fewer cases are being pursued by journalists, after a spate of exonerations several years ago based on the work of reporters.

City of Columbus, Ohio halts post-appeal release of records.  Truth in Justice Board Member Martin Yant tells us:
Here's another example of how police are trying to keep people from investigating wrongful convictions. In three of my exoneration cases, the courts overturned the convictions specifically because of undisclosed documents I obtained with public-records requests. Public-records requests provided good leads in most of my other cases, including the Clarence Elkins case. (Melinda Elkins volunteered to write a letter to the editor to point this out.) A recently filed new-trial motion based on an undisclosed exculpatory document A recently filed new-trial motion based on an undisclosed exculpatory document I obtained through a records request apparently is what spurred the prosecutor to shut off the police department's records.   I went to the Columbus Dispatch after our supposedly liberal mayor didn't respond to the letter I sent him. I'm glad I did. The story has generated support, including from the founder of blockparole.com, who has used records requests to get information that he used to stop inmates he felt didn't deserve parole. He says this policy will put his group out of business. Also as a result of this story, the attorney I asked to file a writ of mandamus is reconsidering my request. Newspapers still have a powerful role in our digital world.

The Wrong Man
In the fall of 2001, a nation reeling from the horror of 9/11 was rocked by a series of deadly anthrax attacks. As the pressure to find a culprit mounted, the FBI, abetted by the media, found one. The wrong one. This is the story of how federal authorities blew the biggest anti-terror investigation of the past decade—and nearly destroyed an innocent man. Here, for the first time, the falsely accused, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, speaks out about his ordeal. 

When "Mob Journalism" helps convict the innocent.  It's the ugly side of the coin.  It happens when
local reporters and editors willingly suspend their news judgment or succumb to community pressure to take the prosecution’s side.  David J. Krajiceka co-founder of Criminal Justice Journalists, examines three cases that offer critical lessons for journalists—and the public—of the perils of “mob journalism” and media tunnel vision.

Note:  We add links to updates with the original news articles reporting how the system really works, so be sure to scroll down to check for "new news".

Colorado.  But really, this happens all over the country, all the time.  This particular case happened in Denver, Colorado, to Charles Moses-EL.  It took him 29 years, 2 months and 28 days to disentangle himself from a rape he didn’t commit, a 48-year prison sentence for a wrongful conviction, and the web of deceit spun by Denver authorities.  Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s office re-prosecuted Moses-EL even though new evidence led a judge to vacate his convictions last December after he spent 28 years in prison. That evidence included the confession of a convicted rapist who was the first man the victim identified as her assailant. It also included the testimony of the confessor’s former girlfriend that he slipped out of her house in the middle of the night right when her best friend and neighbor was attacked. And forensic analysis showing that sperm found in the victim’s body matched the confessor’s blood type, not Moses-EL’s. On November 14, 2016, a jury found Charles not guilty.  And the prosecutor goes unpunished.

United States
We need to better understand how wrongful convictions affect the original crime victims and improve systemic support available to them. When a wrongfully convicted individual is exonerated, the original crime victim may experience feelings of guilt, fear, helplessness, devastation and depression. For some victims, the impact of the wrongful conviction may be comparable to — or even worse than — that of their original victimization.  Addressing the Impact of Wrongful Convictions on Crime Victims

Mississippi/5th U.S. Circuit
Since the onset of DNA testing in the 1990s, we’ve been slowly learning that our criminal justice system frequently comes up short when it comes to keeping junk science and quack experts out of the courtroom. From bite mark matching to hair and fiber analysis to “shaken baby syndrome,” the courts have done a poor job of demanding that experts be qualified and credible, theories be grounded in science, and statements of certainty be verified with statistical sampling before allowing such expertise to be heard by a jury.  And while the criminal justice system can’t seem to keep bad science out of its courtrooms during trial, once someone has been convicted, the same system then puts a premium on the “finality” of a guilty verdict.  The innocent are trapped by junk science that is repeatedly upheld by the courts in the name of "finality."  Final Injustice.

United States
:  Most prosecutors are hard-working, honest and modestly paid. But they have accumulated so much power that abuse is inevitable. As Robert Jackson, U.S. Attorney in 1940, put it all those years ago: “While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts with malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst.”  Kings of the Courtroom.

  With the shortest period of time in the nation in which to discover and present new evidence of innocence -- just 21 days -- Virginia desperately needs to throw out a lifeline to the wrongfully convicted that will give them a chance to do so beyond the first three weeks.  In 2004, the legislature passed the writ of actual innocence statute to do this, but it has proven too rigid.  Only four writs have been granted, all of which had backing from the State Attorney General, and even then, the judges were divided about granting the writs at all.  One-word tinkering in 2013, changing "could" to "would," has failed to impress the Court of Appeals.  A complete re-write is needed, but the Virginia legislature has no intention of making any further changes.  Tough luck for the innocent person.

How the Criminal Legal System Buries Its Mistakes

Two cases, one in Illinois and the other in Louisiana, offer chilling proof that the criminal legal system in the US is only concerned with maintaining itself, with no regard for truth, justice or even human decency.

“We convicted an innocent man,” the foreman of Anthony McKinney's jury told David Protess, at the time head of the Medill Innocence Project.  But the efforts of Protess and his journalism students to free McKinney were turned into a smear campaign by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.  Protess was pushed out of the innocence project he founded, and McKinney died in prison.  How Chicago Killed an Innocent Man.

UPDATE:  January 12, 2018:  Private investigator Paul Ciolino has gone to court in Cook County, claiming former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez defamed him, partnered with others to ruin his career and set a murderer free to settle a score with David Protess and Northwestern University.  What goes around, comes around.

Louisiana.  Herman Wallace is dying in prison, his body ravaged by liver cancer, after spending 40 years in a 6' x 9' cell.  He was convicted of killing a prison guard in 1974. 
The case against Wallace was pitifully weak when it was presented to that jury; some of the constitutional infirmities at trial were almost farcical. But over the years the courts of that state, along with Congress and the federal courts, have constructed a mighty wall protecting that jury's verdict. Layer upon layer of procedural protections has been built around it so that today, as Wallace nears death, it is easy to see the vast gulf that exists here between law and justice. What a sham trial in Louisiana says about the U.S. court system.

Massachusetts.  Add the name Annie Dookhan to the Forensic Hall of Shame that includes Fred Zain, Michael Malone and Joyce Gilchrist (to name just a few).  Ms. Dookhan was a chemist with the state drug lab who thought it was her job to give the state what it needed for convictions, whether the evidence was there or not.  About 1,100 inmates are currently in prison based on her findings.  What is amazing is that Ms. Dookhan has been charged criminally.  The state drug lab has been shut down, and the investigation is continuing.  What else will they find?

UPDATE: 11/10/16 -- What else will they find?  Not much, when they refuse to look.  More than 20,000 drug convictions could have been flawed. Those cases involved defendants from eight different counties, and in many instances people had been sent to jail and some even deported.  Prosecutors have sought at almost every turn to preserve as many convictions as possible, while lawyers for the potentially innocent defendants have urged the state’s courts to vacate every conviction that relied on Dookhan’s tainted work.  Business as usual.

WashingtonRecently retired PI Paul Henderson of Fremont, WA, has found evidence to exonerate 23 people.  But wrongful convictions will continue, Henderson says, as long as police and prosecutors are not punished for them. “They should be held criminally responsible, in my view,” he says. “In the 23 exonerations I handled, some of them involved egregious misconduct, including police coercing witnesses into going along with a totally fabricated scenario of a murder. In a Pennsylvania case, the cops sat down like they were writing fiction and got three teenage kids to go along with the confession. But over the years not one cop or prosecutor in my cases who got caught red-handed making up stuff was ever charged with a crime. They were not even demoted.  In fact, they are rewarded.

A Chicago Tribune investigation finds that Chicago police have long ignored voluntary standards for polygraph exams, even as those methods and the examiners themselves have factored into cases costing the city millions of dollars in damages.   Polygraphs and false confessions in Chicago.

Related:  How the polygraph works.

As part of a series re-examining the state of criminal justice and wrongful convictions in the US, Pacific Standard Magazine writes A Prescription for Criminal Justice: Embrace the Errors, Then Fix Them.  Also see our sections on Arson, Junk Science and Police/Prosecutor Misconduct for more information on this subject.

A now-80-year-old man should be exonerated in the 1955 murder of his wife because even the Nebraska Attorney General's Office admitted that his confession was false, an attorney for Darrel Parker said.  So the Nebraska Attorney General's Office withdrew it's admission.  Out of sight, out of mind.

UPDATE:  Amazing!  On August 31, 2012, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning apologized to Darrel Parker, conceded that Mr. Parker is innocent, and said he is due the $500,000 maximum compensation available under state law.

New York establishes commission to review wrongful convictions.  A combination of police and prosecutorial review, the new commission has a long way to go to catch up with North Carolina's Innocence Review Commission, but it's a step in the right direction.

Virginia officials limit access to DNA test results.  Testing of DNA in hundreds of old rape and murder cases has excluded 76 convicts so far, but officials are only releasing results to prosecutors' offices -- many of whom take no further action.

