The Sad, Sad Truth About Indigent Defense – An Assembly Line That Results in Massive Miscarriages of Justice

Lawyers, Not Another Commission, For The Poor

Stephen B. Bright, Sherrilyn Ifill and Virginia SLoan

The National Law Journal

Public officials respond to intractable problems in a couple of ways. One is to tackle them head on, learning from experience and bringing about what progress is possible. Another is to create a commission that studies them for a couple of years, replicates much of what has already been done and issues a report that is soon forgotten.

Providing lawyers for poor people accused of crimes has been an intractable problem ever since the U.S. Supreme Court held 50 years ago in Gideon v . Wainwright that to ensure fair trials and equal justice the Constitution requires states to provide lawyers to those unable to afford one on their own. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has said that the representation of the poor is in a “state of crisis” and “unworthy” of our legal system.

Since the 50th anniversary of the Gideon decision in March, some well-meaning individuals, such as former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb, and organizations such as the Sixth Amendment Center, have recommended the creation of a bipartisan commission to study the deficiencies in providing lawyers to indigent criminal defendants and propose solutions. The proponents of a commission say the U.S. Department of Justice has asked them to further develop their proposal.

We don’t doubt the sincerity of the advocates of a study commission. However, now is a time for action, not another study by a commission.

The scandalous quality of lawyers for the poor has been studied and documented repeatedly by national, state and local commissions, as well as the media, scholars and organizations. For example, 10 years ago the American Bar Association produced a comprehensive study based on the testimony of expert witnesses from across the country. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is completing a three-part study of the role private attorneys should play in providing indigent defense. The Constitution Project’s National Right to Counsel Committee offered its extensive recommendations in 2009 and is in the process of updating and expanding them.

PLENTY OF REPORTS

Reports, studies and articles have repeatedly documented a long-­standing crisis. People are spending months in jail after arrest without seeing a lawyer. They are being processed through the courts in assembly-line manner with only brief conversations with lawyers, minutes before they plead guilty and are sentenced. Innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not commit. Children without lawyers are committed to institutions. Violations of the right to a lawyer are occurring every day in courtrooms all over the nation.

The reports and studies have also identified over and over again the causes for these problems — the primary one being the unwillingness of state and local governments to carry out their constitutional obligation to pay to provide lawyers for people they are trying to convict, fine, imprison and execute.

There is simply no longer any debate about the problem, the causes or the solutions. Another commission to study again what we already know is no more needed than a commission to study whether the use of tobacco products has an impact on health. It is time to stop studying the problems and to do something about them.

Over the years, professional associations, courts, public defender commissions and organizations have issued detailed standards, guidelines and “best practices” on every aspect of providing lawyers for poor people accused of crimes. Nothing will be achieved by a new commission recompiling, reorganizing and reissuing yet more standards and guidelines. What is needed today is to put the existing guidelines into practice, state by state, county by county and municipality by municipality.

A small number of adequately funded, independent public defender programs have demonstrated for years that implementing these standards results in high-quality legal representation that ensures fairness and reliable verdicts. Progress is being made in following their example in some places, despite inadequate funding and resistance to change.

Individuals and organizations in communities all over the country are drawing attention to the deficiencies, calling for reform and filing lawsuits to improve representation. New public defender offices have been created in Birmingham, Houston and other places. Judges and legislators have recognized the inadequacy of representation in states like Idaho and Michigan and are making changes.

ADDITIONAL EFFORTS

Lawsuits challenging excessive workloads for public defenders have been successful in Florida, Missouri and other states. One private organization, Gideon’s Promise, is providing first-rate training to lawyers going to public defender offices in the South that do not have training programs.

Holder should spend whatever resources the federal government is willing to commit to the right to a lawyer in support of these and similar efforts in the places where the need is the greatest. He should not create yet another commission that will make the same findings and recommendations that have been made so many times before.

We already know what needs to be done. We only require the political will to do it.

Stephen B. Bright is president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights and teaches at Yale Law School and the University of Georgia School of Law. Sherrilyn Ifill is president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. Virginia Sloan is president of The Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal watchdog group based in Washington.

Time to Change Drug Laws & Sentencing

Time to Change Drug Laws & Sentencing: Even though I have represented many accused drug dealers, I would give up all that business in a heartbeat if the government would make sentences equal the circumstances and the individuals. We have more people in prison than any other country in the world, and mostly because of crazy drug sentencing laws that “tough-on’crime” politicians relentlessly pushed to get public notoriety. It’s time to come to our senses. (And thanks to the Atlantic Monthly for a great article.)

