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Discussion on indigent defense today in Tucson

Posted: February 27, 2008 2:10 pm

Bad lawyering has contributed to several of the wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. Public defenders are often overburdened and underfunded, rendering them unable to provide the defense and investigation needed in a serious criminal trial. The Innocence Project has called for improvements in the nation’s indigent defense systems to prevent future wrongful convictions, but few states have taken action. Stephen Bright, the director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, will address the issue of indigent defense this afternoon at a speech in Tucson, Arizona.

"There is a failure in jurisdictions all over the country to provide adequate lawyers to people accused of crimes," said Stephen B. Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. "It's particularly troubling in death penalty cases with lawyers who don't have the competence, the expertise, the resources or the investigative assistance needed to try death penalty cases," Bright said.

Read the full story and get details on the event here.
Jimmy Ray Bromgard, who served more than 14 years in a Montana prison before DNA testing proved him innocent, is an example of a defendant who was wrongfully convicted partly because of inadequate defense representation. His attorney did no investigation, hired no expert to debunk the state's forensic expert, filed no motions to suppress the identification of a young girl who was, according to her testimony, at best only 65% certain, gave no opening statement, did not prepare a closing statement, and failed to file an appeal after Bromgard's conviction. Read more about his case here.

Tags: Arizona, Montana, Bad Lawyering



Winston-Salem Journal calls on other states to join North Carolina in preserving evidence

Posted: August 20, 2008 5:20 pm

A Winston-Salem Journal editorial calls on other states in the country to pass laws preserving DNA evidence as North Carolina has done. Currently only 25 states and the District of Columbia have such laws. The editorial points out that lost or destroyed DNA evidence in one state can hamper another state’s efforts to get innocent people out of prison and apprehend the real criminals.

For example, say detectives in North Carolina who've re-opened a murder case in which someone has been convicted are looking for a match for DNA evidence found at the crime scene. The real killer's been in prison for an unrelated crime, but it's in a state that's lax on preserving such evidence. So his DNA isn't in the system. The killer stays free, and an innocent person stays in prison.
That's probably already happened numerous times. And it will probably happen a lot more. For example, in New York, a law that would have provided for DNA preservation died in the State Assembly in June, according to USA Today. Some states have shown a "shocking" disinterest in keeping DNA, said Larry Pozner, the former head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "Innocent inmates are going to die in prison," he said.
The editorial does see some reason for hope in at least two states. Colorado and Arizona are both working towards legislation to preserve biological evidence.

Read the Winston-Salem Journal editorial.

Tags: Arizona, North Carolina, Colorado, Evidence Preservation



Troy Davis set to be executed Tuesday despite evidence of innocence

Posted: September 22, 2008 3:32 pm

Nearly two decades ago, a Savannah, Georgia, police officer was killed in a fast food parking lot. Troy Davis was arrested for the crime, and nine non-police eyewitnesses testified that they saw him shoot the victim. Based almost exclusively on eyewitness testimony, Davis was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

His execution is set for 7 p.m. tomorrow, and despite mounting evidence of Davis’ innocence, and pleas from around the world supporting a new trial to determine the real facts in his case, the execution is still set to go forward.

Here’s what you can do to support a new trial for Davis:

Visit Amnesty International’s website to send a letter to the Georgia Board of Pardon and Parole.

Call the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole.

Read news and commentary on the case from Davis’ sister, the Huffington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, National Public Radio, and hundreds of other news outlets.

Tags: Arizona, Eyewitness Misidentification, Death Penalty



Crime Labs Suffer Under Backlogs and Budget Crunches, Help on the Way

Posted: November 10, 2008 4:30 pm

Towns and cities in Arizona are refusing to pay the state for forensic tests that used to be done for free. After the Arizona state legislature cut the state crime lab’s budget by half in July, lab officials announced that they would bill law enforcement departments for forensic tests, hoping to collect $2.5 million this fiscal year. But law enforcement officials say they can’t afford the fees for testing.

Police in Douglas, a border town in southeastern Arizona, owe about $23,000 in lab fees. To pay the Department of Public Safety would mean Douglas police could not hire an officer or buy a squad car, Chief Alberto Melis said. The department has four vacancies.
Melis of Douglas said, "For me to come up with this money, I'm going to have to do without something. In a profession where 95 percent of your cost is personnel, I might not be able to hire somebody."
Officers in Payson, Arizona, said they are sending less evidence for testing, which is slowing down investigations.  
Detective Matt Van Camp said he uses every aspect of the crime lab, from firearm testing to its criminalists.

“We used to send everything, but now we have to screen what we send out automatically,” Van Camp said. “This limits the tools available for the prosecutor and police.”

Prosecutors may now have to decide if they want to go to trial before they have the necessary evidence in hand.

“This makes the prosecutor’s job harder,” he said. “Crime labs also prove people innocent, not just guilty.”

Read the full story here. (Payson Roundup, 11/4/08)
Lab backlogs are hurting police investigations in Texas, as well. Results from state labs can take months.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley explains that in today's 'CSI world' where jurors see scientific evidence easily gleaned from most crime scenes in TV dramas, they expect to see the same in court cases. But because there are so many requests for testing, and too few state technicians to keep up with demand, he says, "When you ask for DNA testing and results, you're buying in to a six month to one year delay in your case."