In 1978, a student at William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, was raped.  She identified Bennett Barbour as her assailant.  Barbour had a solid alibi; he did not match the suspect's description; he was eliminated on the basis of simple blood type tests; he has brittle bone disease; and he did not have a gun.  He was convicted solely on the basis of the victim's identification.  In 2010, he was cleared by DNA, but Virginia authorities waited another 18 months to notify him.  He's dying, and hopes his name will be officially cleared before he passes away.

Silence is golden
It seems hard to imagine that anyone of sound mind would take the blame for something he did not do. But several researchers have found it surprisingly easy to make people fess up to invented misdemeanors.

Do snitches serve justice
Jailhouse informants are nothing new. In 1819, Vermont authorities could not solve an alleged homicide. The victim was missing, and the authorities sought the help of a jailhouse informant who received a “confession” from a suspect, who was ultimately sentenced to death. Only days before the scheduled execution, the “murder victim” strolled back into town very much alive.  Has anything changed?

Debra Brown exoneration: a pivotal case
Legal experts say the Utah woman could be the face of the future.  It shows people can be convicted wrongfully and then vindicated through ways other than science

Why Avery Matters.  Prosecutor Michael Griesbach takes a
broader and more dispassionate view of the Steven Avery wrongful conviction, because when considered in its entirety, the Avery saga raises difficult and painful questions that go to the heart of our justice system.

A pawn in a legal chess match
Shirley Ree Smith of Van Nuys, CA spent 10 years behind bars for the death of her grandson before her conviction was overturned. Now she waits on skid row as the courts sort out whether a jury's verdict — even if wrong — must prevail.

UPDATE: April 6, 2012 - California Gov. Jerry Brown has commuted Shirley Ree Smith's sentence.  She will not have to return to prison.

Confessing to crimes they didn't commit
Eddie Lowery of Kansas City, MO lost 10 years of his life for a crime he did not commit. There was no physical evidence at his trial for rape, but one overwhelming factor put him away: he confessed.  But more than 40 others have given confessions since 1976 that DNA evidence later showed were false, according to records compiled by Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. Experts have long known that some kinds of people — including the mentally impaired, the mentally ill, the young and the easily led — are the likeliest to be induced to confess. There are also people like Mr. Lowery, who says he was just pressed beyond endurance by persistent interrogators.

More innovation in Illinois to chill journalist investigations
In 1994, Carolyn Nielsen was a graduate student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism when she wrote stories that questioned the trial and subsequent murder conviction of a 14-year-old Chicago boy.  Nothing came of it then. The boy, Thaddeus Jimenez, was sent to prison and Nielsen went on to become an assistant professor of journalism at Western Washington University.  But Ms. Nielsen's work got the attention of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, and their efforts led to his exoneration in May of 2009.  Now that he's sued the cops who framed him, the police defense lawyers want Ms. Nielsen's notes from 1994.

Another reminder of the role of the press in exonerationsOn Thursday, January 14, 2010, Michael Tillman walked out of the Cook County Courthouse and headed straight for Mac Arthur's Restaurant, a soul food institution on Chicago's West Side.  After 23 years of being wrongfully incarcerated and facing a life behind bars, the barbeque ribs tasted particularly sweet.  "If it weren't for the publicity that was brought to the case in the early stages, being only a couple of years ago, by AlterNet… he might still be in prison now," Flint Taylor founding partner of the People's Law Office and co-counsel in Tillman's case, told AlterNet.

Missed it by that muchThe U.S. Supreme Court announced late on January 4, 2010 that it had dismissed an important pending case over prosecutorial immunity after being alerted that the dispute had been settled. The action stops in its tracks a case that could have produced a landmark decision that many believed would have reined in the longstanding tradition that prosecutors cannot be held liable for their actions as prosecutors.

In Illinois, an innovative approach to keeping journalists from investigating innocence claims.  
Journalism students at Northwestern University say they have uncovered new evidence that proves Anthony McKinney's innocence in a murder case.   McKinney has spent 31 years in prison for the slaying.  But as they prepare for a crucial hearing, the Cook County state's attorney has subpoenaed the students' grades, notes and recordings of witness interviews, the class syllabus and even e-mails they sent to each other and to professor David Protess of the university's Medill School of Journalism.

UPDATE:  What do you get when you combine the vicious competition of academe with the win-at-all-costs bulldozer techniques of a big city prosecutor?  You get the two-pronged efforts of Northwestern University and the Cook County State's Attorney to destroy Prof. David Protess and negate thirty years of reversing wrongful convictions.  A watchdog professor, now defending himself.

List of Innocent Prisoners Freed by Prof. Protess and His Students.

USDOJ's proposed new rules focus on discovery
Under fire for its handling of the criminal case against former Sen. Ted Stevens, the Justice Department last week outlined a plan to ensure prosecutors play by the rules when dealing with evidence. But some criminal defense lawyers and judges say the reforms don't go far enough.

Revisiting DNA waivers.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has ordered a review of a little-known Bush administration policy requiring some defendants to waive their right to DNA testing even though that right is guaranteed in a landmark federal law.  The practice of using DNA waivers began several years ago as a response to the Innocence Protection Act of 2004, which allowed federal inmates to seek post-conviction DNA tests to prove their innocence.  The waivers are filed only in guilty pleas and bar defendants from ever requesting DNA testing, even if new evidence emerges.

Darn!  The cops will actually have to investigate.  When Perry Bai was found stabbed to death in his Perry Township, Ohio home, police pursued a classic investigation.  They decided Bai's former roommate, Joseph Grossi, walked 17 miles to Bai's home and killed him.  Grossi, who suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was brought in for questioning, denied his medications and after hours of intense interrogation, he confessed.  Stark County Common Pleas Judge Charles E. Brown Jr. found their methods were just hunky-dory and the confession could be used against Grossi at trial.  But the crime lab found evidence implicating others, and a polygraph test cleared Grossi.  Looks like the cops in Stark County, Ohio will have to actually investigate this crime.

Innocence claim trumps late filing
Kevin Phelps, serving a life sentence for a 1993 murder in Richmond, California, has been trying for more than a decade to get a federal judge to hear his claim of innocence, and may soon get his chance.  In overturning a series of decisions that barred Phelps' appeal because his lawyer filed his appeal 15 days too late, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said, "Far too often in recent years, concern for efficiency and procedure has overshadowed concern for basic fairness."

What's sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.  Ever wonder what that old adage means?  Here's an example.  In Wisconsin--as in every state in the U.S.--cops and prosecutors are allowed to use deception when conducting an investigation.  When Madison, WI defense attorney Stephen Hurley used deception to build his client's defense, the prosecutor cried foul and filed an ethics complaint against Hurley. 
But referee Judith Sperling-Newton said Hurley's actions were allowed.  She also noted a double standard between prosecutors and defense attorneys - who are all governed by the same Supreme Court rules. 

No more turning a blind eye
About 14 years ago, Dane County (Wisconsin) Assistant District Attorney John Norsetter allegedly got a call that attorneys for Ralph Armstrong say would've blown the murder case against their client apart — if only they'd known about it.  A proposed rule pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court would require prosecutors who receive such explosive information to reveal it to the defense — and possibly to investigate it.  The current Supreme Court rules for prosecutors require only that exculpatory evidence be turned over to the defense before trial.

Better late than never
As part of a criminal justice review unprecedented in county history, the Santa Clara County, CA public defender's has launched a massive project to revisit 1,500 or more sexual assault convictions dating back two decades to determine whether innocent people may have been put behind bars.  Members of Valley Medical Center's Sexual Assault Response Team have been videotaping examinations of patients since 1991, but prosecutors failed to inform defense attorneys in cases involving those patients that such critical evidence existed. Under pressure to answer for the failure, District Attorney Dolores Carr has since revealed there are 3,300 such tapes in existence, and this week she vowed to inform defense attorneys of each case involving a medical-exam videotape where a defendant was convicted.

They're following in Mike Nifong's footsteps
An angry federal judge held Justice Department lawyers in contempt yesterday for failing to deliver documents to former senator Ted Stevens's legal team, as he had ordered.  "That was a court order," U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan bellowed. "That wasn't a request. I didn't ask for them out of the kindness of your hearts. . . . Isn't the Department of Justice taking court orders seriously these days?"  Judges rarely hold prosecutors in contempt.

$2.6 Million in Payoffs
For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre, PA operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.  The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.  In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have pled guilty to taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.

But that's just the beginning.  The two former judges, now admitted felons, are cooperating with federal law enforcement officials as they continue their probe into corruption at the courthouse Conahan used to run.  The U.S. Attorney's Office is, in fact, investigating possible case fixing in Luzerne County's uninsured and underinsured motorist cases and has been for some time.  So you think it's just bad kids and adult criminals who were abused?  Everybody suffers.

US Supreme Court to hear Alaska man's appeal for DNA testing.  William Osborne, convicted of a brutal rape near Fort Richardson in 1993,
continues to fight for a sophisticated DNA test his lawyers say could prove him innocent.  The State of Alaska says he should be denied the DNA testing because it would only prove his guilt.  Osborne's lawyers are incredulous at the state's position. If it's probably going to cement his guilt, and the defense is willing to pay for the $1,000 test, why not just do it? The test can provide a final answer, perhaps put the lie to Osborne's all-or-nothing trial defense: He wasn't even there that night, his lawyer told jurors. The victim's testimony was a case of mistaken identity.