The Power Of The Presidential Pardon
By Ron Fournier

A first-time offender caught selling pot, Weldon Angelos is serving a 55-year sentence under federal “mandatory minimum” laws. (Courtesy of weldonangelos.org)

President Obama on Wednesday will pardon a Thanksgiving turkey. Which makes this a good time to ask why a liberal constitutional lawyer who bemoans the bloated prison system and proclaims that “life is all about second chances” is-on the matter of clemency-one of the stingiest presidents in U.S. history?

Put another way: If a turkey deserves a second chance, why not Weldon Angelos?

Angelos was sentenced in 2004 to 55 years’ imprisonment for possessing a firearm in connection with selling small amounts of marijuana. He didn’t brandish or use a weapon, nor did he hurt or threaten to injure anybody. And yet the father of young children and aspiring music producer was given an effective life sentence because of a draconian mandatory-minimum federal law.

Even the judge on his case, Paul G. Cassell, found the sentence “cruel and irrational.” While urging Obama to reduce Angelos’ punishment, the Republican-appointed judge wrote, “While I must impose the unjust sentence, our system of separated powers provides a means of redress.” More than almost any president, Obama has failed to exercise that “means of redress” enscribed in the Constitution, the presidential clemency. But that may be changing. The White House is considering a broad range of clemency reforms.

Why Is This An Issue?

According to an analysis of Department of Justice data published by Reason.com, only three presidents made less use of the clemency power than did Obama during their first terms: George Washington, who had little cause to grant clemency in the nation’s first days; William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia a month after taking office; and James Garfield, who was shot four months into his presidency.

After granting 17 pardons this year, according to the DOJ website, the total for Obama’s presidency stands at 39 pardons (which clear people’s records, typically after they’ve completed their sentences) and just one commutation (which shortens a prisoner’s sentence).

As you can see from the graphic, Obama still ranks at the bottom historically, and his record extends a trend of presidential intolerance that dates to the tough-on-crime demagoguery of Presidents Reagan or Nixon-both of whom, ironically, were more generous with clemency powers than Obama.

“In Federalist 74, Hamilton made clear why the president had the power to pardon: Mercy, particularly when sentences are too harsh. It’s the way of humans, we overreact sometimes,” said Mark Osler, a University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) professor and former federal prosecutor in Detroit who wrote Angelos’ broadly supported petition. (Disclosure: Osler is a friend of mine.)

The issue is freighted with politics. In 1988, Republicans attacked Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis for a Massachusetts furlough program that allowed convicted murderer Willie Horton to escape and commit more crimes. Two decades later, rivals skewered GOP presidential candidate and former Arkansas Govenor Mike Huckabee for his role in the release of convicted rapist Wayne Dumond, who raped and murdered another woman after leaving prison.

Obama has a particular political problem. In early 2001, Bill Clinton granted a spate of unseemly pardons and commutations in the final days of his presidency. The most controversial act of clemency went to financier Marc Rich on the recommendation of Eric Holder, who is now Obama’s attorney general.

Responding to (and stoking) voters’ fears, a generation of politicians have engaged in what political columnist Carl M. Cannon called “an orgy of incarceration” that included mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. In 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned for president promising to “put more police on the street and more criminals behind bars.” Incumbent George H.W. Bush pledged to double spending on federal prison construction.

In 2010, Congress finally addressed the crack-powder cocaine disparity, but the law wasn’t made retroactive. “So you’ve got all these people serving incredibly long sentences that, under the new law, they’d be out of prison by now,” Osler said.

That is not the only blunderbuss statute carrying harsh mandatory sentences. Angelos, at age 24 and with no criminal history as an adult, was caught selling $350 worth of marijuana on three occasions while in possession of a firearm. Though it was not used in the crime, the weapon triggered extreme sentencing requirements. Had he been charged in a state court, for example, Angelos would have been paroled years ago, the petition says. His sentence is longer than the punishment imposed on aircraft hijackers, kidnappers, child rapists, and second-degree murderers.

What Should Be Done?

After granting Angelos’ petition, Obama should grant clemency to inmates sentenced under the old crack-powder guidelines. He also should eliminate the Department of Justice’s sole authority to review clemency petitions and make recommendations to the president. It’s an unacceptable conflict of interest to have DOJ prosecutors reviewing the petitions of people jailed by the DOJ.

A smart suggestion from Osler: Follow the example of President Ford, who created an independent panel to review clemency petitions from the Vietnam War. Via the Presidential Clemency Board, President Ford granted 1,731 pardons to civilians (those who evaded the draft) and 11,872 to military personnel (who went AWOL). The board inoculated Ford from political fallout. “No one remembers Ford doing this,” Osler said, “and draft evaders weren’t exactly popular back then, just like drug sellers aren’t now.”

