"It is the death of humanity to know the price of everything but the value of nothing." ~Unknown

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How the wrong guy can end up in prison

Edward Humes - Mean Justice

Mean Justice Update: a national snapshot. Also, the latest on appeals by Pat Dunn (central character in Mean Justice), new evidence of his wrongful conviction, and other miscarriages of justice in the toughest town on crime in America.

High Crimes and Misdemeanors. Read the fatal outcome of the arrest of Pat Dunn’s son, Danny, for a minor offense.

Prosecutorial misconduct Q & A Questions and answers about prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions — why they happen, what’s being done about it, and why you should care.

The Toll of Misconduct A short selection of some of the cases of official errors and misconduct that have led to miscarriages of justice and unjust imprisonments.

How the media covers — and doesn’t cover — prosecutorial misconduct. From an address by author Edward Humes to the national conference of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE).

How to assess possible cases of wrongful conviction A resource for journalists and others interested in the subject. Distributed at the national conference of Investigative Reporters & Editors.

DA Blues - When do politics interfere with prosecution? Consider the case of a prominent physician accused of terroristic threats but represented by a politically connected attorney, and you’ll see how justice is not necessarily blind. From an article by Edward Humes in Los Angeles Magazine.

Jerome Valenta — Read Edward Humes’ account of a gadfly and advocate for parolees who was sentenced to seven years in prison for tape- recording non-confidential conversations with law-enforcement officials. From prison, he penned his own appeals and won his freedom, proving he was the victim of gross prosecutorial misconduct by the same officials who imprisoned Pat Dunn.

Prosecutorial Misconduct Discussion. Listen to an in-depth interview with Mean Justice author Edward Humes at AnnOnline, in Real Audio.


Dig Deeper:Prosecutorial Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions

The Innocence Project DNA exonerations by organization headed by attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. More than 100 innocents have been freed from prison as of February 2002. Click here for a listing of other innocence projects around the country.

Overzealous prosecutions. Read the Los Angeles Times article on prosecutorial controversies in California’s heartland.

Ritual Abuse Links — An examination of the Bakersfield Witchhunt and other similar cases of wrongful prosecution revolving around false allegations of mass child abuse, molestation and devil worship.

Bennett Gershman — Pace University law professor, ex-prosecutor and expert on prosecutorial misconduct speaks to Frontline on the mindset that leads to wrongful prosecutions. Writes Gershman, in his seminal book Prosecutorial Misconduct:

It becomes inescapably clear that the prosecutor, for good or ill, is the most powerful figure in the criminal justice system... (His) power to charge, plea bargain, grant immunity, and coerce evidence is largely uncontrolled... Acts of misconduct by prosecutors are recurrent, pervasive, and very serious... Restraints on prosecutorial misconduct are either meaningless or nonexistent. —Prosecutorial Misconduct, Bennett Gershman, professor of law and former prosecutor

Trial and Error, the Chicago Tribune’s excellent 5-part series on prosecutorial misconduct, including one of the most systematic attempts to quantify a problem that is notoriously difficult to track. By Ken Armstrong and Maurice Possley. Many of the cases are discussed in Mean Justice. Listen to Possley interviewed on Weekend Edition on NPR in Real Audio on the subject of prosecutorial misconduct.

Discussion of Prosecutorial Misconduct on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Win at All Costs , the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s 10- part series examining cases of prosecutorial misconduct and other allegations of ethical lapses by federal prosecutors. By Bill Moushey. The Justice Department has asserted that the articles were biased and error-laden. Read the articles and then check out Justice's response, then judge for yourself.

One out of Seven For every seven executions in America since the death penalty was restored in the 1970s, one condemned man has been released from death row because he turned out to be innocent.

Death Penalty Information Center. An excellent compendium of statistics, reports and case studies of cases of wrongful convictions and death sentences. You don't have to be anti-death penalty in your beliefs to appreciate these harrowing tales of innocent men and women condemned to death row.

Columbia Journalism Review on wrongful convictions and the media.

The Case for Innocence. Excellent Frontline special on PBS about wrongful convictions and the promise of DNA testing.