Dying to get out of prisonIn 1985, Timothy Cole was a student in Lubbock when he was arrested and accused of being the Texas Tech rapist. A string of coeds had been raped, and the young African-American man from Fort Worth, who'd never been in trouble with the law before, was convicted largely on the eyewitness account of one rape victim.  The real rapist, Jerry Wayne Johnson, waited for the statute of limitations to toll in 1995 and began writing to the courts, confessing.  Judges and the prosecutor who obtained Timothy's conviction ignored him.  Finally, in 2007, Johnson's letter of confession reached Timothy's mother.  It was too late for Timothy.  He died in prison in 1999 from an asthma attack.

Once you frame a suspect, never admit you are wrong.  Herbie Gonzalez of Los Angeles, CA spent 196 days in jail, framed by two sheriff's investigators, Katherine Gallagher  and Randy Seymour, who didn't hesitate to perjure themselves to make murder, robbery and residential burglary charges stick.  When Judge Cary Nishimoto dismissed the charges because Herbie's "confession" was clearly coerced, Detectives Gallagher and Seymour implied he got off on a "technicality."  And when the real killer, Milton Gallardo, was identified by DNA, Gallagher and Seymour continued to claim that Herbie was "somehow" involved in the crime.

Never let scientific facts stand in the way of a conviction. 
DNA evidence has been widely embraced over the last two decades as a powerful forensic tool to prove a defendant's guilt or innocence. But in Lake County, Illinois, authorities have sometimes pressed for convictions even when the DNA doesn't match a suspect.  When DNA evidence excluded a man convicted in the rape and battery of a 68-year-old woman, State's Attorney Michael Mermel suggested the victim had consensual sex with someone else.  When DNA evidence excluded a man in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl, Mermel and another prosecutor suggested that the girl may have been sexually active. The DNA, he said, was a "red herring." And, just recently, when lawyers for the man charged in the killing of his 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend said in court that DNA evidence from semen excluded him as the perpetrator, the Lake prosecutor had another explanation.

Alabama convicts lack access to DNA testing
Imagine for a moment that you are an inmate, and you were wrongly convicted. You’ve been sentenced to 50 years in an Alabama prison and there’s one piece of DNA-testable material sitting in an evidence locker in some Alabama courthouse that could finally and definitively prove your innocence. All you have to do is have it tested, and you could be set free.  Good luck. You’re going to need it.

Without DNA evidence, exoneration is much tougher.  But that is just what innocence projects are facing, especially in states where there is no requirement to preserve DNA evidence.  Only 10% of the California Innocence Project's current cases are DNA cases.

DNA not preserved in half the states.  Evidence preservation has been the key to over 200 exonerations -- and numerous cold cases where the science had not been developed until more recently.  See where your state stands on this issue.

Vindictive prosecutor can be sued. 
In 1998, when he was 12 years old, Anthony Harris of New Philadelphia, OH was subjected to a brutal interrogation, then charged and convicted of the murder of Devan Duniver, who lived near Anthony.  Two years later, an Ohio appeals court threw out the conviction, ruling that the interrogation was so coercive that Harris "had no choice but … to confess."  Prosecutor Amanda Spies got mad and got even; when Anthony tried to enlist in the Marines, she told military officials he was a murderer.  But vindictive conduct is not protected conduct.  The 6th US Circuit Court has ruled that Anthony can sue Prosecutor Spies.

Punish Unethical Prosecutors
The Dallas County district attorney who has built a national reputation on freeing the wrongfully convicted says prosecutors who intentionally withhold evidence should themselves face harsh sanctions – possibly even jail time.  "Something should be done," said Craig Watkins, whose jurisdiction leads the nation in the number of DNA exonerations. "If the harm is a great harm, yes, it should be criminalized."

Like shooting fish in a barrel.  That's the analogy for getting a "felon in possession of firearm" conviction.  Did the defendant have a felony record?  Did he or she have possession of a firearm?  Answer yes to both questions and the defendant is transformed to inmate.  But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has added a new requirement for police and for defense counsel:  Rational thought.  John David Mooney of Huntington, WV will be helping them learn that requirement by suing the cops and defense lawyers who helped put him in prison for a crime -- felon in possession of a firearm -- that he did not commit.

Wrong voice on the tape.  Start with a 20-year-old cold case, two missing teenagers, and call their disappearance murder.  Pick a suspect, a rapist serving a long prison term.  Use a state psychologist to "help" the suspect's sister come up with "recovered memories" of seeing the missing teens at her family's farm.  Recruit a seasoned snitch to get a confession on tape.  Voila!  You've got a conviction -- almost. 

It was a stunning reversal of fortunes.
After he was snared in a net of swirling controversies including an e-mail scandal and the high-profile indictment of a sitting Supreme Court justice followed by an immediate move to dismiss that case, Harris County (Houston), Texas, District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal resigned from office.

Erik and Sean Ibarra -- the power of common men In a press release, Rosenthal said prescription drugs had impaired his judgment.  But it was what happened inside a southeast Houston home six years ago that led to events in a federal courtroom and to Rosenthal's resignation.

The Greatest Threat to Individual Liberty is National Security.  We must look to the UK for proof of this, since the US keeps its national security abuses hidden at Guantanamo Bay.  So it was in London that a panel of 3 appellate judges completely exonerated Lotfi Raissi of any involvement in the 9/11 attacks.  The judges  further
condemned the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service for abusing the court process, presenting false allegations and not disclosing evidence.

Felons Not Being Told of New Evidence. 
Virginia felons convicted of crimes before DNA testing was widely in use are not being notified when biological evidence is found in their old forensic case files.  As a result, it is largely being left up to authorities to determine whether DNA testing is warranted in such cases and to interpret whether the results have any bearing on innocence. In a groundbreaking project far larger than first envisioned, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science has searched 530,079 paper files dating from 1973 to 1988, finding 2,215 that contain crime-scene biological material and include a suspect's name.  Five men wrongly convicted of rape have been cleared with evidence from the old files. Advocates and others are concerned that for the most part, only authorities are being told the evidence exists and not the felons who potentially have the most at stake.

How the System SHOULD Work.  When Craig Watkins took office as Dallas County (Texas) District Attorney in January, 2007,
prosecutors found mounted on the walls of their workrooms a large, black-framed blowup of Article 2.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, with only one sentence highlighted: "It shall be the duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict but to see that justice is done."  Watkins said he had the code provision framed and mounted to serve as a daily reminder to his 234 assistant DAs of their ethical obligations and as a message to criminal-defense attorneys that what he termed the "conviction-at-all-cost" era had ended.

Taking a Sledgehammer to the Constitution
In a breathtaking abuse of the United States Constitution, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik, used the grand jury to subpoena "all documents related to articles and other content published by Phoenix New Times newspaper in print and on the Phoenix New Times website, regarding Sheriff Joe Arpaio from January 1, 2004 to the present."  More alarming still, Arpaio, Thomas, and Wilenchik subpoenaed detailed information on anyone who has looked at the New Times Web site since 2004.

Within hours of the Phoenix New Times blowing the whistle on Sheriff Arpaio, County Attorney Thomas and special prosecutor Wilenchik, the two top executives of the newspaper were arrested.  By the next day, public outcry was such that the charges were dropped and Wilenchik was fired.  Which leads to our question:  Why are Sheriff Arpaio and County Attorney Thomas still in office?

Exoneration by DNA Brings Changes to System
State lawmakers across the country are adopting broad changes to criminal justice procedures as a response to the exoneration of more than 200 convicts through the use of DNA evidence.  All but eight states now give inmates varying degrees of access to DNA evidence that might not have been available at the time of their convictions. Many states are also overhauling the way witnesses identify suspects, crime labs handle evidence and informants are used.

Never Admit You are Wrong
In the fall of 1995, a man wearing a nylon stocking over his face broke into the Yakima, Washington home of a young mother.  He taped a mask to the woman's face and raped her while her child screamed in the background.  Ted Bradford was convicted of the rape and served a 9-year sentence, but always said he was innocent.   DNA from the tape used on the mask excluded him and an appeals court has vacated his conviction.  Yakima deputy prosecutor Kevin Eilmes plans to retry Bradford.

Abuse at the early stages.
The power, if not the arrogance, of prosecutors grated on Angela Davis throughout her 12 years at the D.C. Public Defender Service, three as its director. Now a law professor at American University, she has made a mission of exposing that power--on radio and TV and in a new book, Arbitrary Justice--with hopes of reining it in. Her beef is not so much with prosecutors breaking the rules, although plenty do. Davis' greater worry is all the behavior considered within bounds but outside any reasonable notion of fair play. 

Wrongful Convictions Studied
A groundbreaking study of the first 200 people cleared by DNA testing in the U.S. identifies flaws that led to the wrongful convictions and to the failures of appeals courts to detect and remedy them.  The author, Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law,  said the DNA exonerations provide an unprecedented opportunity to conduct analyses on how things can go wrong despite the safeguards built into the legal system to prevent and then correct such errors.

Is Virginia's New Evidence Law Too Tough? 
Three years after felons were allowed to petition the Virginia Court of Appeals with non-DNA evidence of innocence, few have done so, and none has been found innocent.  "The criticism from the beginning was that the procedures were too complicated and the hurdles too high," said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. "While in principal it was important to pass this bill, the practical effect was minimal."

