Friday, May 29, 2009

A dissenting view...

I read Ryan's post this morning about the dignity of using state or county prisoners to do menial work on the side of the road like picking up trash or mowing the side of our roads and highways.

On first blush, I tend to agree that it certainly may be demeaning for some and it brings to mind thoughts of enslavement.

That being said, there is another view that goes something like this. For some who choose to take part in those work details, while it may be demeaning to have passerby's see you in your prison blues, it may also be an anticipated period where one can be off the barbed-wire-enclosed compound and instead out in an ever-changing free world, albeit for a few hours at a time. Some may choose that over standing around on the yard doing nothing all day or sitting in your cell reading the same book over and over again.

Also, I must say that Governor Crist, despite his nickname and his reputation as Attorney General, has been decent on innocence issues since he took over Florida's government in 2007; certainly better than his predecessor. While we should certainly criticize where it is due, we should also give credit where credit is due.

That's the sound of the men working on the chain gang

Driving to work a few days ago in Tallahassee, I passed not one, but two separate chain gangs picking up litter along the street. It was the first time in a long while that I had seen them.

It must have been a special day, because there they were, in their black-and-white striped Hamburglar outfits with reflective orange roadwork vests, picking up trash. Several of those temporary orange diamond signs warned drivers, "Inmates Working." Governor Charlie Crist earned his nickname "Chain Gang Charlie" this way. Here's a good recap, from the Chicago Tribune:
[Under Attorney General Charlie Crist, Florida] in recent years has resurrected the chain gang, built an additional 21 prisons and passed a law that requires prisoners to serve 85 percent of their sentences. In January, Gov. Jeb Bush called for the closing of state legal offices that represent inmates awaiting execution, a move that critics fear would speed the walk to death.
And from the St. Petersburg Times:
When Crist ran for attorney general in 2002, rivals called him unqualified and unethical. He was derided as a vacuous "Chain Gang Charlie" who advocated a return to roadside prison labor gangs, hitched free rides on corporate jets, flunked the Bar exam twice and practiced little law.
It got me to thinking, the armchair ethicist that I am. I might concede that people surrender certain rights when they commit crimes. (I'll ignore the possibility that these people are innocent, though it's a distinct possibility, as we know.) But the question is whether they surrender the right to a certain basic dignity.

We might seek a comparison with setting prisoners to work, say, making license plates. What makes that different? Well, here are some considerations. Prisoners are being held in private, they are not being made a spectacle of. They are contributing to the public good just the same, though I would argue in a more meaningful way by contributing government labor versus menial, bottom-rung tasks like picking up garbage. As well, singling out a handful of prisoners, as chain gangs do, adds a unique – and therefore unfairly apportioned – stigma to the experience of those few inmates, whereas making license plates was, as I understand, something a larger percentage of prisoners participated in.

There is something about being singled out, in public, to perform a menial and degrading task that all entails a singularly inhumane treatment of people that, while we might say are "bad people," are people nonetheless. Instead, the proposers and enforcers of such policies come off as degrading, barbarian and inexcusably insensitive.

Speaking for me only.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Economy forces tough-on-crime legislatures to temper their rhetoric

That is the subject of an excellent post on's Criminal Justice blog titled, "A Shift Away From 'Tough on Crime' in Florida." Because the economic downturn is even being felt by state governments – a falling tide lowers all boats, as it were – policymakers around the country are turning their attention to the massive costs America's out-of-control prison population. What are some fair and just ways to reduce the prison population? Is it focusing on rehabilitation for drug crimes, as Obama has signaled? Is it focusing on re-entry programs for ex-offenders, or perhaps lowering ridiculous sentences for non-violent crimes? Perhaps it is all of the above:

On Friday, Florida lawmakers passed a budget including an expansion of drug courts and rejected proposals to stiffen sentences for sex crimes and drug crimes. When Florida legislators pass on a chance for long sentences, something is going on... This year's cutbacks are hopefully the beginning of something bigger in Florida, where the expanding prison population has led to estimates of opening 20 prisons in the next five years.
We can certainly hope that this is the beginning of something good, that legislators won't turn around and re-think their sensible decisions just because they have the money to throw at private prison contractors again. Florida's prison population just passed 100,000 inmates, not counting those on parole or probation, or otherwise under the control of the Department of Corrections. With a number that astronomical, and with a gigantic budget hole to fill, it's time to think about starting to institute more fiscally – and morally – responsible sentencing policies.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Death Row Foes See Newsroom Cuts as Blow