Error rates in Capital cases Read the study that has sparked new debates about the death penalty and the possibility that the innocent could be put to death, given the 65% rate of convictions overturned in death cases. This study was commissioned by the U.S. Senate, and is provided on the web by The Justice Click here to read a transcript of the study’s author, Professor James Liebman, hosting a chat on Court TV Online.

Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science — Ground breaking Justice Department report on cases that led to criminal conviction and, often, a death sentence, that were subsequently overturned when DNA proved the wrong man had been imprisoned. This report, along with the work at Northwestern University and Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld’s Innocence Project, have stimulated the national concern over injustice and false convictions now sparking a long-delayed but much overdue debate about prosecutorial power and abuses, and the justice system's general unwillingness to concede the errors that arise from these abuses and correct them.

Death Penalty on Trial Special report from Court TV Online looks at all sides of the issue, with case histories.

Power to Harm, the Seattle Post- Intelligencer’s superb in-depth examination of errors and improprieties in the investigation and prosecution of dozens of citizens in Wenatchee, Washington, where allegations that massive rings of molesters and ritual abusers were preying on children have nearly destroyed the town. The case has a startling resemblance to the dozens of now-discredited prosecutions in Kern County, the setting for Mean Justice.

Wang vs. Reno, appellate opinion on a misconduct in which it was found that a federal prosecutor had relied upon statements obtained from a witness through torture by Chinese authorities. To make matters worse, when the witness disavowed the testimony as lies designed to stop the torture, the prosecutor threatened his “star” witness with deportation to China and certain death if he failed to assist the U.S. government with his original, false testimony.

US vs. Kojayan, a cogent statement of a prosecutor’s responsibility from a conservative justice appointed by President Reagan and outraged by the misconduct of a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles. Recognition of the awesome power of the state — and the temptation very human prosecutors must wrestle with to avoid abusing that power — is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. It should be, Kojayan shows, the concern of Americans of every political persuasion:

Much of what the United States Attorney’s office does isn’t open to public scrutiny or judicial review.... It is therefore particularly important that the government discharge its responsibilities fairly, consistent with due process. The overwhelming majority of prosecutors are decent, ethical, honorable lawyers who understand the awesome power they wield, and the responsibility that goes with it. But the temptation is always there: It’s the easiest thing in the world for people trained in the adversarial ethic to think a prosecutor’s job is simply to win.

Berger vs. U.S., the 1935 landmark case on what consistutes prosecutorial misconduct, its poetic language still cited as the standard by which the ethics of prosecutors (federal, state and local) are judged:

The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor — indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.

Office of Professional Responsibility. Read the most recent Department of Justice annual report on how it investigates complaints of prosecutorial misconduct. (DOJ is the only prosecutorial agency in the country that reports publicly on misconduct by its attorneys — with OPR serving as its own “internal affairs” unit.)

Miranda and other decisions A critique of the famous Miranda ruling requiring, among other things, the “reading of rights” to individuals arrested, along with a look at other important criminal justice court rulings — all from a disapproving prosecutor’s perspective.

Wickersham. The last time the government undertook a systematic investigation of prosecutorial and police misconduct in the nation, and sought solutions to the problem, it was undertaken by the Wickersham Commission ... appointed by Herbert Hoover in 1929. The commission made groundbreaking findings — which led to, among other things, the gradual end of the “Third Degree,” as the practice of using physical duress and torture to coerce confessions was known.

Crossing the Line. Ohio chief justice takes prosecutors to task for misconduct in death penalty cases.

Dig Deeper: Ritual Abuse and Witchhunt Information

Kern County, the setting for Mean Justice, was the nation’s prosecutorial birthplace for a wave of large- scale “molestation ring” and ritual abuse cases that eventually ripped through the nation, the most famous of which was the McMartin Preschool case in Los Angeles, and some of which persist to this day (as in Wenatchee, Washington). No place investigated and prosecuted more such cases than Kern County; most of the cases have been discredited with most of the convicted going free — after many years behind bars. Coercion of child witnesses, bogus medical evidence, and the hiding of evidence of innocence in the possession of Kern County authorities lay at the root of these false convictions — for which no one in law enforcement has ever been held accountable. What follows is an assortment of links for learning more about such cases and the bitter lessons they offer.

Mean Justice excerpt on the Bakersfield Witchhunt cases. Additional background on the Kniffen case is available, courtesy of the Bakersfield Californian newspaper.