Making a Chew Toy of Justice
James Ochoa of Los Angeles, CA was 20 years old when he was identified by two witnesses as the man who committed a carjacking and robbery. The DA put him on trial, despite of the fact that DNA from the carjacker's clothing had eliminated Ochoa.  After the first witness testified, the DA offered Ochoa 2 years prison for a plea to second-degree robbery, and Judge Robert Fitzgerald told Ochoa he would give him the max -- 16 years to life -- if he was convicted.  Ochoa took the plea deal, and served almost half before the DNA was matched to another man convicted in a similar carjacking/robbery.  Ochoa has submitted a claim for compensation, but the California Attorney General is opposing it, claiming his clearly coerced guilty plea was voluntary, so he doesn't "qualify."

Oops -- Clerical Error
In April 2005, an Indianapolis, Indiana judge exonerated Harold Buntin of robbery and rape charges based on DNA test results, but the rest of the justice system didn't find out about the decision for two more years. Court officials found that a bailiff or clerk failed to properly enter and distribute the order clearing Buntin.  Instead, the order was sent to storage.  He spent an extra two years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

'Sorry.  Have a nice day.'  Andre Wallace of Chicago, IL was a 15-year-old kid when he was picked up by police, subjected to 'good cop/bad cop' interrogation, beaten and forced to confess to a murder he did not commit.  He spent 10 years in prison and was released in 2002.  In 2003, Andre sued the officers who falsely arrested him.  The US Supreme Court has ruled he filed way too late, that the clock on the 2-year time limit to sue for civil rights violations starts running at the time a person is arrested, not when he is exonerated.  It's a slap in the face of the wrongly convicted, and another 'attaboy' for the cops who beat a confession out of a kid.

Early Access to Police Reports can Save the Innocent
Weighing in on the case of a theology teacher charged with sexually assaulting a student 16 years ago, the Wisconsin Innocence Project and state public defender's office are calling for the end of the long-standing practice of withholding police reports from defendants in the early stages of prosecution.  "The ability of defense counsel to access investigative information in a timely manner has been identified as a major cause of error in criminal cases," the agencies said in the filing. "Exoneration cases show that a suppression of evidence was a major factor in a significant number of wrongful convictions."

Don't Count on LawsuitThe lawyer for Bill Conradt, a Chicago, IL man whose illegal arrest led to more than eight years behind bars pleaded with the Supreme Court to allow his client to sue the police who arrested him.   To do otherwise, lawyer Kenneth Flaxman said, the justice system would be saying, "It's just tough. You're seized for 8 1/2 years, and you can't go to state court, and you can't go to federal court."  But it all depends on whether the clock starts running on the statute of limitations when the illegal arrest happens, or after you have been exonerated.

No Different Down Under.  In Western Australia, Andrew Mallard spent 12 years in prison for the murder of a woman he had never met.  His exoneration was historic, but Director of Public Prosecutions Robert Cock QC tagged him "the prime suspect'' despite dropping the wilful murder charge.  Thanks to Cock's "last tag," Mallard is locked out of shops, and mothers steer their children away from him.

False Confessions: An Important Series from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

and The Innocence Institute of Point Park University

New York
  How would you like to be the defendant in a high-profile murder case and have Carlos Perez-Olivo representing you?  In closing argument, he told the jury, "There's more, but I've forgotten it."  Perez-Olivo has finally been disbarred, not for his performance in the murder case, but for lying to and stealing from his clients.  A true criminal lawyer.

An unusual wrinkle has developed in the case of a man who was exonerated by DNA testing after serving 12 years in prison for a rape and robbery he did not commit.  Although the Riverside County district attorney declared Herman Atkins innocent in 2000, the county wants to prevent the jury hearing his wrongful conviction lawsuit from learning about the evidence that cleared him. While keeping out the DNA results, the county's lawyers also want to introduce evidence that the rape victim and two witnesses identified Atkins during his trial.  The State is Never Wrong, and Never Liable.

Two weeks before Jonathan Peskin's ordeal began in early January 2005, another blameless citizen in another Connecticut community was subjected to a nine-hour confrontational "interview" by police pretending he was not a suspect and not in custody.  Bereaved, Blameless, But Bullied for Hours

California (and the rest of the US)
Former FBI Agent James Wedick, a superstar at the agency, is the latest casualty in the war on terror. After viewing the interrogation tapes of Umer and Hamid Hayat, Wedick, the G-man though and through, was stunned. He immediately called the defense attorney and told him -- "it's the sorriest interrogation, the sorriest confession, I've ever seen." As hard as it was for him to criticize his former colleagues and his beloved former employer, he felt compelled to testify for the defense, the first such time he had ever opposed the agency. But, as Mark Araz writes in his excellent story reposted here from the LA Times, the judge refused to allow him to testify. Arax's story is not only a story of two wrongful convictions -- it is a powerful story of how the FBI has changed since 9/11. Desperate to sniff out Al Qaeda cells, millions of dollars in taxpayer money is being spent on investigations being led by rookie agents who lack the expertise to lead them. Caution is being thrown to the wind, procedures are being tossed out the window, civil liberties are being trampled, all in the name of catching terrorists.  The Agent Who Might Have Saved Hamid Hayat

UPDATE:  Before any jury trial begins in the United States, prospective jurors are instructed that a defendant is presumed innocent. It’s up to prosecutors to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and the potential jurors are asked if they can abide by that rule. Hamid Hayat’s terrorism trial last year was no exception, and the 12 jurors who heard the Lodi man’s case raised no objections to jury rules. But the foreman who led them to a guilty verdict later said publicly that it was better to risk convicting an innocent man than to acquit a guilty man.  It's Okay to Make the Innocent Pay

Florida (and the rest of the US)
Orlando Bosquete came to the U.S. in 1980, part of the Mariel boat-lift.  In 1982, he was convicted of raping a Key West, FL woman, a crime he did not commit, and sentenced to 55 years in prison.  He escaped in 1985 and was captured 10 years later.  Three months later, he escaped again and stayed out for a year.  Now, DNA has proven Orlando innocent of the 1982 rape.  The judge has set him free.  The prosecutor has apologized.  And U.S. Immigration has thrown him into jail, intending to deport him because while he was on the run, he failed to register and properly pursue citizenship. Proud to be an American

Wisconsin (and the rest of the US)
:  Three days into Evan Zimmerman's murder retrial, Eau Claire County DA Rich White threw in the towel.  He told the court he could not prove the case against Zimmerman and moved for dismissal. 
What drove the case against Evan Zimmerman is the same phenomenon that drove the cases against Scott Hornoff, John Maloney and so many of the other innocent men and women -- those who have been cleared and those who languish in prison -- tunnel vision on the part of investigators and prosecutors.  Even when proven to be absolutely wrong, they cling to theories that keep dangerous criminals on the street and put us all at risk.  Tunnel Vision

IllinoisA lawsuit was predictable in the case of two teenagers who were wrongly charged in the February slaying of a Machesney Park, Illinois man.  The lawsuit was brought by mothers of the two youths who were wrongly charged, and it names Winnebago County Sheriff Dick Meyers, his department, detectives and deputies. It's time for Safeguards to Protect Accused Kids.

The popularity of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and its increasingly numerous progeny has spawned what some folks are calling the "CSI Effect."  That is, most people who might end up on a jury know, or think they know, a great deal about forensic science and the kind of evidence needed to solve crimes.  All this has been widely noted. What hasn't been noted is how years of cop shows have already formed our background ideas about the criminal justice system. What this suggests is that we ought to be a good deal more suspicious of prosecutorial infallibility than television shows suggest. Cop Show Effect

Canada, US and the World
Wrongful convictions continue to plague justice systems in Canada and elsewhere despite studies and reports on the issue, says a report by federal, provincial and territorial prosecutors and police.  What is startling, however, is that some problems, themes and mistakes arise time and time again, regardless of where the miscarriage of justice took place.  It's Everyone's Problem

:  Rev. Bill Barnwell describes in painful detail how ambitious federal prosecutors invented phony, made-up federal crimes to frame his father for crimes that do not even exist.  How Thuggish Federal Prosecutors Destroyed My Family

A prominent Boston defense attorney should be barred from practicing law because he allegedly mishandled clients' money and neglected a case in the past decade, according to a recommendation from the state board that oversees lawyers.  John C. McBride took tens of thousands of dollars in fees he did not earn and failed to show up in court after being paid by one defendant, who ended up defending himself, according to the Board of Bar Overseers.  Incompetent and Crooked

In his second day of questioning by Los Angeles police detectives, David Allen Jones sealed his fate.  Although never admitting to murder, he repeatedly incriminated himself in the deaths of three prostitutes. By the time he got to describing what happened with the third woman, Mary Edwards, the story came easily.  On the strength of the incriminating statements, a jury convicted Jones of the three killings. But there was a problem: Jones did not kill them.  Eleven years later, DNA and other evidence exonerated Jones and a judge voided his conviction in the killings. He was freed in March, 2004.  Tell Them What They Want to Hear

:  In June, 2004, a man opened fire at the International Freedom Festival fireworks and shot 9 people; one later died.  Detroit Police lost no time arresting Darren Caldwell.  Just as quickly, witnesses protested the cops had charged the wrong man.  No matter.  Detroit Police altered their reports to make the charges stick and on September 1, 2004, added the charge of murder.  Caldwell remains in jail with bond posted at $100 million.  It is clear the criminal legal system offers Caldwell no hope.  Rather, investigative journalists -- print and television -- are keeping the truth in focus as this travesty continues to unfold.

