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An op-ed by William S. Sessions, former director of the FBI, appeared in Sunday's edition of the Courier-Journal, Kentucky's largest newspaper. In the piece, Sessions endorsed two bills currently pending in the Kentucky Legislature that would improve access to post-conviction DNA testing in the state. Sessions writes about witnessing DNA testing evolve into a "powerful tool for separating the innocent from the guilty" during his tenure as FBI director and urges Kentucky lawmakers to begin using DNA technology to its full potential.
On February 11, the Kentucky Senate unanimously passed a version of the bill that would exclude those who pled guilty or accepted an Alford plea from receiving post-conviction DNA testing. Sessions addresses his concerns with these exceptions in his op-ed:
The Senate bill has since moved on to the House where members are also considering Representative Bell's bill, which does not currently include this exception.
Read the full op-ed.
More about access to DNA testing.
Learn about your state's law granting access to testing.
Watch Innocence Project Executive Director Maddy deLone discuss how her life impacts her work in a video for Makers, an initiative by PBS and AOL that showcases hundreds of compelling stories from women.
A new report funded by the National Institute of Justice titled, "Measuring the Effect of Defense Counsel on Homicide Case Outcomes," examines the difference that a lawyer makes to the outcome of serious criminal cases in Philadelphia.
Since April 1993, every fifth murder case in Philadelphia is sequentially assigned at the preliminary arraignment to the city's Defender Association and the other four cases are assigned to appointed counsel.
The study showed that compared to private appointed counsel, public defenders make an enormous difference in the outcome of cases by reducing the murder conviction rate by 19%, the probability that their clients receive a life sentence by 62% and overall expected time served in prison by 24%.
To account for the discrepancy, the authors conducted interviews with judges, appointed lawyers and public defenders. They concluded that "conflicts of interest on the part of both the appointing judges and the appointed counsel, limited compensation, incentives created by that compensation and relative isolation" were to blame.
Though inadequate defense is a contributing cause of wrongful convictions, it's difficult to measure the scope and impact of the problem in these cases. For more information, click here.
Read Measuring the Effect of Defense Counsel on Homicide Case Outcomes.
Read the abstract for the study.
The federal government announces plans to create a national forensic science commission, Denver proposes a switch for more civilian technicians in the crime lab and Cook County officials discover 51 untested rape kits. Here is this week's roundup of forensic news:
The National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Commerce agreed to work together to address the lack of national standards in forensic sciences and create a National Commission.
In an effort to save money and place more police in active roles patrolling the community, a police chief in Colorado will replace crime lab officers with civilians who possess a background in science. While transitioning to civilian technicians has been successful in labs across the country, the county district attorney argues that it cannot be done properly under the proposed timeline.
To improve the efficacy of DNA databases, law professors Brandon Garrett and Erin Murphy argue that more DNA samples need to be collected from crime scenes rather than arrestees. The practice would also reduce the risk of racial disparity in DNA databases.
Fifty-one Cook County rape kits, dating back to 1986, were recently found untested on a shelf in a police evidence room. As officials look for answers as to how the evidence was misplaced, the Illinois State Police lab will begin conducting testing.
Oklahoma is the only state in the nation that doesn't have a DNA testing law-but that could soon change. Legislation that would allow an individual who is convicted of a crime access to DNA testing of any biological evidence associated with the crime was approved unanimously by the Oklahoma House of Representatives Tuesday. The law, if it passes, will give hope to the wrongfully convicted, who could request DNA testing whether they are currently incarcerated, on parole, or free but still tainted by the conviction.
House Bill 1068, authored by State Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, would also allow previously tested evidence to be subjected to newer testing techniques and would require the court to hold a hearing if the DNA testing results are favorable to the defendant. The Stillwater News Press reports:
Joyce Ann Brown
Last week, the Ricki Lake Show featured Joyce Ann Brown, who is among approximately 70 wrongfully convicted females who were exonerated by evidence other than DNA. Brown served more than nine years of a life sentence for a 1980 robbery and murder at a fur shop before being cleared. Female exonerees, including the four who were exonerated by DNA evidence, have typically not received as much media attention for their struggles as their male counterparts. The episode demonstrated the unique challenges that women who have been wrongly convicted face while fighting to prove their innocence.
More about female DNA exonerees.
Read the show's description of the episode and watch a clip.
By Jeffrey Deskovic
This article originally appeared in the February 04, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated
There was a lot of pain in my life from 1990 to 2006. But when I think about those years, I have happy memories of the Super Bowls. I remember the blowouts and the nail-biters. Tom Brady outgunning Jake Delhomme. John Elway scrambling every which way and finally winning the big prize. Brett Favre and Kurt Warner and all those Dallas Cowboys.
One of my clearest recollections is of Super Bowl XXV. I'm a Giants fan, and I was surrounded that day by other Big Blue supporters. We watched Scott Norwood line up that last-second field goal for the Bills. I still see it now: Marv Levy, the Buffalo coach, holding the hand of James Lofton, the team's veteran receiver, anticipating a championship. The kick is up. Ever so slightly, they begin to lift their arms. Then the kick sails wide right. Giants win. A group of us yelled and hugged one another and did little dances. And then we went back to our jail cells and banged on the bars in celebration.