On Thursday, the New York Times ran an article on their front page with the above title. The opening sentence read, "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." The idea being that, since the newspaper industry has faltered recently, the Fourth Estate has become weakened in its ability to assist death penalty opponents in an investigative and litigious capacity.

According to the Innocence Project, 238 inmates have been exonerated through DNA testing. Many of those were on death row, and some of those were freed thanks to the hard work of investigative journalists. Now that papers have less time and less manpower to spare, they see it as more of a burden to take on those kinds of projects.

Oftentimes, advocates would enlist the help of newspapers to file suits to obtain DNA testing, arguing under the First Amendment that the public's right to information meant that newspapers should be allowed to test evidence.

Also quoted in the article is our own Seth Miller, our Executive Director:

“The problem is that stories that were getting written three, four years ago that supplemented the legal work the innocence projects were working on, are just not happening,” said Seth Miller, the executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida.
This is an unfortunate result of the industry-wide downsizing of journalism and, as well, the economy in general. Something few people think about is how journalism impacts not only on the public's access to information and original, incisive reporting about important issues, but on wrongly imprisoned inmates' access to justice.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A visit from Bill Dillon

We had quite a treat a few days ago when Bill Dillon, a man we fought to exonerate, swung by the office. Dillon spent 27 years in jail for a 1981 murder he didn't commit until DNA testing proved his innocence and he was released in November 2008.

William Dillon inspects a photograph of his November 2008 exoneration that hangs in our office.

William Dillon speaks to our summer law interns on their first day in the office. What a way to start an internship!

Dillon spoke to our incoming class of interns for about an hour, telling the story of how he was wrongfully convicted, sharing his new outlook on life, and answering questions.
"Justice is a word... If you want the soul of justice to be there, you have to put it there." –William Dillon
I was actively scribbling notes when he would utter something unintentionally profound and moving. It's remarkable how Bill is so gracious and sincere, not at all bitter.
"It's not about living my life thinking about what happened, it's about thinking about what will happen." – William Dillon

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why President Obama should have Georgia on his mind...

The day after Amnesty International's Global Day of Action for Troy Davis, the Telegraph out of London runs an opinion piece by Neil Durkin on the possibility of an Obama pardon for Troy.

Durkin points to the centrism that Obama has come to embody in his first days in Office, straddling the line between hardcore death penalty opponents and reformers. Obama could be described as a pragmatist on this issue who can be pro-death penalty for some crimes, while fully acknowledging the flaws in the system that might lead to an innocent man being executed, something that no one should be for. For example, Obama championed important criminal justice reform while he was a state senator in Illinois, while avoiding ambiguity about whether he supported the death penalty.

So, why should this concern a popular president, burrowing through an enormous in-tray 500 miles away in Washington? Well, on the one hand Barack Obama is unambiguously pro-death penalty in what he calls the "most egregious" or especially "heinous" crimes. Last year he disagreed with a Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the execution of child rapists receiving death sentences and he's said he'd want Bin Laden executed. Okay, so far so what? This is no different from most mainstream politicians in pro-death penalty USA.

But, Obama is also heavily associated with Illinois where, as he delicately puts it, they "had some problems ... in the application of the death penalty". In fact, the problems included the then Governor George Ryan being confronted with the fact that during his governorship more death row prisoners had been released from prison on the grounds of innocence than had been put to death. Death row was running at "a loss". As a lawmaker in Illinois Obama helped introduce new measures for videotaping police interviews and he says he's "proud" of his role in "overhauling a death penalty system that was broken".
A presidential pardon or commutation for Troy would draw enormous attention and scrutiny. It would likely draw criticism as well. People are executed in the United States almost every day, though Durkin is right when he says that Troy has a particularly strong claim of innocence, or at least a strong claim of entitlement to a new trial. Troy's case has drawn so much attention – even from across the pond, as we see here – because it is so egregious. We will see if that moves Obama to action, though, for my part, I doubt it.