New ZealandEver wonder if it's different in other parts of the world with legal systems that share the same origins as that in the US?  It's not.  When Kathy Sheffield was murdered in 1994, Lawrence Lloyd knew he didn't do it, but he couldn't remember what happened, so he confessed.  He served 7 years in prison.  Now it turns out He's Innocent.

Wilton Dedge of Port St. John, Florida has been freed after 22 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.  His conviction rested on the word of notorious snitch Clarence Zacke, who got a sweetheart deal from prosecutors in exchange for lying under oath.  When DNA excluded Dedge, a Florida Assistant Attorney General told the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that even if she knew Dedge to be innocent, it would not matter.  Zacke provided the only evidence in Gerald Stano's murder case, and subsequently recanted it.  Stano was executed in 1998 anyway, still insisting he was innocent.  But in the words of the Florida Assistant Attorney General, "That is not the issue".  Infamous Justice

Robert Carroll Coney was in prison when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He was in prison when the Beatles came to America, when men walked on the moon, when the war raged in Vietnam, when Communism fell, and when the Internet and cellphones were invented. But after spending almost every day of the last 42 years behind bars, Mr. Coney, 76, walked out of the Angelina County jail in Lufkin.  A state district judge had found credence in Mr. Coney's longstanding claims that he had been beaten into pleading guilty, without a lawyer, to a $2,000 Safeway supermarket robbery that landed him a life sentence in 1962.  The judge further found a long-forgotten court order should have expunged those criminal charges as far back as 1973.  American Les Miserables

Update:  No Bars Can Keep Them Apart
The True Love Story of Robert and Shirley Coney

Ever wonder about the reliability of unrecorded confessions -- the ones with no audio or video tape -- or the ones where ten minutes of confession is recorded but not the ten hours of interrogation that preceded it?  In Massachusetts, jurors will now be instructed to be skeptical when "'interrogating officers have chosen not to preserve an accurate and complete recording of the interrogation".  New MA Jury Instructions

The ABA's President for 2004-2005, Robert Grey, Jr. (a man we know and admire) is launching a major revision of jury standards.  The new standards  will likely transform jurors from passive observers to active participants.  ABA Jury Standards

Do you really believe that old saw about the US criminal justice system being the best possible system, and that convicts with innocence claims have multiple opportunities to present their claims to appellate courts?  Rick Casey of the Houston Chronicle takes a clear-eyed look at how the law really works for the wrongly convicted -- or more accurately, how it works against them.  He writes about Texas, but the situation is no different in any other state.  Law Tough on Wrongly Convicted

Convicted of rape and exonerated after 13 years in prison, Michael Green of Cleveland, Ohio sued the city for $10 million.  He settled his case for $1.6 million -- and re-opening of more than 100 cases that included testimony from Joseph Serowik, the same forensics lab worker who falsely testified in Green's trial. Doing the Right Thing

United States
A comprehensive study of 328 criminal cases over the last 15 years in which the convicted person was exonerated suggests that there are Thousands of Innocent People in Prison.

Plea Agreements:  Between 5% and 10% of those convicted of felony crimes are factually innocent -- and 95% of them pled guilty.  Producer Ofra Bikel's documentary, premiering June 17, 2004 on PBS' Frontline, examines the moral, judicial and constitutional implications of the push to resolve cases by pressuring defendants into plea agreements -- guilty or not.  The Plea

Back in the Mother CountryWhat do the Brits give someone who’s been proved innocent after spending the best part of their life behind bars, wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn’t commit?  An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne? Compensation? Well, if you’re David Blunkett, the Labour Home Secretary, the choice is simple: you give them a big, fat bill for the cost of board and lodgings for the time they spent freeloading at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in British prisons.  Ain't No Better in Britain

Paul Craig Roberts Commentary
Martha Stewart was indicted for lying and obstructing justice. For these offenses to have any meaning, there must be a crime that she lied about and obstructed. The prosecutors presented no such crime. Stewart was indicted and convicted for lying and obstructing a crime when no crime happened.  Judicial System Casualty

Real Killer's Identity Disclosed
:  Kenneth Maurice Tinsley raped and murdered Rebecca Williams in 1982 in Culpeper, VA.  Police took advantage of mildly retarded farmhand Earl Washington, feeding him details of the crime to win a quick conviction that put Washington on Death Row for 9 1/2 years.  Tinsely was identified in 2000 through the same DNA tests that exonerated Washington.  But there are no plans to prosecute him.  In fact, the Commonwealth had to be ordered by a federal judge to turn over turn over records identifying Tinsley to Washington's lawyers.  And what about Rebecca Williams' husband and children?  Where is Justice?

Unlimited Police Powers
:  NJ Superior Court Judge Andrew P. Napolitano (Ret.) notes t
he Constitution prohibits invasions of privacy by the government by denying it the power to engage in unreasonable searches and seizures absent a warrant issued upon probable cause.  But in October 2001, the Patriot Act changed all this. In addition to other violations of the Constitution which it purports to sanction, the Act authorizes intelligence agencies to give what they obtain without probable cause to prosecutors; and it authorizes prosecutors to use the information thus received in ordinary criminal prosecutions. Even worse, the custodians of the records are now prohibited from telling you that your records were sought or surrendered.  Repeal the Patriot Act

After Exoneration
In New Jersey, DNA evidence cleared John Dixon of rape and freed him from prison in 2001, but he now seeks another sort of vindication.  He has sued the public defender's office, alleging that for 10 years it turned a deaf ear to his requests for DNA testing. And on Feb. 6, 2004 Essex County Judge Mary Jacobson denied a motion to dismiss his suit, Dixon v. Segars, L-7598.  Ineffective Assistance by Public Defenders

Keeping Hatred Alive
Darryl Hunt's long imprisonment in connection with the 1984 rape and murder of Deborah Sykes in Winston-Salem, NC was a case of mistaken identity. Another man killed her, the police and prosecutors have admitted. And most importantly, that man acted alone.  Unfortunately, police and prosecutors were so thorough in inciting hatred and a desire for revenge against Darryl Hunt in Deborah Sykes' family that her mother and step-father refuse to accept Hunt's innocence.  Bitter Justice

Erasing Innocence
In a move that Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer Victor Perpetua likened to a scene from "Alice in Wonderland," State Police argue they cannot release files associated with the infamous Peter Reilly murder case from the 1970s because those files have been "erased."  Odd Developments

UPDATE:  More developments in this odd case of "erased" files -- a potential settlement.  Apparently those files were Not Erased.

Guest Editorial by Don B. Laws
:  Scott cheated on his wife and then lied about it.  He told the world he had a great marriage and then his infidelity was exposed.  Suddenly where he was and when became critically important, because he was the only suspect in a murder with no direct evidence against him.  If he cheated and lied, did he commit murder, too?  Does this sound like Scott Peterson?  The similarities are striking, but this was Before Scott Peterson

Paul Craig Roberts Commentary
Every day many Americans commit crimes of which they are unaware. Many of the crimes with which Americans are charged are absurd.  We have become a country that goes out of its way to imprison innocent people, while preaching democracy to the rest of the world.  Jailing the Innocent

A Trio of Miscreants
:  To paraphrase Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone (an apt choice), here for your edification are three examples of petty and even criminal behavior by officers of the court -- two judges and a lawyer.

Win Your Appeal and Double Your Sentence:  When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out 6 of the 8 guilty verdicts against Fatima Peyton for her role in an identity theft ring, U.S. District Judge Rudi Brewster (San Diego) added enhancements and doubled the original sentence.

Judge's Jury Selection Instructions are Abuse of Authority:  Placer County, CA Superior Court Judge Joseph O'Flaherty has been charged with judicial misconduct for instructing potential jurors to lie about their racial prejudices.

Forward His Messages to the Warden:  Milwaukee, WI personal injury lawyer Charles Hausmann pled guilty in June 2002 to defrauding some 200 clients in a kick-back scheme he had going with a local doctor.  Hausmann is in prison, but he's still in good standing with the Office of Lawyer Regulation, which has taken no action whatsoever to discipline him.

: Well, maybe the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation just followed its normal procedure in failing to discipline Charles Hausmann.  Two Winnebago County, WI judges filed complaints against Oshkosh lawyer Milton Schierland for splitting bribe money with former DA Joe Paulus in their long-running case fixing scheme.  The FBI found grounds to investigate; both lawyers have pled guilty to federal charges.  But the OLR kicked the complaints back, saying there was "Insufficient Information to Suggest Misconduct".