From 17 to 33 I was an inmate in the New York State prison system, wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a classmate at Peekskill High. My conviction was based on a coerced false confession, extracted when I was 16. Though my case was filled with prosecutorial misconduct and fraudulent testimony, I lost all of my appeals and was refused parole. Then, my Hail Mary touchdown: In 2006 I was cleared and released when the Innocence Project, a New York City--based nonprofit dedicated to overturning mistaken convictions, used DNA evidence to turn up the actual perpetrator-a career criminal who had murdered another woman three years after I went to prison for his crime. It's been more than six years since my release and full exoneration, but I still think often of my time in prison. It's no exaggeration to say that sports sustained me during my incarceration, just as they do countless others in the criminal justice system. Sports are recreation. Sports are diversion. Sports are fun. But they are more than that. For many of the nearly two million Americans currently imprisoned-the vast majority of them men-sports are crucial to survival.
I served most of my sentence at a maximum security facility in Elmira, N.Y. The inmates were of every age, background and temperament you can imagine. But sports were a point of commonality. At meals, in the yard, in the cell block, we'd argue about favorite teams and athletes. We'd have the same conversations-Who belongs in the Hall of Fame? Is LeBron better than Kobe?-that our peers on the outside were having in bars and barbershops. Sports talk was also a way to build relationships with the guards. We'd even place bets and run our version of office pools, wagering cigarettes and stamps and items from the commissary. When there's a few cans of tuna fish riding on a game, you sweat it out.
Read the full article.
Learn about the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice.
Listen to Deskovic's interview on ESPN before the Superbowl.
A proposed bill that would require Washington to compensate the wrongfully convicted for every year they served in prison is being considered by the state's legislature.
For the third time in as many years, Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, is sponsoring a bill that would compensate exonerees who prove intentional misconduct by state officials $50,000 for each year spent behind bars, an additional $50,000 for each year spent on death row and $25,000 for each year spent on parole or as a registered sex offender.
If passed, House Bill 1341 would benefit Alan Northrop who spent 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit before being cleared by DNA evidence. He had missed out on watching his three children grow up. When he was finally proven innocent and released, Northrop was immediately straddled with about $50,000 worth of child support. The Seattle Times reports:
House Bill 1341 would nearly match the federal compensation standard which entitles wrongfully convicted inmates to up to $50,000 per year they served in federal prison and $100,000 for each year spent on death row. The bill failed in previous sessions because of a sizable budget gap, but with a lower deficit, both Republicans and Democrats have signed on this year. If it passes, Washington could become the 28th state to have a compensation statute, though the award amounts vary greatly.
Read the full article.
More about House Bill 1341.
Read more about Northrop's case.
The Ohio Innocence Project has won the release of Douglas Prade, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering his ex-wife in 1998. A new DNA test found that bite marks previously attributed to Prade and largely responsible for his conviction could not have been left by him.
In the wake of a new motion filed by the Center on Wrongful Convictions, asking for a new trial for Ronald Taylor, both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times published editorials in support of giving Taylor the chance to prove his innocence. Records show that Taylor was in police custody on a disorderly conduct charge at the time the murder he was convicted of committing occurred.
California Innocence Project exoneree Brian Banks appeared on American Public Media's The Story to talk about his false rape conviction and the years it took to clear his name.
Death row exoneree Ronald Kitchen, a client of both the Center on Wrongful Convictions and Life After Innocence, is seeking to depose former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley as part of his lawsuit against former police Commander Jon Burge and the City of Chicago.
The Duke Law Innocence Project has filed a motion asking a court to overturn the murder conviction of Charles Ray Finch, who was convicted of the 1976 murder of Richard Lynn Holloman. Finch has served more than 36 years in prison.
Life After Innocence and exoneree James Kluppelberg were profiled in a Chicago Tribune piece about the hardships exonerees can still face even after their wrongful convictions have been overturned. Cook County prosecutors plan to oppose Kluppelberg's application for a certificate of innocence and without it, he is unable to receive compensation and cannot find employment.
The Pershing Square Foundation today announced a $1 million grant to support the Innocence Project's shift toward having wider systemic impact on criminal justice policy at the federal and state level. The grant, the largest in the organization's history, will support the Innocence Project's state-based policy advocacy as well as its core legal, policy and communications work. Crain's New York Business reports:
The grant will help the organization educate, train and work cooperatively with law enforcement to implement best practices and support non-lobbying advocacy that seeks to improve eyewitness identification procedures and expand access to post-conviction DNA testing for people trying to prove their innocence.
The Pershing Square Foundation, started in 2006 by Bill Ackman and his wife Karen, aims to support organizations that help create social change. Since its inception, it has donated more than $160 million in the areas of economic development, education, healthcare, human rights, the arts and urban development.
Read the full article.
Despite the formation of Anita Alvarez' Cook County Integrity Unit last year, prosecutors continue to resist claims of innocence in confession cases. Daniel Taylor and seven other juveniles were convicted of a Chicago area double murder 20 years ago, even though police records showed that Taylor was incarcerated at the time of the crime. Taylor was 17 years old when he was arrested for disorderly conduct and detained for more than four hours by Chicago police when the murders were committed at 8:45 p.m. on November 16, 1992.