Deep Thought

The opening salvo of a post on SimpleJustice today:

The Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal makes me wonder, how did we go from public servants to government officials so monumentally important and distant from the people they purport to serve that they are beyond the reach of an ordinary person in a court of law?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Global Day of Action for Troy Davis

We have blogged repeatedly about Troy Davis, the Georgia convict on death row despite the fact that the case against him has completely disintegrated since his conviction. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, nor a murder weapon ever found, yet Troy Davis was sentenced to death on the testimony of nine eyewitnesses. Seven of those witnesses have since recanted or contradicted their original testimony under oath. (Think: would we sentence him to death today, with what we have now: two witnesses?)

Troy has been set, stayed, and re-set for execution three times. His most recent stay ran out this past Saturday.

Troy's case has garnered serious media attention, and rightly so. Amnesty International has adopted his cause as their own, and they have declared today a global day of action. See their website here for events in your community.

In Tallahassee, there will be a vigil on Landis green tonight at 7 o'clock. Spread the word, and we encourage all of our Tallahassee readers to show up and voice your support for Troy.

The New York Times supports access to DNA testing

Yesterday, the New York Times published an editorial to accompany their article on prosecutors' reluctance to grant DNA testing. The editorial called for states to pass laws granting access to DNA testing. Forty-six out of 50 states have such laws today, with the remaining four being Maryland, Alabama, Alaska and Oklahoma.

An excerpt from the Op-Ed, that sounds a lot like yesterday's article:

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2006 that defendants have a constitutional right to introduce evidence of this sort of “third-party guilt” — the suggestion someone else committed the crime. Prosecutors often say they oppose DNA testing because it is burdensome, but testing requests are not that common. In many cases, prosecutors seem to be motivated by a desire to avoid having their work second-guessed by objective science.
The comments on the article from yesterday were surprisingly civil and one-sided. Most reflected outrage and disappointment at prosecutors' general refusal. This particular reader put it better than I could have:
It is absolutely amazing that the same prosecutors who want to collect DNA from everyone who comes into contact with the courts, including traffic law violators, refuse to use that same test to verify their convictions. Apparently prosecutors view DNA evidence as a great tool to fish for perpretrators and get convictions, but don't want it used to question their convict at all costs prosecutions. It is sad that prosecutors believe the judicial system is about closing cases instead of justice and truth.
— darter1, Columbus, Ohio (emphasis added)
SimpleJustice also has a great commentary on the article,
The excuses offered are silly, easily undermined by basic arguments, facts and the science itself. There is no good reason to refuse a convicted prisoner access to DNA testing. Even the slippery slope, that if they let one prisoner do it, every prisoner will want to if for no better reason than to take a shot in the dark. After all, they can't do worse than they already have. But this doesn't pan out either, both because there are so few DNA cases to begin with, and because it involves DNA testing on old cases, since new cases are having it done already as a matter of routine. Assuming the worst, it's just not much of a burden.

And so we get down to the bottom line of the issue squarely framed in the Times' article, yet wholly ignored. Who cares what the prosecutors have to say. Why aren't judges ordering these DNA tests? (emphasis added)
That's a good question, and totally unaddressed, as he said. Now, I do wonder that...

Monday, May 18, 2009

The value of finality

One of the systemic problems contributing to the problem of wrongful incarceration – besides wrongful convictions in the first place – is a fierce reluctance by the system and its constituents to overturn previous convictions. This is what we casually refer to as the value of finality. Courts are afraid of getting 'bogged down' with every claim of innocence or procedural error, so much so that they create daunting procedural hurdles to having an appeal heard. Add to that the resistance from prosecutors and DAs who are afraid of losing face when it is revealed that they had convicted the wrong person. A picture of the difficulty facing innocent imprisoned now beings to take shape.