UPDATE:  Back in 1997, another Winnebago County judge became suspicious of a "fix" when one of Paulus' assistants wanted to dismiss a speeding ticket for the nephew of a Paulus political supporter.  Judge William Carver refused to dismiss the ticket and filed a complaint with the ethics board.  "We had a suspicion somebody wasn't telling the truth," one of the investigators acknowledged.  Nonetheless, the grievance was Dismissed as Usual

:  In November, 2003, Pennsylvania voters voted to deny criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers in court.  They probably felt there would be no cost to themselves. 
But if we let witnesses avoid accountability in criminal proceedings, we all will pay a high price, eventually.  No Accountability

Wrongful convictions are being uncovered in greater numbers than ever in Louisiana (19) and other states.  More than half of all wrongful convictions in Louisiana have come to light in the past five years, and so have dozens of others around the country.  Most are not declared innocent or cleared of involvement in the crime that sent them to prison in the first place.  Living in Limbo

Saying that Shawn Drumgold is the "tip of the iceberg," the head of the Massachusetts public defender's office yesterday called on the state to create an innocence commission to review the cases of other inmates, and Drumgold's attorney demanded that the police who investigated his case be held accountable.  Innocence Panel Proposed

Northern Kentucky Law Review Articles Examine the Roles of Judges and Defense Lawyers in Wrongful Conviction

WisconsinSteven Avery spent 17 years in prison for a rape committed by another man.  State Rep. Mark Gundrum has organized a task force to determine what went wrong and what can be done to Fix A Broken System.

Virginia (Federal Case):  Darrell Rice is charged with the brutal slayings of Julianne Williams and Laura Winans, campers in Shenandoah National Park, in 1996.  But the DNA that was supposed to convict Rice isn't his.  Federal prosecutors have asked for a 6-month delay in trial to retest the DNA evidence, apparently hoping for a lab technician who will say what they want to hear.  The other evidence against Rice?  Feds say he was in the park (along with thousdands of others) at the time of the crimes, that he "knew things not made public" and disclosed them in unrecorded interrogations, and that he admitted the killings to a jailhouse informant.  So the government still wants to kill Rice; they just need Time to Cook the Evidence.

February 7, 2004:  Feds have now withdrawn charges against Darrell Rice.  A classic, this case has it all:  botched crime scene processing, forensic fraud by the FBI Lab, reliance on perjured testimony by jailhouse snitches, manipulation of a credulous media to slander the defendant and poison the jury pool, plus inciting hatred and a desire for revenge against the defendant among the victims' families that is so intense they cannot let it go even after the feds are forced to admit the defendant didn't do the crime. 

Defense attorney Fred Heblich said,
"I think that people looking at this, if nothing else, that they should take heart in the operation of the system."  Truth in Justice respectfully disagrees.  People looking at this, if nothing else, should be very, very afraid of the operation of the system. You Could Be Next

Prosecutors routinely try defendants in the media, laying out unrebutted claims that poison the potential jury pool and assure a conviction regardless of guilt or innocence.  Defendants are told to keep quiet rather than endanger their defense, a real Catch-22 situation.  The advantage held by the government has been strengthened in a federal case in the Northern District of New York, where comments to the media by a RICO defendant have opened his defense law firm's confidential attorney work-product files to discovery by government prosecutors.  Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

Faced with the exonerations of innocent people they worked hard to convict of crimes someone else committed, law enforcement repeatedly takes the position of refusing to believe they were wrong.  They prefer to have the perpetrator on the streets than admit their fallibility, so they make no effort to objectively reinvestigate the crimes.  How are We Served by Unsolved Crimes?

Eddie Harkins was locked up in the Cook County, Illinois jail and looking for a deal that would get him out of jail, so he volunteered to become part of the mainstay of the criminal justice system -- a jailhouse snitch.  "Under the influence of freedom", Harkins was coached and rehearsed by prosecutors to tell a grand jury that James Ousley confessed to stomping a man to death.  But that had never happened, and at Ousley's trial, Harkins decided to Finally Tell the Truth.

After seeing more than 130 prisoners freed by DNA testing in the last 15 years, prosecutors in Florida and across the country have mounted a vigorous challenge to similar new cases.  Prosecutors acknowledge that DNA testing is reliable, but they have grown increasingly skeptical of its power to prove innocence in cases where there was other evidence of guilt such as confessions (often coerced or even forged) or eyewitness identification (wrong as much as 80% of the time).  It's All About Winning

If Martha Stewart's unflappable expertise in the kitchen, at the craft table and in the garden, and the success and acclaim she earned turned you green with jealousy ... if you thought NBC and Cybil Shepard in "The Martha Stewart Story" brought accurate biography to the screen ... then Martha's prosecution for invented crimes probably tickles you pink.  On the other hand, if you give a hoot about justice ... if you realize your own success could make you a target ... consider Paul Craig Roberts' thoughts on A Comedy of Justice

Claims of ineffective assistance and outright legal malpractice by former clients are always "bulls---" to Milwaukee defense attorney Gerald Boyle.  When a jury awarded former client Thomas Frasier $75,000 for the representation he didn't get, Boyle told the press it was "bulls---".  When John Maloney based his habeas on Boyle's failure to meet minimum standards of practice, Boyle declared, “Now he’s saying we didn’t do our jobs … bulls - - - we didn’t do our jobs.”  Another high profile client has settled his malpractice suit against Boyle for $625,000, and of course, it's just More "Bulls---" from Gerald Boyle

The US criminal justice system needs an overhaul to make it more scientific, more reliable, and ultimately more just. That's the view of lawyer Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Cardozo Innocence Project.  New Scientist reporter Rachel Nowak visited Neufeld in New York to find out what criminal justice can learn from science.  Rough Justice

The media can support and promote injustice or expose it, as it chooses.  The Oshkosh, WI Northwestern has a long track record of supporting former Winnebago County, WI DA Joe Paulus, which may explain the editorial it published on April 24, 2003.  Sheila Berry wrote an opposing view and received a  non-sequitur response with threatening overtones from the newspaper's managing editor.  We bring you here what Northwestern readers will not see.  Dialogue with the Northwestern

More on the DA allegations from Eye on Oshkosh.

Quitman County, Mississippi is suing the state because it can't afford to provide lawyers for indigent defendants.  
Prosecutors around the nation, however, say that poor defendants generally get passable representation and were not promised more.  C-Plus is Good Enough for the Poor

The wrongly convicted long for exoneration and freedom, and when these are achieved, the backhand they get from society can be a bitter blow.  Freedom No Cure-All

Benjamin Harris is the only person ever exonerated from Washington's Death Row.  Years after his conviction and sentence were overturned, after he was found competent and a jury ruled he should be released, Harris is still being held on a cooked-up civil commitment.  Exonerated But Never Set Free

Thom Marshall of the Houston Chronicle proposes a website for collecting and dispensing information about the activities in our courtrooms and the people involved in them.  Injustice thrives in secrecy. The closer we watch our justice system, the better we can make it.  Web Watch

Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to estimate the number of false confessions nationwide, a recent review of one decade's worth of murder cases in a single Illinois county found 247 instances in which the defendants' self-incriminating statements were thrown out by the court or found by a jury to be insufficiently convincing for conviction. Why Would an Innocent Person Confess?

When Diomedes Polonia was charged with robbery and attempted murder, he turned down a New York Legal Aid lawyer and paid $5,000 to a private attorney whose incompetence got Diomedes convicted.  Five years later, two young attorneys working pro bono have obtained his freedom.  You Don't Always Get What You Pay For

A 77-year-old great-grandmother who spent a year in prison for a crime she didn't commit has won a $1.77 million malpractice suit against her attorney, who had advised that if she pleaded guilty not withstanding her claim of innocence she'd get probation.  Utterly Incompetent Assistance

Paul Craig Roberts:  
For good to come from Illinois Gov. Ryan's controversial blanket commutations, it is important that two points be kept in mind: (1) Wrongful conviction is not limited to capital crimes and is more prevalent in lesser crimes, and (2) the justice system must return to Blackstone's concept of law as a shield of the innocent and abandon Jeremy Bentham's concept of law as a weapon in the hands of prosecutors.  When Convictions are Mistaken


There is nothing quite so convincing to jurors as a defendant's confession.  Perhaps that explains why police are willing to coerce confessions or, failing that, simply make them up, and why prosecutors turn a blind eye to the practice.  

Florida:   At least 38 false or questionable murder confessions have been thrown out by Broward County courts, rejected by juries or abandoned by police or prosecutors since 1990.  The Miami Herald has turned a Spotlight on False Confessions.