James Burdickistration sources tell me that such reforms are being considered by the White House, and that Obama is sympathetic to the reformers’ pitch. As a state legislator in 2001, he declared, “We can’t continue to incarcerate ourselves out of the drug crisis.” As a presidential candidate six years later, Obama lamented that “we now have 2 million people who are locked up … by far the largest prison population per capita of any place on earth.” According to Jacob Sullum’s story for Reason.com, the president also has said he suspects a “racial component” behind drug arrest and conviction rates, adding that disparate penalties are “not black or white issues” but “an American issue” since “our basic precept is equality under the law.” In addition to signing the the 2010 crack-powder legislation, Obama has directed Holder to take James Burdickistrative steps to cut mandatory minimum sentences.

Broader clemency reforms are not imminent. Spokesmen at the White House and Department of Justice refused interviews for this column. Osler has had no response on his petition for Angelos, supported by a group of 145 individuals including former U.S. attorneys general, retired U.S. Circuit Court judges, retired U.S. District Court judges, a former FBI director, former U.S. attorneys, and other former high-ranking DOJ officials.

“One of the things about a clemency petition is that it’s a black box,” Osler told me. “Once you submit a petition, you don’t find anything out. There’s no process.” And, too often, there’s no justice.

Amanda Knox Prosecutors: the Worst in the World

Kercher murder trial: Call to jail Amanda Knox for 30 years

Amanda Knox has not returned to Italy for the retrial

Italian prosecutors have asked for a 30-year prison sentence for former US student Amanda Knox in a retrial over the murder of her British housemate.

Prosecutors also requested that Ms Knox’s ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito receive 26 years for the 2007 killing. Mr Sollecito and Ms Knox were convicted in 2009 of murdering Meredith Kercher but acquitted on appeal in 2011. In March, Italy’s highest court overturned the acquittals and ordered a new trial. Mr Sollecito has attended the trial in Florence but Ms Knox returned to the US after the appeal and is being tried in absentia. Both have always protested their innocence. In more than 10 hours of closing arguments, prosecutor Alessandro Crini said DNA evidence – which is highly disputed in the case – showed Mr Sollecito and Ms Knox had stabbed Ms Kercher while another man, Rudy Guede, sexually assaulted her.

Raffaele Sollecito described the allegations against him as absurd

Guede, from Ivory Coast, was convicted in a separate trial and sentenced to 16 years for the killing. Mr Crini criticised the previous appeals court ruling, saying it had made the mistake of “isolating” individual pieces of evidence without looking at the full picture. The supreme court had “wiped out” that ruling, he said. Meredith Kercher, from Coulsdon, south London, was found dead in a flat she shared in Perugia with Ms Knox, a fellow exchange student. Prosecutors said Miss Kercher, who had been repeatedly stabbed, died in a sex game that went wrong. She was 21. Ms Knox insists that on the night of Miss Kercher’s death she was at Mr Sollecito’s flat, smoking marijuana and watching a film. The retrial is expected to reach a verdict in January.

Sentenced to a Slow Death

Finally politicians are looking at the absurdity of life sentences for non-violent crimes, if only because of the financial burden it puts on the economy. Well, right things happen sometimes for the wrong reasons and, as a lawyer, I am very pleased that we may be seeing the end to these idiotic life sentences.

If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? For sharing LSD at a Grateful Dead concert? For siphoning gas from a truck? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation.

And yet this is happening every day in federal and state courts across the United States. Judges, bound by mandatory sentencing laws that they openly denounce, are sending people away for the rest of their lives for committing nonviolent drug and property crimes. In nearly 20 percent of cases, it was the person’s first offense.

As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. And that number is conservative. It doesn’t include inmates serving sentences of, say, 350 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Nor does it include those in prison for crimes legally classified as “violent” even though they did not involve actual violence, like failing to report to a halfway house or trying to steal an unoccupied car.

The report relies on data from the federal prison system and nine states. Four out of five prisoners were sentenced for drug crimes like possessing a crack pipe or acting as a go-between in a street drug sale. Most of the rest were sentenced for property crimes like trying to cash a stolen check or shoplifting. In more than 83 percent of the cases, the judge had no choice: federal or state law mandated a sentence of life without parole, usually under a mandatory-minimum or habitual offender statute.

Over the past four decades, those laws have helped push the American prison population to more than two million people, and to the highest incarceration rate in the world. As in the rest of the penal system, the racial disparity is vast: in the federal courts, blacks are 20 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent crimes.