Two articles came out just now, in the New York Times and USA Today that are related to this attitude that stands in the way of justice post-conviction. The New York Times' A1 story discusses prosecutors' reluctance to grant DNA testing:

A recent analysis of 225 DNA exonerations by Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, found that prosecutors opposed DNA testing in almost one out of five cases. In many of the others, they initially opposed testing but ultimately agreed to it. In 98 of those 225 cases, the DNA test identified the real culprit.
I find this particularly insulting:
In Illinois, prosecutors have opposed a DNA test for Johnnie Lee Savory, convicted of committing a double murder when he was 14, on the grounds that a jury was convinced of his guilt without DNA and that the 175 convicts already exonerated by DNA were “statistically insignificant.” (emphasis mine)
Says the New York Times, "Defense lawyers also say the arguments ignore the proven power of DNA to refute almost every other type of evidence." I'm not sure what the "almost" refers to, unless it is, say, an autographed and notarized picture of the defendant committing the crime.

Also today, USA Today ran a story on A3 about Troy Davis. Davis has been on death row for 18 years, though the case against him has since collapsed. Simply put, the State is unwilling to grant Davis a new trial just because he has already been convicted once.
Davis' attorneys and advocates for the wrongfully convicted say his case, set for another U.S. Supreme Court appeal this week, represents one of possibly dozens in which courts are reluctant to consider evidence discovered after conviction that might exonerate inmates on death row.
Davis' stay of execution ran out on Saturday. You can visit Amnesty International's page on Davis here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Roundup

The office is abuzz today because William Dillon, our most recent exoneree from November 2008 is visiting. Dillon served 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. Fault eyewitness testimony, fraudulent science, and police misconduct led to his wrongful conviction. But in person, Dillon is as good-hearted and sincere as you could imagine; always remarkable how exonerees show no bitterness, only gratitude and optimism.

Here's what's going on around the Internet:

Matt Kelley of the Innocence Project and has a blog post about torture and wrongful convictions:

I work at the Innocence Project when I'm not blogging here at, and many of our cases have shown the power of emotional and physical abuse from law enforcement officers to force someone to admit to something they didn't do. About 25% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing have involved a false confession or admission. If one-quarter of information gleaned from torture was false – leading to wrongful arrests and convictions and to costly goose chases – would Dick Cheney still say it was worth it?
Texas raises its exoneree compensation from $50,000 to $80,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. Exonerees will also receive 120 hours of paid tuition "at a career center or public college." They now compensate their exonerees more generously than any other state. Of course, simple money can't make up for lost years of a person's life. It can only serve to help them get back on their feet after years of being completely divorced from mainstream society.

Connecticut House of Representatives votes to repeal the death penalty by an impressive margin: 90-56.

Finally, the DailyKos features an early-morning publicity and fundraising drive for the Innocence Project in New York.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Who owns your genes?

Well, you might be surprised who owns your genes. The ACLU published an article yesterday in their Daily Kos diary that began,

Today the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. government’s practice of granting patents on human genes – specifically, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are associated with breast and ovarian cancer... At this point, 20 percent of the human genome has been patented.
Besides the immediate shock – surprise and disbelief – I wondered what the ACLU's angle was, what claims in particular they made in their lawsuit. On what grounds could they contest the practice?

The ACLU released a statement from their President, Anthony D. Romero, found here, that contains this compelling point: "Knowledge about our own bodies and the ability to make decisions about our health care are some of our most personal and fundamental rights." Perhaps, then, it is a privacy issue, a nebulous right not expressly defined in the Constitution, but often believed to exist. Instead, the ACLU is actually attacking this practice on the grounds that it infringes free speech:
We believe this is a gross violation of First Amendment rights: individuals’ rights to know about their own genetic makeup, doctors’ rights to provide their patients with crucial medical information, and scientists’ rights to study the human genome and develop new treatments and genetic tests.
The magazine Wired also covered the story. I found this to be a good quote, but not a free speech concern:
“All identifying of differences, including those that are found in the future by anyone to correlate with an increased risk of cancer, are patented. Myriad did not create any of the differences found in the genes. Nature did,” said the suit, referencing patent holder Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City.
Again, from Wired: "Myriad, which had issued a cease-and-desist order to Yale University scientists researching the genes, said it would prevail in the case."

Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 is written to protect intellectual property. It reads: "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." Not a patent lawyer, but suing a world-class research university to stop them from exploring something that's inside many people by nature, I don't think, promotes the progress of science.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Paul House exonerated in Tennessee!

From the New York Times:

Prosecutors dropped charges against a former Tennessee inmate who spent 22 years on death row before new evidence cast doubt on his guilt. The district attorney said DNA tests presented “a reasonable doubt” about whether the former inmate, Paul House, 48, acted alone in the murder of a woman near Knoxville in 1985. “This is the day we’ve been waiting for 24 years,” said Joyce House, his mother. “The tears have been flowing, and I’ve been dancing.” In 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Mr. House was entitled to a new trial. He was released from prison in July and placed on house arrest. DNA from key evidence, including semen on the victim’s clothing and blood beneath her fingernails, does not match Mr. House. Prosecutors said in a petition that they still suspected Mr. House of murder, possibly with accomplices, but a judge accepted their request to drop the charges.
Congratulations to the Innocence Project in New York for their hard work.

The perils and pitfalls of forensic science

Both the New York Times and TalkLeft took issue yesterday with the oft-unacknowledged imperfections in forensic science.

The New York Times picks up on the National Academy of Sciences report that we've mentioned before, and how a cross-section of scientists and government officials back the recommendations that the NAS put forward.

Barry Fisher, a past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and a former director of the crime laboratory at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said he and others had been pushing for this kind of independent assessment for years. “There needs to be a demonstration that this stuff is reliable,” he said.

It’s not that there hasn’t been any research in forensic science. But over the years much of it has been done in crime labs themselves. “It hasn’t gotten to the level where they can state findings in a rigorous scientific way,” said Constantine Gatsonis, director of the Center for Statistical Sciences at Brown University and co-chairman of the National Academy of Sciences committee. And rather than being teased out in academic papers and debated at scientific conferences, “a lot of this forensic stuff is being argued in the courtroom,” Mr. Fisher said. “That’s not the place to validate any kind of scientific information.”
Meanwhile, TalkLeft discussed the unreliability of fingerprint evidence when analysts are given a "context" for a print. For example, scientists might be given a latent print, and then given a print for comparison and told it was taken from a suspect. Human beings are suggestible, and because this analyst is a human being, they're statistically more inclined to find that the prints match, independent of whether they actually do.
He has conducted studies that show that when working on an identification, fingerprint examiners can be influenced by what else they know about a case. In one experiment, he found that the same examiner can come to different conclusions about the same fingerprint, if the context is changed over time.

The same kinds of contextual biases arise with other decision-makers, said Dr. Dror, who works with the military and with financial and medical professionals. He thinks one reason forensic examiners often do not acknowledge that they make errors is that in these other fields, the mistakes are obvious. “In forensics, they don’t really see it,” he said. “People go to jail.”
Finally, TChris at TalkLeft had a good analogy:
Just as police officers conducting lineups should not be told whether the suspect is or isn't among those who are lining up, forensic scientists who are asked to match a fingerprint shouldn't be told whether the print is suspected to have been left by a particular person. Any other standard raises concerns about the objectivity of the analysis.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Criminal justice and Obama White House

We blogged earlier, on the day of the inauguration, about Obama's plans to reform the criminal justice system.

Today, SentLaw noticed that the text of the White House's page on civil rights – where only a bulleted list containing one or two mentions of criminal justice reform were mentioned – has changed.

Though perhaps this is old news, I just noticed that the discussion of criminal justice issues has changed over at the Civil Rights webpage on this webpage used to take a bullet-point approach to describing agenda items, and the key bullet points were "Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Support"; "Eliminate Sentencing Disparities"; "Expand Use of Drug Courts."
Now the President's web site reads:
The President will lead the fight to build a more fair and equitable criminal justice system. He will seek to strengthen federal hate crime legislation and will work to ensure that federal law enforcement agencies do not resort to racial profiling. He supports funding for drug courts, giving first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, if appropriate, in drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than prison terms in changing behavior. President Obama will also improve ex-offender employment and job retention strategies, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counseling so ex-offenders can successfully re-join society.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Florida passes snitching reforms

On Thursday, Charlie Crist signed Rachel's Law, requiring law enforcement agencies to "create guidelines for the use of confidential informants." The eponymous Rachel Hoffman was a Florida State University grad arrested for possession of marijuana and ecstasy who, rather than face jail time, agreed instead to serve as an informant in a drug buy. While attempting to purchase drugs and a handgun in an undercover sting, Rachel was murdered.