Indiana:   In the past few years, Indiana appellate courts have affirmed confessions by defendants who were told lies by police before confessing. The courts tolerated the use of deception in cases where police told suspects they had ballistic information, fingerprints, DNA evidence and eyewitness identifications when there were none.  False Confessions Rarely Questioned

Illinois: Rolando Cruz and Gary Gauger, both victims of coerced, false confessions, urge that all interrogations -- start to finish -- be videotaped.   "Let's put some heat on people who are shifting blame to innocent people," said Lawrence Marshall, an attorney for Gauger, of the call for police recordings. Require Videotaping

Illinois: Four Chicago men convicted of a 1997 drug-related murder have been exonerated.  Police and prosecutors are taking credit for clearing them.  But somebody in the cop shop wrote confessions in English for defendants who only speak Spanish, and the defendants deny signing the Bogus Confessions

New York:  Contrary to arguments made by a prosecutor at two trials in 1990, four strands of hair were never "matched" to any of the Harlem teenagers accused of beating and raping a jogger in Central Park, according to a former police scientist.  DNA has since cleared all five defendants, and the actual rapist has confessed.  No Match

So what does this say about the "confessions" obtained by police from five teenagers?  New Light on Jogger's Rape Calls Evidence into Question

In Texas in 1997, facing a deadlocked jury, Wesley Ronald Tuley pleaded guilty rather sit for another trial and the possibility of life in prison if convicted.  Then his accuser recanted her allegations.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that Innocence Supercedes Guilty Plea

Before national attention brought a halt to the worst witch hunt in U.S. history, 43 adults were falsely arrested on 29,726 fabricated charges of child sex abuse involving 60 children.  Parents, Sunday school teachers and a local pastor were indicted and many were convicted of raping their own children and the children of other members of a sex ring. Innocent people were railroaded into prison, and their children were sold into foster care.  Conservative Columnist Paul Craig Roberts details How a Mantra Ate Justice

When Fort Worth, Texas police crime lab analyst Karla Carmichael submitted an unsolicited supplemental DNA report that strengthened the state's case against Jamien Nickerson in a carjacking murder, the prosecutor sought the death penalty.  But testing of the same evidence by the ME's office brought exactly opposite results.  So prosecutor Mike Parrish dropped the death penalty, saying "We don't take cases to trial for the death penalty when there is a guilt issue."  Innocence No Barrier to Prosecution

Only 16 states provide for the payment of reparations to innocent people convicted of crimes they did not commit and subsequently exonerated.  Only New York and  West Virginia have no limit.  California caps reparations at $10,000, and the federal government is stingiest of all, granting a maximum of $5,000.  The other 36 states provide no compensation at all.  Two contrasting cases illustrate the disparity in how victims of the system are treated.

Steven Toney - Missouri
Jimmy Williams - Ohio

The Bill of Rights makes no mention of the practice when establishing the fair-trial principle in the Sixth Amendment, but today roughly 90 percent of convictions occur when the defendant waives the right to trial and pleads guilty.  The general public tends to regard the practice as too lenient. The defense bar and others of like mind think it too coercive.  Plea Bargain

Imagine you're a prosecutor, and you have a problem.  Rumors are flying that the man whose body was fished out of the river didn't commit suicide -- as the coroner ruled just before he released the remains for cremation -- but that he was murdered.  How do you build a case?  Simple.  You get the coroner to Commit Perjury

Purportedly Christian US Attorney General John Ashcroft thinks it is sinful to smoke, drink, dance, and take drugs (including medically-prescribed marijuana). Doing real justice as prescribed by the Bible, however, is another matter. Ashcroft and Justice: Mutual Exclusives

The FBI's unabashed bashing of Dr. Steven Hatfill -- giving him the "Richard Jewell treatment" by insinuating he is responsible for sending anthrax letters despite a total lack of evidence -- is another example of the means increasingly used by prosecutors to win convictions.  Columnist Paul Craig Roberts issues a wake-up call.  YOU could be the next Person of Interest.

A woman who sent a Crewe, Virginia man to prison for 45 years while she was facing her fourth felony charge has changed her story on his guilt, yet again.  Story changes - again

US law derives from English law, and despite 225 years of independence, the US and UK remain close cultural cousins.   It is not surprising, then, that wrongful convictions -- called "miscarriages of justice" there -- happen every day in the UK, just as they do in the US.  Researcher Michael Naughton urges his government, planning an overhaul of the criminal justice system, to ask why so many innocent are being convicted. The Wrongly Convicted Are Victims, Too

Roger Coleman of Buchanan County, Virginia was executed in 1992 for the murder of Wanda McCoy.  His conviction rested on shaky evidence and was never reviewed by an appellate court because his lawyer filed one day too late.  A group of newspapers is seeking DNA testing that could either exonerate Coleman or finally establish his guilt.  Will Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore follow his predecessors in opposing the testing?  Is he the advocate he claims to be?  Or just another hack who puts party loyalty over knowing the truth?  Guilt by Association

Faulty eyewitness identification and coerced confessions are two of the leading factors in the conviction of innocent people for crimes they did not committ.  Yet two simple measures could go a long way toward ensuring that findings of criminal guilt are genuine.  True Confessions

110 inmates have been freed by DNA.  All of them were innocent.  Collectively they spent over 1,000 years in prison.  For many of them, vindication brought neither a happy ending nor a happy beginning.  They have found No True Freedom

My dad had a saying that fits too many prosecutors:  "I may not always be right, but I'm never wrong."  Bill Lueders, News Editor of the Isthmus in Madison, Wisconsin, observes "It's almost as though the vast, unchecked power of prosecutors robs them of the humility they need to exercise it."  The Importance of Being Sorry

Imagine you're a woman, dragged into a stranger's car, driven to a secluded area and raped.  Imagine that during this ordeal you manage to get a knife out of your purse and stab your assailant, allowing you to escape.  Then imagine you are convicted of murdering your rapist.  After 12 years in prison, your conviction overturned, then reinstated, imagine you're desperate enough for freedom to plead guilty to 3rd degree murder.  Patricia Carbone

Gloria Killian has been imprisoned for 16 years, convicted on the word of a snitch she barely knew who swore Gloria masterminded a 1981 robbery and murder in Sacramento, California.  She was framed by a "thoroughly discredited" perjurer who -- in his own words -- lied his a** off for the government -- in exchange for a reduced sentence that the prosecutor concealed from the jury.  Conviction for Murder Reversed

First-time jurors tend to make judgments before all the facts are in, but those who have previously served as jurors tend to be more fair the second time around, a national poll says.  Fairer Jurors

Do you ever wonder why so many prosecutors doggedly pursue cases even when the evidence clearly demonstrates the defendant's factual innocence?  Summit County, Ohio prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh took a good look at the evidence against Paul and Karen Stanley, charged with capital murder and arson in the fire that claimed their infant son's life.  The evidence was an electrical short caused the fire, and Paul and Karen Stanley were innocent.  Ms. Walsh dismissed the charges against the Stanleys -- and the state's investigators unleashed their fury against her.  Paul and Karen Stanley

Timothy Howard and Gary James
Columbus, Ohio

One crime.  Two men wrongly convicted.  Twenty-five years in prison and still counting.  And two stories about what went wrong -- in 1977 and along the way to their appeal.

Columbus Dispatch

Were They Wrongly Convicted?

Martin Yant

Justice Shirked

Until the system is reformed and the public becomes aware, we cannot presume a connection between conviction and guilt.  Conservative columnist Paul Craig Roberts asks, Where's the Justice?
Remember Jean Valjean, hero of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables?  In Hugo's story, Valjean served 19 years in Toulon prison camp for stealing a loaf of bread, then had to hide his identity when the bishop framed him for stealing two candlesticks. Les Miserables was fiction, and it was set in France over 150 years ago.  Life imitates art and history repeats itself in California's 3 strikes law.  For the second time in three months, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has found California's 3 strikes law unconstitutional when it puts petty shoplifters in prison for 50 years to life with no parole. Jean Valjean, Redux

In 1994, Remon Lee's alibi witnesses failed to show up at his murder trial, and the judge refused to grant a continuance.  Remon was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  Since then he has waged a campaign to prove his innocence -- often pro se -- and failed at every level of state and federal court.  Until he reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled Remon is Entitled to Habeas

Steve (the Rifleman) Flemmi committed 10 murders while on the FBI's payroll as a "valued informant."  The FBI promised Flemmi immunity even as he continued to kill people.  The House Government Reform Committee's investigation into the FBI's long-running abuse of power has been stonewalled at the highest level.  William Safire: Executive Privilege Again

The Chicago Tribune's editorial review of the application of the death penalty offers urgently needed remedies.   But these remedies apply not only to Illinois but to all states, and need to be implemented in non-capital cases as well.  Fixing Criminal Justice

Conservatives are right that the guilty often go free, but the reason is that the innocent are convicted in their place. Justice is no longer a concern of the justice system. Careers depend on conviction rates.   Paul Craig Roberts examines a System of Injustices

When the Texas Legislature hurriedly passed and enacted S.B. 3 on April 5, the law gave new hope to convicts who insist they can be exonerated through DNA tests.  But prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers and convicts alike say they are confounded by different aspects of the statute. Convicts and the Code

Rudolph J. Gerber retired from the Arizona Court of Appeals in May. He sat on that court for about 13 years. Before that, he was a Superior Court judge for nine years and in the County Attorney's Office for about three years.  So Gerber has seen criminal justice up close and personal. And he says the System is Broken.

Anne Freedman of the Philadelphia Intelligencer-Record examines four Montgomery County, PA cases that point out the imperfections of the criminal justice system. And those mistakes have had a devastating impact on the lives of four men. Wrongly Accused

Virginia statute enacted May 2, 2001 allows a convicted felon to petition the trial court where he was convicted for the testing of biological evidence from his case. There are lots of twists and turns on the way to the lab, however.  Kenneth Balka's petition has putVirginia DNA Law Under the Microscope

The Yogurt Shop Murder Trial Headlines Shout 'Guilty!' -- But Did the Prosecution Make Its Case?  From the Austin Chronicle:  Robert Springsteen -- Somebody Has to Die

In October, 2000 Earl Washington was cleared by DNA of a rape/murder that had taken him within days of execution.  The same tests that cleared Earl identified a rapist who was living near the victim at the time of her death.  But the State does not like to admit its fallibility, so there is still No One Charged in Killing.