The report estimates that the cost of imprisoning just these 3,278 people for life instead of a more proportionate length of time is $1.78 billion.

It is difficult to find anyone who defends such sentencing. Even Burl Cain, the longtime warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which holds the most nonviolent lifers in the country, calls these sentences “ridiculous.” “Everybody forgets what corrections means. It means to correct deviant behavior,” Mr. Cain told the A.C.L.U. “If this person can go back and be a productive citizen and not commit crimes again,” he asked, why spend the money to keep him in prison? “I need to keep predators in these big old prisons, not dying old men.”

Several states are reforming sentencing laws to curb the mass incarceration binge. And Congress is considering at least two bipartisan bills that would partly restore to judges the power to issue appropriate sentences, unbound by mandatory minimums. These are positive steps, but they do not go far enough. As the report recommends, federal and state legislators should ban sentences of life without parole for nonviolent crimes, both for those already serving these sentences and in future cases. President Obama and state governors should also use executive clemency to commute existing sentences.

Just one-fifth of all countries allow a sentence of life without parole, and most of those reserve it for murder or repeated violent crimes. If the United States is to call itself a civilized nation, it must end this cruel and ineffective practice.

Forensic Expert Witness Testifies in the Amanda Knox Murder Trial

More On The Second Amanda Knox Murder Trial In Italy – There’s No Such Thing As Double Jeopardy In Italy . . . But This Case Proves There Should Be.

forensic expert witness will play a critical role in the re-opened case against Amanda Knox, shedding light on the evidence allegedly linking the young American to the 2007 murder of her former roommate, British student Meredith Kercher. Kercher was found in the Italian apartment she shared with Knox having died from 47 stab wounds, including a deep gash in her neck. Rudy Guede, an Ivorian man whose bloody fingerprints were found at the crime scene, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for Kercher’s murder. Yet, prosecutors allege that Guede was just an accomplice to the murder, and that Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito killed Kercher in what had begun as an erotic game (Guede admitted to having sexual relations with Kercher on the night of her death). Knox and Sollecito were acquitted of their alleged involvement in Kercher’s death. However, as Italy does not proscribe to the American rule prohibiting “Double Jeopardy” – the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
inherently prohibits trying a defendant following a legitimate acquittal verdict – the Italian Supreme Court was free to vacate the appeal. Italy’s highest court has remanded the case to reexamine previously untested DNA evidence found on the knife prosecutors allege is the murder weapon.

The knife in question, discovered in a kitchen knife drawer at Sollecito’s apartment, was introduced as the murder weapon because it matched Kercher’s wounds. In the initial 2009 trial against Knox, “prosecutors claimed the knife contained small traces of Kercher’s DNA on the blade, while Knox’s DNA was reportedly found on the handle.” Defense attorneys for Knox and Sollecito argued that “the DNA samples were too small to be trusted and were also cross-contaminated during police investigation.” Following a report from two forensic experts who concluded that “the correct international protocol for tests on small samples, called low copy number DNA analysis, had not been followed,” the Italian appeals court confirmed that the DNA analysis on the two samples was inconclusive and inadmissible.

In Knox’s third trial, forensic expert witnesses Andrea Berti found no trace of Kercer’s DNA on the suspected knife, even after using high-performance techniques and testing the knife twice to verify the accuracy of the result. This revelation “casts doubt on one of the key pieces of evidence that was originally used to convict Knox and Raffaele Sollecito of the killing.” Knox’s defense attorney Luca Maori stated that the expert witness testimony clearly indicates that the knife was solely used by Knox for cooking. Knox maintains that she stayed with Sollecito on the night of Kercher’s murder and had no involvement in her untimely death. Maori pointed out that “[i]t is absurd to use it for a murder and put it back in the drawer.” Another lawyer for Knox, Luciano Ghirga, stated that the expert witness testimony “‘pushes even further away the possibility that this was the murder weapon.'” Greg Hampikian, a forensic expert witness who was part of Knox’s defense team commented that despite the prosecution’s claim that Knox bleached the alleged murder weapon, “the knife recovered from Raffaele’s apartment not only did not have traces of human blood, but it had not been cleaned in the way the prosecution said.” Hampikian further notes that the court-appointed forensic experts only found potato starch on the knife blade. “It was a typical kitchen knife…It wasn’t well cleaned and it wasn’t used as a murder weapon.”