Her death sparked increased scrutiny into the use of police informants. Several bills were introduced into the Florida Legislature in an attempt to regulate and oversee the use of wired informants by Florida police departments. From the St. Petersburg Times:

"Rachel's Law" calls on agencies to take into account a person's age and maturity, emotional state and the level of risk a mission would entail. Police also would be barred from promising an informer more lenient treatment; only prosecutors and judges can do that.

Not included are several provisions Hoffman's parents said could have prevented their daughter's death, including barring anyone in a drug treatment program, as 23-year-old Rachel was, from going on undercover drug buys.
Grits for Breakfast has more, including this highlight:
My favorite part: Law enforcement must "Provide a person who is requested to serve as a confidential informant with an opportunity to consult with legal counsel upon request before the person agrees to perform any activities as a confidential informant."

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Roundup

Though Colorado failed to abolish the death penalty yesterday, they did manage to ban texting while driving.

Add this to the list of bad signs coming out of the Obama Administration DOJ – when can we connect the dots between all the bad signs and officially become disappointed? – from TalkLeft: DOJ Argues FBI Had No Duty to Disclose Evidence of Perjury.

A good editorial, not to be missed, out of the DeMoines Register: Let plaintiffs sue for prosecutorial abuse.

Finally, from the "You can't write this stuff" department, Matt Kelley, author of the Criminal Justice blog on, tweeted this morning about a program called "Mock Prison Riot." The idea is to either participate in or watch trained professionals diffuse a staged prison riot and learn from the techniques used. Matt asks, "Is this a reality show or real prison guard training?" More than a little surreal.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Colorado death penalty bill dies in Senate

DENVER -- The Colorado Senate rejected a proposal to abolish the death penalty by a single vote Wednesday, hours after backers revived the measure for a final vote on the last day of the legislative session.
Senators voted 18-17 to defeat the bill, which would have used the savings from eliminating capital punishment prosecutions to fund cold case investigations. Last month, a similar proposal passed the House by one vote.
That looks to be the end of the line for the bill, unfortunately. TalkLeft says, "Today was the last day for the Senate to act. Hopefully, a similar bill will come up again next year."

Capital Defense Weekly is much more optimistic:
In Colorado repeal efforts came within vote of making that state the third to abolish in recent years. Folks on the ground in Colorado appear to have done one heck of a job even if their efforts came up a little short. This vote wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near this close. We are winning.
TalkLeft names four democrats who voted against the bill. The unspoken premise is that this is remarkable because Democrats should more reliably vote "the right way" on criminal justice issues like the death penalty. Although I think he's right that Democrats are more likely to support a bill like this, I still lament that the death penalty is seen as a partisan issue. It's not: it's about fairness, humanity, and, in this case, using resources wisely. Better luck next year.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Supreme Court set to decide on life without parole for juvies

On May 4, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in two cases out of Florida. Both cases deal with the Constitutionality of a life-without-parole sentence imposed on a minor.

TalkLeft gives a tentative assessment of the way the court may rule given their 2005 ruling in Roper v. Simmons, when they ruled that the death penalty for juveniles was unconstitutional, "because children are 'immature, unformed, irresponsible and susceptible to negative influences, including peer pressure.'" Life without parole, a similarly damning and permanent punishment, is also flawed because "assumes that a child, whose intellectual and emotional development is incomplete, will never change, even after reaching adulthood, and therefore deserves no chance of parole."

I saw the article is tentative because the author quickly hedges his bets:

That the reasoning is parallel does not guarantee that the Supreme Court will apply a death penalty precedent to a lesser punishment than death. The Supreme Court has often declared that "death is different," and the finality associated with death might be viewed as having a different character than the finality of life without parole.
It's a good article.