Despite the prosecutions' unwillingness to accept that false confessions occur, especially among juveniles, Taylor has received support from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Illinois Attorney General's office.
Taylor's attorneys from the Center on Wrongful Conviction filed a petition Thursday with the Cook County Circuit Court that confirms there were five current and former police employees who have sworn the records accurately indicate that Taylor was locked up. It also claims that a prosecutor's notes and other documents supporting Taylor's innocence were withheld before trial.
Still, the prosecution remains more convinced by the confession than the police records. The Chicago Tribune reports:
Allegedly, four of the juveniles were in an apartment when the shooting deaths occurred and the other four acted as lookouts. Police said all of them confessed and implicated each other. Taylor, who was taken into custody more than two weeks after the shootings, remembered being arrested the night of the murders. Although those records were presented at trial, Taylor was sentenced to life in prison and is still behind bars.
Read the full article.
Read Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn's blog about the case.
Read about the Cook County Conviction Integrity Unit.
The New York City medical examiner's office uncovers more errors, North Carolina introduces legislation to tackle its backlog of samples, and researchers in the UK have developed new technology for police to tag criminal suspects with DNA. Here's this week's round up of forensic news:
In the ongoing review of cases at the New York City medical examiner's office, it was discovered that in more than 50 cases DNA profiles were not loaded into the state database. This error, along with cases containing overlooked biological evidence, led to the firing of the office's deputy director of quality assurance and the suspension of the office's department of forensic biology.
In Texas, the growing backlog of samples at the Austin Police Department crime lab is partially the result of the city's refusal to add more scientists to the staff. However, no national agency regulates backlogs or has standards for how quickly cases should be processed.
Recently proposed legislation in North Carolina aims to reduce a three-year backlog of blood and DNA evidence by creating a new crime lab. The legislation appropriates $17.8 million for the construction and staffing of the lab.
A Massachusetts' man has filed a civil lawsuit against the Hinton State chemist who allegedly falsified conclusive tests on drug samples. The lawsuit claims Annie Dookhan "conducted no scientific testing on the substances [and] falsely recorded that the substances tested positive for cocaine."
Researchers in the U.K. have developed a new technology where DNA can be used to tag suspects, for example in a riot when suspects are dispersed. The controversial technology involves shooting paintball-type bullets filled with a unique DNA signature at individuals so they can later be round up and identified by ultraviolent light.
The American Bar Association drafted a resolution that encourages judges and lawyers to consider a variety of factors when deciding how expert testimony should be presented in court. These resolutions, which could improve testimony from forensic experts and analysts, mirror recommendations from the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report that focuses on forensic research.
Nearly twenty years after Kirk Bloodsworth became the nation's first death row inmate to be exonerated by DNA evidence, he joined activists against the death penalty last week in Annapolis, Maryland.
Bloodsworth was convicted in March of 1985 for the brutal killing and sexual assault of a nine-year-old girl based largely on eyewitness misidentification. DNA testing conducted in 1992 excluded Bloodsworth as the source. After spending over eight years in prison, two of those years facing execution, he was released in June 1993 and pardoned six months later.
In light of his history, ending executions would be a personal victory for Bloodsworth, according to The New York Times.
Maryland is considering legislation that would eliminate the death penalty in the state. And in recent years, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York abolished the death penalty.
There are 18 people who were exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. They were convicted in 11 states and served a combined 229 years in prison - including 202 years on death row - for crimes they didn't commit. These 18 people and similar innocence cases spread doubt about the criminal justice and are the biggest factor in the fight to end the death penalty, according to Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Richard C. Dieter.
Bloodsworth has lobbied against the death penalty in several states since being exonerated and is feeling optimistic about an upcoming Senate vote to abolish capital punishment in the state that wrongfully convicted him and sentenced him to death.
Read the full article.
Read more about Bloodsworth.
Read about the innocent and the death penalty.
The introduction of the Innocence Protection Act of 2003 established the Kirk Bloodsworth Postconviction DNA Testing Program, which provides funding for testing under the act. Learn more about the IPA and read Bloodsworth's remarks on the bill.
Even after a judge exonerates a wrongfully convicted person on the basis of DNA and other evidence, Ohio prosecutors often appeal the ruling, which sparks concern about their commitment to justice.
That's exactly what happened in the case of Douglas Prade, who was declared innocent by a judge and freed last week, and Joseph D'Ambrosio, who was also wrongfully convicted and freed from death row, reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Whatever the reason for appeal, the process can delay or prevent the exonerated from receiving compensation. It's too soon to know how the appeal in Prade's case will turn out, and D'Ambrosio has been battling appeals since a federal judge overturned his conviction in 2006, ruling that prosecutors withheld evidence that might have exonerated him at 1989 trial. Four years later, the presiding judge barred prosecutors from trying him again because they failed to disclose the death of a key witness, reported the Plain Dealer.
Read the full article.
More on Douglas Prade.
More on Joseph D'Ambrosio.