Related: Forensic expert discusses new investigatory method

The Supreme Court, in remanding the trial against Knox and Sollecito, “asked that the new trial focus on the motives of the murder and establishing if the defendants were present at the crime scene at the time of the murder.” In addition to hearing testimony from a forensic expert witness, the court will also hear from Luciano Aviello, a man who claims that his brother killed Kercher who is currently on the run. The court is expected to issue a verdict in January, but even if Knox is found guilty, she may not be forced to serve time in an Italian prison “the U.S. government could find legal arguments, including the previous acquittal verdict, to oppose extradition…[and] Knox could attempt to block the extradition in American courts.”

About the Author: The Expert Institute

The Expert Institute is a New York-based company that connects attorneys to subject matter experts. You can connect with The Expert Institute on Facebook and Twitter and by following their blog.

Here is a Former County Prosecutor…….

Here is a former county prosecutor, later appointed criminal court judge, who knowingly sent an innocent man to prison, where he served 25 years before being proven innocent. This poor excuse for a man intentionally withheld crucial evidence of innocence, even after being ordered to turn over all such “exculpatory” evidence to the defense. All he gets is loss of his license (and his judicial position) and ten days in jail. Too bad it couldn’t be a few months – at least – in the same maximum security prisons where Mr. Mortan was forced to try to survive for 25 years. And thank heavens for the Innocence Project and people like its founder, Barry Scheck, with great help from a number of National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers.

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) – On February 6th, 1987, Judge William Lott asked then prosecutor Ken Anderson if he had any evidence which would have been favorable to defendant Michael Morton, who was on trial for the murder of his wife, Christine.

The answer was “No, sir.”

Nearly 27 years later, Anderson will serve jail time for that answer.

A plea deal was announced Friday that includes a 10-day sentence, a $500 fine, and 500 hours of community service to be completed within five years.

Anderson will also resign from the state bar, effectively ending his career in law. He resigned from his position as a judge earlier this year.

All for criminal contempt of court dating back to Michael Morton’s 1987 trial where withheld evidence may have kept the innocent man out of jail.

“It is a good day,” said Morton who served 25 years in prison before DNA testing exonerated him and would later lead to the murder conviction of Mark Norwood.

Some will argue whether the 10-day sentence is appropriate given the severe damage done.

But Morton was satisfied.

“The only thing I wanted is for Ken Anderson to be off the bench and for him to no longer practice law,” said Morton. “Both of those things have happened and more.”

After the hearing, the Innocence Project announced an independent review was approved by Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty. The review will examine each case where someone is still serving jail time due to a conviction that occurred during Anderson’s 16-year reign as DA.

An audit will also occur for all cases where Former DA John Bradley opposed DNA testing.

Anderson’s punishment is history making according to the Innocence Project and the independent audit is yet another milestone for the case which has reshaped justice in Williamson County and far beyond.

“(Morton) has changed criminal justice in Texas and he along with other exonerees will change it across the county,” said Innocence Project attorney Barry Scheck.

Scheck acknowledged Anderson may ultimately serve just four days in jail due to good behavior and time served, but Gerald Goldstein, another Innocence Project attorney, said a message has been sent.

“This is the first time in the country’s history that a prosecutor has been found guilty of criminal contempt, will go to jail, and be stripped of their law license,” said Goldstein who believes those repercussions will serve as a warning to prosecutors about accountability.

Anderson has until December 2nd to report to the Williamson County Jail to begin his sentence.

Morton has been at almost every court proceeding that has resulted from his exoneration.

“My number one motivating factor for being here is so that what happened to me won’t happen to you,” he said Friday.

It is an impact that has left an indelible imprint in courtrooms across the state, including with Judge Kelly Moore who presided over Friday’s hearing and had one last thing to say to Morton before adjourning the case.

“The world is a better place because of you. At the end of the day a lot of people can’t say that.”

Yet Another Victim of Police Misconduct

Seventh Circuit Affirms Expert Witness Testimony Following $25 Million Jury Verdict

October 23, 2013 by Inna Kraner

An expert witness vindicated the innocence of a Chicago man who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Thaddeus Jimenez was just 13 year old when he became the focus of a police investigation following the murder of 19 year old Eric Morro. In May 2009, a federal jury found that Jimenez was wrongly imprisoned because of coercive tactics employed by former Chicago police detective Jerome Bogucki. This Seventh Circuit ruling finally exonerates the now 33-year old man whose emotional story (he is the youngest victim of wrongful conviction) resulted in a $25 million jury award for compensatory damages, one of the most substantial verdicts in Chicago’s history.

