Archive for the ‘American legal system’ Tag

the beginnings of solutions to America’s injustice problem

It’s easier to point out the problems than to find solutions.  In the American injustice system, I pointed out the problems, and I have documented them in Law: See Also, a collection of links to articles on injustices, usually systemic in nature, perpetrated by our justice system.  In this post, I begin collecting and discussing possible solutions to what I consider America’s biggest domestic problem.

The Innocence Project (from their own statement)

The Innocence Project’s groundbreaking use of DNA technology to free innocent people has provided irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events but instead arise from systemic defects. Now an independent nonprofit organization closely affiliated with Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, the Innocence Project’s mission is nothing less than to free the staggering numbers of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to bring substantive reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment

Radley Balko and Roger Koppl make five suggestions for reform:

Forensic counsel for the indigent. In many jurisdictions, indigent defendants aren’t given access to their own forensic experts. As a result, the only expert witnesses are often testifying for the prosecution …

Expert independence. Crime labs, DNA labs, and medical examiners shouldn’t serve under the same bureaucracy as district attorneys and police agencies. If these experts must work for the government, they should report to an independent state agency, if not the courts themselves. There should be a wall of separation between analysis and interpretation. Thus, an independent medical examiner would, for instance, perform and videotape the actual procedure in an autopsy. The prosecution and defense would then each bring in their own experts to interpret the results in court. When the same expert performs both the analysis and interpretation, defense experts are often at a disadvantage, having to rely on the notes and photos of the same expert whose testimony they’re disputing.

Rivalrous redudancy. Whether the state uses its own labs or contracts out to private labs, evidence should periodically and systematically be sent out to yet another competing lab for verification. The state’s labs should be made aware that their work will occasionally be checked but not told when. …

Statistical analysis. The results from forensic labs should be regularly analyzed for statistical anomalies. Labs producing unusually high match rates should throw up red flags for further examination. For example, in 2004 Houston medical examiner Patricia Moore was found to have diagnosed shaken-baby syndrome in infant autopsies at a rate several times higher than the national average. This led to an investigation—and the reopening of several convictions that had relied on Moore’s testimony.

Mask the evidence. A 2006 U.K. study by researchers at the University of Southampton found that the error rate of fingerprint analysts doubled when they were first told the circumstances of the case they were working on. Crime lab technicians and medical examiners should never be permitted to consult with police or prosecutors before performing their analysis. …

This is just the beginning of this discussion.

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more examples of the American injustice system

Radley Balko and Roger Kopple have an excellent article on the use of science in the courtroom, and how the current system biases supposedly scientific results toward conviction.  They make five suggestions for correcting the situation.

In 2007, Balko published an article about expert testimony gone very wrong:

During the last two decades, there have been more than a dozen high-profile cases in which dubious forensic witnesses conned state and federal courts, sometimes for many years and in hundreds of cases. The most famous example is probably the West Virginia crime lab worker Fred Zain, who from 1979 to 1989 tainted so many trials with false testimony about blood, semen, and hair evidence that the state’s Supreme Court ordered a review of every case in which he’d ever testified. It turned out he had introduced deliberately falsified evidence in at least 134 cases.

However, he really profiles one Steven Hayne, who from this article seems utterly unqualified to do forensic medicine and yet has provided expert testimony that has sent many to prison and possibly some to death row.

According to NAME [National Association of Medical Examiners], a single medical examiner should perform no more than 250 autopsies per year. At 325, the group considers a doctor to have a “Phase II deficiency”; at that point, it will not accredit a practice, regardless of any other criteria.

Hayne has repeatedly testified under oath that he performs more than 1,500 autopsies per year—a staggering number that dwarfs even the output of the prolific Dr. Erdmann. That’s more than four per day, every day of the year, for the 20 years Hayne’s been in Mississippi. In a 2002 deposition, Hayne put the estimate at 1,800.

The article doesn’t get any better from there.

Here’s an Orange County travesty:

Veteran forensic specialist Danielle G. Wieland made the charge last month during a civil deposition related to the December 2005 wrongful conviction and imprisonment of James Ochoa, according to documents obtained by the Weekly.

The allegation is just the latest in a series of sensationally callous screw-ups by law enforcement—police, prosecutors and judges—that aligned to raid Ochoa’s house, arrest him and steal his freedom. He spent 16 months in the Orange County Jail and a California prison. Later, DNA evidence fingered the real bandit, a career criminal in Los Angeles.

The Ochoa travesty didn’t happen merely because the Orange County district attorney’s office repeatedly ignored exculpatory facts. According to Wieland’s testimony, they actively sought to convict Ochoa as mounting evidence pointed to his innocence.

More from Orange County on fake evidence presented by prosecutors.

This is just a few minutes searching.  It’s not getting better.

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Cf. American Injustice System, Collection of related links

Law: See Also

Some related links to my post on the American justice system (more to be added as we go):

Dumb Laws Blog

FBI breaks law

US Supreme Court gives rights in excess of Geneva Convention to illegal combatants

An ex-FBI agent outlines the mistakes the agency made in a key investigation

Rachel Lucas on a no-knock entry that shouldn’t have been

Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America

Misuse of science and the bias of expert witnesses in the courtroom

Pathetically unqualified medical examiner loved by prosecutors

Orange County prosecutors want convictions, not trut