Meanwhile, does a characteristically excellent job of putting things in perspective:
There are currently 2,225 people in U.S. prisons in 45 states for crimes committed when they were under 18, and the U.S. is nearly alone in sentencing kids to die in prison. In 2006, the U.S. was the only country to vote against a proclamation condemning juvenile LWOP - 186 counties voted for it. Human Rights Watch has found that only three other countries have prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Seth's Update, April 28, 2009

At the Innocence Project of Florida, we are always looking for new ways to better communicate with our friends and supporters, as well as increase awareness about our work. In that spirit we're pleased to share with you our first-ever email video update from our Executive Director, Seth Miller.

Seth's update (only 3 minutes long) includes information about our recent case progress, efforts in fundraising and publicity, and some exciting things we've planned for the future. If you'd like, you can help us make this a real conversation by leaving comments on this blog post, on the YouTube video, or by sending us an email through our website.

Thanks for watching.

Northwestern Center frees innocent man convicted at 13

Thaddeus Jimenez was arrested for a street gang murder in Chicago when he was 13. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison, but served only 16 before he was exonerated yesterday by the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern.

Read more:

The ABA Journal article mentions witness recantations as a reason prosecutors took a second look into his case. How come that can't happen for Troy Davis, the evidence in whose case is even more egregious?

Update on Colorado's death penalty abolition movement

Bad news on the fight in Colorado to abolish the death penalty. As you might recall, there had been a movement to use the money saved to solve cold cases, instead of using millions of taxpayer dollars on a death penalty that was hardly ever used in Colorado. remarks:

Colorado's Senate decided yesterday not only to maintain status quo (wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on one execution every three decades) - but to go one step further. Senators also voted to charge every person convicted of a crime $2.50 on top of court fees they already pay, to help fund investigations of unsolved crimes.
From the New York Times:
An effort to repeal Colorado’s death penalty law stumbled Monday in the State Senate after two hours of sometimes anguished and angry debate, leaving the bill in limbo and supporters scrambling to find votes as the end of the session looms this week... The Colorado House voted in support of repeal, by a single vote majority, last month.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Palm Beach Post coverage of Dillon speaking event

The Palm Beach Post has an article today on Bill Dillon's speaking engagement at the Rotary Club in Wellington, Florida that took place Friday.

Amnesty International Video for Troy Davis

I came across this video on Amnesty International's page. The music is "State of Georgia" by the band State Radio.

Troy was convicted of killing a Savannah, Georgia, police officer, though 7 of the 9 witnesses who testified against him have since recanted. No murder weapon or physical evidence was found. No court has held a hearing on the witness recantations. If anyone deserves a new trial, it is difficult to see how it's not Troy. Unfortunately, his case has become ensnared in the in the procedural mire that is post-conviction appeals. His time might be running out.

Troy's appeal in the 11th Circuit was denied last month, though he was issued a 30-day stay to file for certiorari to the Supreme Court. That gives him until around mid-May.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Roundup

A few tidbits from around the legalsphere this morning: This blog post reports on a recent study from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). The study shows how the litigation of "small crimes" – crimes like loitering, driving with a suspended license, and dog leash violations – that still carry a prison sentence (!) are clogging the courts.

"Every year literally millions of accused misdemeanants, overwhelmingly those unable to hire private counsel, and disproportionately people of color, are denied their constitutional right to equal justice. And, taxpayers are footing the bill for these gross inefficiencies."
SentLaw: A Pennsylvania inmate who maintains his innocence asks to be executed by the State, having grown exhausted from having multiple appeals denied.

Grits for Breakfast has their take on the Houston Police Department crime lab fiasco: "This is another example of a "team spirit" mentality that contributes to many forensic-based false convictions. Houston crime lab workers apparently weren't acting as scientists seeking independent answers but considered themselves part of the prosecution's team, omitting lab results that might not favor the side they wanted to win."

Simple Justice has a thorough piece discussing what Obama should be looking for in his Supreme Court nominee, now that Justice Souter is retiring.