In the wake of growing controversy about capital punishment, a federal Innocence Protection Act, which would improve the quality of representation for indigent defendants in capital cases and ensure federal and state inmates access to DNA testing, has garnered more support on its second appearance on Capitol Hill.  Innocent After Proven Guilty

In 1999, Roy Rose gave Texas investigators a statement implicating his friend, Robert Springsteen, in what is known as the "yogurt shop murders."  He immediately recanted.  Now he's in jail for refusing to testify at Springsteen's trial, because he is subject to prosecution if he doesn't stick with his original story--even though he says it is untrue. Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't.

Texans for Public Justice has conducted a study of cases from 1994 through 1998 in which only one side sought a hearing from the state's high court, and found Campaign Donors Get Easier Access to Texas Supreme Court.

The National Law Journal has released its annual survey of Judges Behaving Badly.

Conservatives defend the death penalty, and liberals reject it.  The broader issue is the high rate of wrongful conviction. Moreover, wrongful conviction is not confined to capital offenses. If the justice system cannot convict the right person in murder cases, or convict the defendant lawfully according to the rules, how can we have any confidence that police and prosecutors are doing better when it comes to burglary, white-collar criminals, and drug dealers?  Paul Craig Roberts, co-author of The Tyranny of Good intentions, explores From Blackstone to Bentham: Why Wrongful Convictions are on the Rise.

Should feelings of disgust and shame figure in legal cases?  What about indignation, remorse and revenge?  Sarah Boxer examines the views of philosophers, legal theorists and authors regarding what happens When Emotion Worms Its Way into Law.

FBI Crime Lab chemist Fred Whitehurst tried without success to get his superiors to do something about fellow lab analyst Michael Malone. The reason nothing happened: "Malone is very popular with the prosecution and (the oversight authority) is reluctant to criticize the FBI," Whitehurst says he was told.  In tacit acknowledgement that some of Whitehurst's criticisms were well-founded, the FBI ordered reforms in the lab. But Whitehurst himself was suspended, escorted from the FBI building and stripped of his gun and gold badge. Good Cop, Bad Cop

A Texas bill that would make DNA testing available to some state prisoners requires that the prisoner first prove what the test results will be.  The State's response is Insufficient

According to a lawsuit filed by the MacArthur Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cook County, Illinois Public Defender's Office rejected 49% of appeal requests in a 19 month period.  Why?  Cutting a Backlog

Federal judge William Keller does the LAPD's bidding by finding Bob Mullally guilty of criminal contempt for exposing some of the department's most shameful secrets.  Blind Justice

Journalist and author Steve Weinberg looks at three books about wrongful convictions and the lessons they teach for journalists.  These are Lessons for Everyone.

Polygraph expert and former police polygrapher Doug Williams tells us that the polygraph and its step-sister, the voice stress test, “are not capable of detecting deception or verifying truthfulness simply because there is no reaction that indicates deception.  The reaction these very crude instruments record is simply nervousness.”  Williams goes on to say that “the polygraph’s  only real purpose is to get a person into the hands of a trained interrogator for questioning without being bothered by an attorney.   It is simply a psychological billy club that will coerce a person into a confession.”Psychologist Michael Brock agrees with Williams, and looks at the Use of Polygraphy in Criminal and Civil Cases

Professor William Hellerstein of New York's Brooklyn Law School helped free Gerald Harris, who spent seven years in prison for an armed robbery he didn't commit.  He and Peg Tyre of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University are now seeking funding to start a Second Look Program.

Good news from appellate courts.  The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals joins other courts in adopting the Most Liberal Reading of Habeas Time Limits and U.S. Supreme Court decision shifting sentencing from judges to juries leads to Pro-Defendant Appeals Decisions

Report a murder.  Help the police ferret out the criminals.  Get charged with capital murder yourself on no evidence but the word of the actual killers.  Get exonerated by sheer chance.  That's how the system works in Harris County, Texas. No Apologies for Larry Monticolo

The California Supreme Court ruled on December 18, 2000 that the state's public defenders don't enjoy broad immunity from legal malpractice suits and can be sued for negligence just like their private counterparts.No Shield for California's Public Defenders 

The families of Albert DeSalvo, who confessed to the Boston Strangler murders, and of Mary Sullivan, believed to be one of his victims, hope to prove that DeSalvo is not the Boston Strangler and that Sullivan's killer has escaped justice.  After 36 years, a federal court has ordered Prosecutors to Deal with Families in Strangler Case.

Mother Jones Magazine's takes a look at how Chicago cops get confessions and close cases:  Trial by Torture.

When Elias Guzman appeared in court to enter the plea to armed robbery his attorney had worked out, he was heavily medicated.  He insisted on his innocence and asked for a new lawyer.  His lawyer's shift from defending his client to defending himself, however, was a Conflict of Interest.

A U.S. District Judge in Virginia has ruled that the 14th Amendment allows state prisoners to file federal lawsuits seeking DNA Testing.

How sloppy police work, a hands-off justice system and an asleep-at-the-wheel prison turned one man named Sanders into another. 

My Name is not Robert

Lawyer Cheryl Pilate learned a lot in the years it took her to free Ellen Reasonover, an innocent woman convicted of murder.  Pilate will never again be able to swallow the usual platitudes about how the system works, albeit tardily, undoing the unfortunate but merely careless mistakes made by police and prosecutors.  She's seen how innocent people are Railroaded.

Investigators and prosecutors had no evidence against Ellen Reasonover, but that didn't stop them.  They just cut deals with Snitches

John Roland of the Constitution Society explains what to expect If You are Called for Jury Duty in a Criminal Trial and how YOU can make a difference as  "The Fully Informed Juror"

We know that some unbalanced people will come forward and confess to crimes they didn't commit. These walk-in false confessions bear little resemblence to the facts of the crimes, and rarely lead to prosecution.   In New York, authorities have discovered a corollary phenomenon: an unbalanced individual who comes forward and claims to have witnessed crimes he never saw, and to identify innocent people as perpetrators.  He has been believed.  He has destroyed lives.  He is a Liar

Clay Strange of the Travis County (Texas) DA's office says, "DNA testing is not 99 percent accurate, it's 100 percent accurate, when done properly."  Yet in Montgomery County and in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, being excluded—TWICE—by DNA is not enough.  They have the only thing that interests them—a conviction against Roy Criner.

Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune  takes a look at what happens When Innocence Isn't Enough

The cases of Roy Criner and Earl Washington make Kinney Littlefield of the Orange County Register boiling angry that Innocence is Irrelevant.

Is this what we demand in exchange for a false sense of security?

After the death of his drinking and fishing buddy in 1985, Terry Williams of Danville, VA  ~ a retarded alcoholic with a criminal record ~ dreamed that he had killed his friend.  Terry made the mistake of telling the authorities about his dream.  Danville sends more people to Virginia's busy executioner than any other jurisdiction in the state, and Terry soon found himself on Death Row.  He came within 2 days of dying last spring when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to look at his case.  And now it appears that Terry's friend died of natural causes.  Access to Federal Habeas and Death Penalty for a Dream

How Jay Brocco, the quintessential middle-aged, solid-citizen kind of guy, with a good job and a loving family, got caught up in a Kafkaesque drama opposite a dogged detective intent on nailing him with a crime --“a sex crime, at that" -- that Brocco didn't commit. Wrong Man's Sex Arrest Leads to Nightmare

Police officers who pressure suspects into talking even after they've been advised of their ``right to remain silent'' can be sued for doing so, a federal appeals court has ruled. Ruling Focuses on Miranda Missteps

In most states, a knowing and voluntary guilty plea waives all nonjurisdictional error on appeal ~ a brutal fact of legal life for the innocent who opt for a plea agreement, then seek exoneration.  The Texas courts have opened the door to appeals for some of these prisoners. Rule That Waives Plea Errors Canned

How does the Bill of Rights work (or not work) in today's courtroom?  Criminal defense attorney and former FBI agent Timothy Clay Kulp offers insights:  How the System (Really) Works.

James McCloskey, Director of Centurion Ministries, Inc., describes the factors that lead to wrongful conviction in excerpts from his law journal article:  "Convicting the Innocent."
New Orleans Attorney Joan Canny was the deadlocking member of a hung jury in a murder trial. Then she joined the defense for re-trial ~ and won an acquittal. One Angry Juror
"For the first time, the people are beginning to understand the power that prosecutors have," says Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee who is sponsoring three pieces of legislation tailored to tip the balance of power away from prosecutors and rein in abuses of authority. Grand Jury: Power Shift?

Many people can be made to confess to a crime they didn't commit under the pressure of a police interrogation.  False confessions experts Richard Ofshe and Richard Leo examine this phenomenon in The Decision to Confess Falsely:  Rational Choice and Irrational Action.

Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah and a former federal prosecutor, counters that the problem is confined to an especially vulnerable subset of the population, namely the mentally impaired.  Untrue Confessions.

The S&L and bank crises of the 1980s and early '90s unleashed regulatory forces that have been compared by some to witch-hunts.  Critics charge that this culture has pushed individuals and financial institutions to the wall over technicalities. Banking on Fear.

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