Power to Harm, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's superb in-depth examination of errors and improprieties in the investigation and prosecution of dozens of citizens in Wenatchee, Washington, where allegations that massive rings of molesters and ritual abusers were preying on children have nearly destroyed the town. The case has a startling resemblance to the dozens of now-discredited prosecutions in Kern County, the setting for Mean Justice.

Breezy Point Another enormous ritual abuse case against children that created enormous panic in Bucks County, Penn., ground to a halt when a highly principled district attorney refused to be sucked in and instead raised questions about the quality of evidence and investigation laid before him. He ended up throwing the case out — a courageous act in the mid 1980s, when satanic panic had gripped much of the nation. He later recalled:

I wanted to try the case myself ... I was convinced it would be the greatest case in the history of my Commonwealth. But there was no evidence at all ... I was instead convinced this was the greatest hoax in the history of my Commonwealth ... The parents thought I was some victim of Witchcraft ... But it was all the product of a shared hysteria... We proved that none of this ever happened ... This wasn’t a question of maybe it happened and we just can’t prove it. This was conjured up by the hysteria of the parents who bought into this. It never happened.

40 ritual abuses cases that led to community hysteria, massive prosecutions, and that produced wrongful convictions, most of them overturned or discredited.

FBI Report on Ritual Abuse Cases. This report examining whether or not large-scale ritual and satanic abuse exists, written by Kenneth Lanning, head of the FBI’s behavioral sciences unit, remains the definitive analysis on the subject. He builds a meticulous and unbiased review, concluding, in essence, that they are NOT out there. Courtesy of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance website. Another federal study, this one by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, also found no evidence to support claims by certain therapists and their patients of a satanic underground specializing in child molestation (or any other criminal activity).

McMartin Preschool — The most notorious and well-known of the original ritual abuse cases, McMartin helped start a national panic, only to be discredited years later. It followed the first of the Bakersfield Witchhunt cases chronologically — and in its pattern of therapists, detectives and prosecutors coercing false information from young children, inadvertently abusing them in the name of saving them.

Frontline: Innocence Lost. The PBS series documents one of the major ritual abuse cases — the Little Rascals day-care case in North Carolina. Extensive site also contains information on many other cases.

San Diego County Grand Jury report on official improprieties and false accusations in ritual abuse cases. The report was made in the wake of the notorious and, by most accounts (including the jury’s), unjust prosecution of a developmentally disabled man named Dale Akiki.

Jeopardy in the Courtroom Psychologists Stephen J. Ceci and Maggie Bruck have written a definitive book on the coercive and suggesting questioning of child witnesses that led to most of the false witchhunt convictions. Bruck was a key witness in many of the overturned Bakersfield Witchhunt convictions. She was lauded by judges for her fairness, objectivity and careful opinions, making her one of the most credible experts around on this difficult and emotional subject. Click here for excerpts.

Witchhunt Links page A variety of links to sites related to ritual abuse, some of them good, some of questionable merit, but worth a look for those interested in the subject.

Elizabeth Loftus — A collection of articles from the most famous expert — from the debunker side of the question — on the phenomenon of repressed memories. Loftus’s work has been instrumental in showing how well-meaning (and less-than-honorable) investigators, therapists and prosecutors have coerced children into making false accusations in abuse cases while mistaking these accusations for “repressed” memories coaxed to the surface. The research of Loftus and a growing number of other psychologists and memory researchers suggests that the vast majority of these so-called repressed memories are unreliable, and that the sort of leading and suggestive questioning typically done by investigators and others probing child abuse cases is very likely to produce false information. The Bakersfield cases have been cited as models of how NOT to question children.

Fells Acres Also known as the Amirault case, this Massachusetts case is one of the most notorious and twisted of the Witchhunt prosecutions, in which one defendant was exonerated, another died of cancer while awaiting the result of her appeal (and was posthumously exonerated), and a third — whose evidence of innocence is just as compelling as the defendant who was freed — remains in prison. Read the latest developments in A Juror Has Second Thoughts, from the Wall Street Journal, and this site, by one of the Amiraults’ appellate attorneys, that gives a complete synopsis of testimony in favor of exoneration.

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