The City of Chicago appealed the verdict, in part objecting to the testimony provided by Jimenez’s expert witness. They argued that the testimony of expert witness Gregg McCrary was improperly admitted. McCrary worked for the FBI for 25 years, spending 17 years investigating violent crimes as a field agent until his promotion to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia as a Supervisory Special Agent. He testified describing reasonable practices for police investigations and how the investigation of the murder of Eric Morro departed from those practices. McCrary “told the jury what a reasonable police investigator should have done when presented with these conflicting and/or inculpatory statements during the murder investigation.”

However, the City of Chicago argued that “‘reasonableness’ is a legal conclusion, and experts should not provide legal opinions.” This was a critical element in their appeal as McCrary’s expert witness testimony “tended to show that the errors in defendants’ handling of the investigation were so severe and numerous as to support an inference of deliberate wrongdoing in violation of the Constitution.” The City of Chicago’s motion in limine argued that McCrary’s expert witness testimony “affected their substantial rights” as it “amounted to legal conclusions that were not admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702.”

The Seventh Circuit upheld the expert witness testimony. U.S. Circuit Judge David Hamilton rejected the City of Chicago’s motion, finding that “the bulk of their argument depends on comparing McCrary’s ‘lengthy and purposeful’ testimony with the ‘weaknesses’ of Jimenez’s claims – in other words, re-weighing the evidence while drawing all inferences in the defendants’ favor. We may not do so.” The Court held that McCrary’s expert witness testimony “was within the bounds of proper testimony for a police practices expert.”

McCrary’s expert witness report from October 2011 illustrates how police investigators “conducted a substandard investigation into the murder of Eric Morro that resulted in the wrongful conviction of the plaintiff and left the true killer of Eric Morro on the streets free to kill again.” Police investigators failed to follow the basics of proper police investigation, focusing on Jimenez being the suspect instead of analyzing the victim’s lifestyle and the situational dynamics to “determine what, if anything, elevated a given individual’s risk for becoming the victim of a violent crime.”

The police developed little or no background information regarding” the victim Eric Morro. Moreover, they ignored evidence surrounding the fatal shooting that pointed to Juan Carlos Torres being the actual shooter. McCrary’s expert witness report goes on to state that “the investigators developed tunnel vision about Jimenez being the shooter and failed to fully investigate Juan Carlos Torres as a suspect and ignored or failed to investigate disconfirming evidence regarding Thaddeus Jimenez.”

McCrary’s testimony was instrumental in proving Jimenez’s claim of malicious prosecution and violation of due process. It should also be noted that the Assistant State’s Attorney and the police investigating Jimenez received a tape of a recorded “conversation during which Torres confessed to the killing.” Yet, “no jury ever heard Juan Carlos Torres’s tape-recorded confession to Eric Morro’s murder.”

Bogucki, the police detective who helmed the investigation “stipulated on the record after the jury’s verdict that his actions had violated Jimenez’s constitutional rights and that the verdict was ‘correct in every way.'”

About the Author: The Expert Institute

The Expert Institute is a New York-based company that connects attorneys to subject matter experts. You can connect with The Expert Institute on Facebook and Twitter and by following their blog

More Police Corruption Revealed – Imagine How Different Reality is from TV

FBI investigating false reports filed by Baltimore police unit
Probe began after federal charges leveled against an officer

By Ian Duncan, The Baltimore Sun

FBI investigators acting on a tip from a disgraced former Baltimore police investigator have found that officers in a special plainclothes unit falsified reports to further their cases, a federal prosecutor alleged in court Thursday.

Kendell Richburg, who was assigned to the Violent Crimes Impact Section, turned on his colleagues after he was charged with federal drug and gun offenses. He told prosecutors he was just one of many who misrepresented facts in order to protect informants and continue making arrests, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Copperthite said.

At Richburg’s sentencing Thursday, Copperthite said the FBI had not found “widespread corruption” in the unit. But he said Richburg’s cooperation had helped investigators to find some officers who were filing improper reports.

Richburg pleaded guilty to drug dealing and firearms charges in March, and his cooperation with the FBI was enough to earn him a slight reduction in sentence. A federal judge sentenced Richburg to eight years in prison, followed by 10 months of home detention.

Copperthite said federal investigators interviewed officers and their superiors and compared written police reports to the memories of witnesses and suspects.

“There are officers we were able to identify who have written false reports,” Copperthite said.

The suspects in the investigation were not named in court, and details of Richburg’s cooperation are under seal. An FBI spokeswoman said the investigation is continuing and that it relates to a number of officers from Richburg’s district.

The Baltimore Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The Violent Crimes Impact Section, which consisted of plainclothes officers deployed in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods, has been praised as a tool for driving down crime. But it also attracted criticism from City Council members for what they described as heavy-handed tactics.

