The IUSB Vision Weblog

The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation. – Vladimir Lenin

Prosecutor Misconduct Lets Convicted off Easy & Sends Innocent to Prison – UPDATED

Posted by iusbvision on December 28, 2010

According to the Innocence Project, who uses DNA and other forensic methods to check convictions:

The cases of wrongful convictions uncovered by DNA testing are filled with evidence of negligence, fraud or misconduct by prosecutors or police departments.

DNA exonerations have exposed official misconduct at every level and stage of a criminal investigation.

Common forms of misconduct by law enforcement officials include:

•    Employing suggestion when conducting  identification procedures
•    Coercing false confessions
•    Lying or intentionally misleading jurors about their observations
•    Failing to turn over exculpatory evidence to prosecutors
•    Providing incentives to secure unreliable evidence from informants

Common forms of misconduct by prosecutors include:

•    Withholding exculpatory evidence from defense
•    Deliberately mishandling, mistreating or destroying evidence
•    Allowing witnesses they know or should know are not truthful to testify
•    Pressuring defense witnesses not to testify
•    Relying on fraudulent forensic experts
•    Making misleading arguments that overstate the probative value of testimony

In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.

These cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences.

Why do innocent people confess? A variety of factors can contribute to a false confession during a police interrogation. Many cases have included a combination of several of these causes. They include:

•duress
•coercion
•intoxication
•diminished capacity
•mental impairment
•ignorance of the law
•fear of violence
•the actual infliction of harm
•the threat of a harsh sentence
•Misunderstanding the situation

Eddie Joe LLoyd – Lloyd was convicted of the 1984 murder of a 16-year-old girl in Detroit after he wrote to police with suggestions on how to solve various recent crimes. During several interviews, police fed details of the crime to Lloyd, who was mentally ill, and convinced him that by confessing he was helping them “smoke out” the real killer. Lloyd eventually signed a confession and gave a tape-recorded statement. The jury deliberated less than an hour before convicting him and the judge said at sentencing that execution, which had been outlawed in Michigan, would have been the “only justifiable sentence” if it were available. In 2002, DNA testing proved that Lloyd was innocent and he was exonerated.

In more than 15% of cases of wrongful conviction overturned by DNA testing, an informant or jailhouse snitch testified against the defendant. Often, statements from people with incentives to testify – particularly incentives that are not disclosed to the jury – are the central evidence in convicting an innocent person.

People have been wrongfully convicted in cases in which snitches:

  • Have been paid to testify
  • Have testified in exchange for their release from prison.
  • Have testified in multiple distinct cases that they have evidence of guilt, through overhearing a confession or witnessing the crime.

DNA exonerations have shown that snitches lie on the stand. To many, this news isn’t a surprise. Testifying falsely in exchange for an incentive – either money or a sentence reduction – is often the last resort for a desperate inmate. For someone who is not in prison already, but who wants to avoid being charged with a crime, providing snitch testimony may be the only option.

UPDATE – Another false snitch allegation with the details hidden from the jury – 

Other causes according to the Innocence Project are bad forensic science and/or forensic misconduct and bad defense attorneys.

An interesting story in USA Today talking about the misconduct by federal prosecutors to help get people convicted. These are just a sample of the ones who got caught and that USA Today could find.

USA Today:

James Strode hid his face with a scarf the evening he walked behind a counter in a Seattle Rite Aid pharmacy, grabbed a clerk by the throat and threatened to stab her or other workers who heard her call for help on an intercom.
“Give me all the money,” he barked. “Somebody better give me some money or someone is going to get stabbed.”

The November 2006 robbery, detailed in a police report, was one of the most menacing episodes in a criminal career that spanned two decades and four states. Strode’s record includes convictions for at least three burglaries, one robbery, a theft, an attack on a public safety officer and a bank robbery tried in federal court.

Strode might well have been in federal prison at the time of the Rite Aid robbery. But the bank robbery conviction and sentence that could have kept him there were wiped out in 2000, when an appeals court concluded that the federal prosecutor in charge of Strode’s trial had “crossed the line” by making improper arguments to the jury.

So instead of keeping Strode behind bars for a decade, the U.S. Justice Department agreed he could be released in less than half that time. About 13 months after he got out, Strode held up the Seattle pharmacy.

What happened to Strode underscores one of the least recognized consequences of misconduct by Justice Department attorneys in charge of enforcing the nation’s laws. Although those abuses have put innocent people in prison, misconduct also has set guilty people free by significantly shortening their prison sentences.

In some cases, they served no additional time. New crimes sometimes followed.

A USA TODAY investigation has documented 201 cases since 1997 in which federal courts found that prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules. Each was so serious that judges overturned convictions, threw out charges or rebuked the prosecutors. And although the violations tainted no more than a small fraction of the tens of thousands of cases filed in federal courts each year, legal specialists who reviewed the newspaper’s work said misconduct is not always uncovered, so the true extent of the problem might never be known.

mm

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