Saturday, April 2, 2011

DC - Supreme Court shields prosecutors in wrongful convictions

Original Article

What? This is insane!


By David G. Savage

Though new DNA testing has shown hundreds of convicts to be innocent, the court has protected prosecutors from lawsuits and balked at letting prisoners reopen cases.

One innocent man, from Arizona, was sent back to prison for raping a child when the Supreme Court ruled he had no right to evidence that would later set him free.

Another innocent man, from Louisiana, was convicted of murder and came within weeks of being executed because prosecutors had hidden a blood test that later freed him.

The two men were linked at the Supreme Court last week by Justice Antonin Scalia, who argued that criminal defendants have no right to "potentially useful evidence" that "might" show they were innocent.

Since the 1990s, the advent of DNA evidence has swept across the American criminal justice system and revealed that hundreds of convicted prisoners were innocent. Yet, throughout that time, the Supreme Court has shielded prosecutors from claims that they hid evidence that could have revealed the truth and has been reluctant to give prisoners a right to reopen old cases.

By a 5-4 vote Tuesday, the high court threw out a jury verdict won by John Thompson, the Louisiana man who had sued the New Orleans district attorney after he spent 14 years on death row for crimes he did not commit. In the past, the court has shielded individual prosecutors from being sued, even if they deliberately framed an innocent person. Last week's decision protects a district attorney's office from being sued for a series of errors that sent an innocent man to prison.

Advocates for the wrongly convicted denounced the decision. Prosecutors have "enormous power over all of our lives," said Keith Findley, president of the Innocence Network, yet "no other profession is shielded from this complete lack of accountability."

In Thompson's case, at least four prosecutors knew of the blood test, eyewitness reports and other evidence that, once revealed, showed they had charged the wrong man.

"When this kind of conduct happens and it goes unpunished, it sends a devastating message throughout the system," said Sherrilyn Ifill, a University of Maryland law professor. "It means more of these incidents will happen."

Lawyers who represented the wrongly convicted also said they were shocked that Scalia would cite the 1988 case of Arizona vs. Larry Youngblood to bolster his opinion. More than a decade ago, after Scalia and the other justices sent Youngblood back to prison, new DNA tests revealed he was innocent.

Carol Wittels, the Tucson lawyer who fought to free Youngblood, said she found it "astounding" that the court would still cite the case as a precedent. "It was a horrible decision then, and I can't believe they are still citing it, since so many people have been cleared with DNA evidence since then," Wittels said in a telephone interview.

Justice Clarence Thomas delivered last week's decision reversing the $14-million jury verdict for Thompson. Scalia wrote a separate opinion citing the Youngblood case, which came to the court in Scalia's second year on the bench.

The case began when a young boy was abducted outside a church carnival and brutally raped. He said his assailant was a black man with a bad right eye. Youngblood was a black man from the Tucson area who had a bad left eye. The boy picked him from a photo lineup.

But in a crucial mistake, the police failed to refrigerate the boy's clothing and several swabs. Though Youngblood protested his innocence, forensic testing in the early 1980s could not determine whether he was or was not the perpetrator.

BLOG - Reform Sex Offender Laws in Wisconsin

New blog added to our links page, check it out.

Reform Sex Offender Laws in Wisconsin

Blog Description:
"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security." - Declaration of Independence of the United States of America

BLOG - Through the Eyes of the Offender

New blog added to our links page, check it out.

Through the Eyes of the Offender

Blog Description:
"This is my new cause... I have never in my life stood up for anything, let alone been willing to lobby for anything. I want this, no I need this to function in life. I am a number and am a label, and that is what people see, and I am more then that."

MN - Minnesota Sex Offender Program Makes Changes

Original Article

See Also:
Audit: Sex offender program costly, inconsistent
Audit PDF


By Paige Calhoun

A recent Legislative Auditor's Review said the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in Moose Lake has experienced a number of leadership changes over the years and has not had enough staff.

At one point last year, 6 of the 8 Clinical Supervisor positions were vacant. Last November, 16 other positions were not filled.

Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson addressed the review after a tour of the facility Friday, "We actually wanted more clinical supervisors then as well. It was a staff turn over issue, it wasn't a budget issue. We had the money in the budget to go out and hire the folks, and now we have gone out and done that."

Between the Moose Lake and St. Peter facilities--the review said the number of sex offenders being treated has nearly quadrupled in the past decade--and now sits at over 600. That number is expected to almost double in the next ten years.

The program's annual cost is $120, 000 per offender--3 times the cost of incarceration.

"Treating them in a secure way protects public safety. and some of that, it's hard to put a price on that," Jesson said.

The program started in 1994--but no one has ever been discharged. Jesson said that's the court system's decision, "The courts decide who comes in, the courts decide who gets to leave. Our job is to provide treatment to those who want it and do it in a secure, safe, environment."

One case is before the Supreme Court Appeals Program right now--and Jesson said she expects several others to do so soon.

But if no one has been released, is it effective?

"I believe that we are offering effective treatment here," Jesson said.
- Depends on how you define "treatment!" If nobody has been released, I wouldn't call that treatment.

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