The unit was renamed the Special Enforcement Section in December as part of a shake-up by Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, but it was mostly left intact.

Richburg was a member of a group of officers assigned to the Northwestern District. Copperthite said he first came to the attention of federal authorities when they suspected him of fencing stolen electronic goods.

But when they wiretapped Richburg’s phone, Copperthite said, authorities discovered he was working to protect a drug dealer who authorities said was feeding him information so that Richburg could make easy arrests.

The relationship developed to the point that Richburg helped the dealer, Brandon West, set up a robbery and provided him information about the killing of one of West’s relatives — for which West wanted revenge, according to conversations intercepted on the wiretap described in court Thursday.

In “a lot of the calls it was hard to tell who was in charge,” Copperthite said.

At one point, West and Richburg discussed planting a gun on an unlicensed taxi driver. The plan was never carried out, Copperthite said. But if it had been, he said, agents listening in on the calls were ready to step in and clear the driver.

West was sentenced Tuesday to five years on a federal drug conviction. Details of his case were not available in the public court file Thursday and his attorney could not be reached for comment.

Richburg said in court that his actions, and those of other officers he helped agents identify, were motivated by intense pressure to make arrests. Officers with many arrests were praised, he said, while those with fewer were punished.

“I’m not a bad person,” Richburg said. “I just made some bad choices.”

Police have denied that officers are pressured to reach arrest quotas. They have said Richburg acted alone.

But after his guilty plea this spring, prosecutors said the conviction could taint hundreds of cases. At his sentencing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett described honest police work as the foundation of the criminal justice system.

Crooked officers help feed “cynicism and skepticism” about the fairness of the courts, Bennett added. He said that lying on search warrant applications could undermine people’s constitutional rights.

Bennett made clear that while he understood the pressure on officers like Richburg, his case went beyond playing with the truth to pump up arrest statistics.

“We’re talking about blatant corruption on the streets of Baltimore,” Bennett said.

Having a guardian police officer, he added, would be a “drug dealer’s dream.”

[email protected]

Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun

Another Innocent Man Freed After 13 Years in Prison

Neil Rockind, a former hard-charging state prosecutor turned defense lawyer, is a part of this blog because he cares about more than just the acquittals he wins – and there have been plenty – because he cares about justice for everyone.

Wrongly Accused David Camm Not Guilty — Remember Him And Others — The System Wrongfully Accuses and Convicts People Everyday

During jury selection, I usually ask jurors what they think of the system. Prosecutors hate when I ask this question. Why?  Because I want to know what jurors think of the system.  Most have never given much thought to whether the system works, how it does and when it fails, how it fails.  Most tune out stories of wrongful accusations, wrongful convictions and the wrongly incarcerated. They might hear a story here and there but they’ve never really thought about it. I ask them.  Prosecutor’s don’t.  The reason that prosecutor’s don’t is that jurors will inevitably concede and then openly discuss how the system has failed fellow citizens.Wrongful accusations, wrongful convictions, lying police officers, bad or no science, lying or paid off experts and disinterested or uncommitted jurors.  I have had some jurors express different opinions — the system fails because guilty men go free, a few have said.  I wonder about these people — what kind of life must they live where their only complaint with the system is that it doesn’t get enough people.  How quick they must be to judge.  How little burden of proof or evidence they must need to conclude that someone is guilty. Remember:  the system is imperfect and regularly ensnares the innocent or not guilty – REGULARLY!!!!!   David Camm is a shining and awful example of an innocent man convicted.  The system failed him 2x and for 13 years.  It finally got it right: today, he was found not guilty.  He has been incarcerated for 13 years, accused of killing his family and deprived of the basic needs and wants of a man whose family was murdered — the ability to attend his family’s funeral, grieve for them and lay a flower on their grave sites.  Shame on the prosecutors and police who perpetrated this crime on David Camm.  Shame. I often wonder if it wouldn’t be a fairer system if prosecutors had to pay a fine if they wrongly prosecuted someone.  Shouldn’t the state pay the attorney’s fees, incarceration fees, cost of defense and lost opportunity costs of those they accuse but fail to convict. Wouldn’t that limit the depths and lengths that they were willing to go to convict an accused.  I can think of several prosecutors right now who would undoubtedly try far fewer cases if limited or sanctioned in this way.

11 Charged in Lower Manhattan Drug Ring

ByJAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.

“Along Avenue D in Manhattan, Dwayne Mitchell was known as Dubbs, an affable ladies man who drove an Infiniti and had fathered several children with different girlfriends. He won the affection of many residents by paying for block parties and throwing barbecues. He even took neighborhood children to amusement parks like Six Flags.

But prosecutors say Mr. Mitchell was also the head of a lucrative drug ring. For more than a decade, prosecutors said, he has controlled the crack cocaine trade in the Jacob Riis Houses and along Avenue D from Houston to 13th Street, a violent and drug-plagued neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.

“He’s the unofficial mayor of the underworld on Avenue D,” said Dan M. Rather, the assistant district attorney handling the case. “Nothing happens on that strip without Dwayne Mitchell’s knowledge or approval.”

According to an indictment unsealed in Manhattan criminal court on Tuesday, Mr. Mitchell oversaw a team of nine people who sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of crack on the street each year.

Mr. Mitchell was arrested along with seven others on Tuesday morning, the Manhattan district attorney’s office said. They will be arraigned on Oct. 22. Three other people were still being sought.

The arrests follow a 21-month investigation in which an undercover police officer infiltrated the group, won Mr. Mitchell’s confidence and eventually bought several large quantities of crack, between four and six ounces, directly from Mr. Mitchell. The police also wiretapped the group’s cellphones to gather evidence, the indictment said.

All 11 were charged with second-degree conspiracy for their role in the organization, and with multiple counts of selling drugs. Mr. Mitchell was also charged with money laundering.

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. cited “the heroic work of an undercover officer,” adding, “The drug dealing stops today.”

In the past, Mr. Mitchell, 35, had delegated all street-level sales to others, making it nearly impossible to penetrate his circle, prosecutors said.

According to the indictment, Mr. Mitchell drugs were supplied by another defendant, Sabed Rahman, 29, who drove a Mercedes-Benz, kept his family in an upscale house in Queens and, until recently, rented an expensive apartment in Midtown Manhattan. The two often met at a Starbucks at 32nd Street and Second Avenue, where they exchanged thousands of dollars in cash for packages of crack. A search of Mr. Rahman’s house on Tuesday turned up $14,000 in cash, prosecutors said.

The indictment says Mr. Mitchell ran his organization out of a courtyard near Avenue D and Eighth Street, between Buildings 108 and 118 of the Jacob Riis Houses. It is a tranquil spot with trees, benches and a Citi Bike stand, where people stop to chat and old men tell stories.

Prosecutors say Mr. Mitchell held court there, using cellphones to transact business and dispatching members of his group to make sales. He laundered some profits by buying Green Dot prepaid debit cards.

Several residents said Mr. Mitchell, who also went by the monikers P.W. or P-Dubbz, went out of his way to be kind to children and the aged. “He always had little things for kids, he used to be grilling frankfurters for the kids,” said Judy Lorenzo, 64.

But the district attorney’s office said drug dealing and its attendant violence has been rising on Avenue D in recent years. Since 2009, there have been three unsolved murders and six shootings there.”

Fausto Pinto contributed reporting.

Food for thought:

Over the last 12 years or so, some 250 (mostly) men have been released from prisons across the country because DNA has proven beyond doubt that they were innocent.  Now here’s a really, really scary part: of that number of innocent people having spent as much as 20 + years behind bars for crimes they did not commit, some 25% of them gave “confessions.”

What this proves all too much is that way too many such confessions are coerced, manipulated by clever interrogators, made up our of whole cloth (yes, that really happens – one retired NYPD detective’s cases are all being reviewed now because he always “got” a confession, but it was never written and never on tape, but the juries believed him, really only because he was a gifted liar – or the suspect is deceived into admitting everything just to get out of the interrogation room.

One well-known, and sordid, tactic is telling the suspect, “look, just admit it, sign here, and you can get out of here; your Mom is waiting right outside to take you home.”

Also think about this: if DNA cleared 250 people absolutely in these last not too many years, how many similarly innocent people are still in prison because there was no physical evidence that could be tested through DNA!  Worse yet, how many factually innocent people were executed before whatever physical evidence there was could be DNA tested?  If there were ever a strong reason against the death penalty, this is it.

Despite these terrifying statistics, police and prosecutors fight like hell to this day to keep “false confession” experts from testifying for the defense.  You have to wonder why that is.  Conviction at all costs.  Too many prosecutors thrive on convictions, regardless of the truth.  That’s not the way I was taught as a young prosecutor by the man who ran the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in Detroit – Bill Cahalan.  You know what he drilled into all of us?  Do justice.  That’s what he always said it was all about – not just conviction, but justice.  Way, way too many prosecutors these days are dazzled by their conviction records, their sense that they can run for high office – Judge, Attorney General, etc. – on the basis of the notches in their gun belts.  A true tragedy.

– James W. Burdick