Read the full story here. (Key TV, 11/06/08)

Federal assistance should help to defuse the crisis somewhat in Arizona and Texas. The two states, along with Washington, Kentucky and Virginia, recently received a combined $7.8 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to help with DNA testing in serious felony cases. The DOJ’s grant program requires states to comply with standards for storage and testing of evidence, and also to significantly reduce backlogs through improved training and technology. Read more about the DOJ grant program here.


Tags: Arizona, Texas, Access to DNA Testing



Arizona State University to Host Forensic Science Conference

Posted: January 7, 2009 4:00 pm

Some of the world's leading scholars and experts in evidence, forensic science and criminalistics will gather to discuss the future of forensic science in the criminal justice system in April. The Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University announced this week that it is hosting "Forensic Science for the 21st Century: The National Academy of Sciences Report and Beyond" April 3 and 4. 

Organizers said the conference is being held “in light of the highly anticipated report of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community” that is expected to be released within the next couple of months. Harry T. Edwards, Chief Judge Emeritus of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Co-chair of the NAS Forensic Science Committee, is scheduled to deliver the Center's annual Willard H. Pedrick Lecture, titled "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward."
The event will also feature discussions about the NAS report, an unprecedented examination of forensic science nationwide that will outline findings and recommendations for how to ensure that the criminal justice system relies on sound science.

In addition to experts from major research institutions such as the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard Law School, the University of Michigan Law School, the University of California, Irvine, the University of Virginia and ASU, among others, participants will include state and federal judges, the co-chairmen of the National Academy of Sciences Forensic Science Committee, the president of the American Association of Forensic Sciences. The directors of the FBI Crime Laboratory and the Innocence Project, and prosecutors, defense attorneys, forensic scientists, and criminalists also will be involved.
Visit the conference's website for more information, including registration and scheduled events.


Tags: Arizona, Reforms, Forensic Oversight, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing



Arizona Man Remains in Prison Despite Evidence of Innocence

Posted: June 15, 2010 2:15 pm

P. S. Ruckman Jr., a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., has been fuming about Ms. Brewer’s handling of the Macumber case. “I have been following state clemency for 30 years, and this is easily, easily the most disturbing,” he said. “It’s borderline despicable.”

“Common-sense notions of justice should compel a governor to provide an explanation for imprisoning a man deemed innocent by an official board created to make such judgments,” he added. “You don’t imprison a man for no reason.”

Read the full article here.

Tags: Arizona



Prosecutorial Oversight Tour Stops in Arizona

Posted: April 26, 2012 4:45 pm

Tags: Arizona



Shaken-Baby Syndrome Convictions Challenged in Arizona

Posted: September 17, 2012 5:10 pm

Drayton Witt, freed this summer with the help of the Arizona Justice Project after 10 years in prison became the second Arizonian to have his conviction overturned in a shaken-baby syndrome case in just two years. In the state, and nationwide, such convictions have come under scrutiny in light of new challenges to the scientific basis of the syndrome. As in Witt’s case, such convictions are based on the premise that shaking a baby can result in brain damage or death, even in the absence of other physical indications of abuse such as broken bones or bruising.
The Arizona Republic reports:

Witt knows he is No. 2, the second shaken-baby conviction in Arizona to be vacated. But he figures the pattern that police and prosecutors followed in his case was repeated many more times.
"The system is flawed," he said. "I'm sure there's a lot of people like that."

Witt was imprisoned in 2002 for murdering his girlfriend’s son, Steven Witt. The five month old had recurring health problems and had been hospitalized on several occasions prior to his death. Witt always insisted that he had not harmed the baby. The medical examiner who originally conducted the examination now asserts that the baby’s death can be attributed to disease, not abuse.
Witt has found another unlikely ally in Guthkelch, the pediatric neurosurgeon who developed the theory of shaken-baby syndrome in 1971.

"The death of Steven Witt is the type of case where a diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome should not have been made," Guthkelch wrote. He said there were too many other possibilities that could explain the baby's death, and that while his process offers a possible explanation for some head injuries, any presumption that an injured child was shaken was a "distortion" of his theory.

Though Witt’s conviction has been overturned, he has not been exonerated. Prosecutors will seek to retry the case in 2013.
Read the full article.
Read about other recent shaken-baby syndrome cases here and here.
Read about other types of forensic science error.

Tags: Arizona



The Ongoing Struggle for Access to Post-Conviction DNA Testing

Posted: October 5, 2012 3:00 pm

Tags: Arizona, Pennsylvania



Arizona Man Freed After Nearly 40 Years

Posted: November 9, 2012 2:05 pm

Tags: Arizona



Watch: Arizona Arson Case Featured on 60 Minutes

Posted: April 1, 2013 3:40 pm

Tags: Arizona



Arizona Arson Case Overturned

Posted: April 3, 2013 5:50 pm

Tags: Arizona, Texas



Science News - April 11, 2013

Posted: April 11, 2013 4:05 pm

Tags: Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Texas, Science Thursday



Arizona Needs to Record Interrogations

Posted: April 23, 2013 4:05 pm

Tags: Arizona, False Confessions



Science News - April 25, 2013

Posted: April 25, 2013 6:00 pm

Tags: Arizona, New York, Science Thursday



Innocent in America's Worst Jails

Posted: May 16, 2013 4:30 pm

Tags: Arizona, New York, Ray Krone



Washington Post Op-Ed Highlights Racial Inequality in America's Justice System

Posted: May 21, 2013 1:25 pm

Tags: Arizona, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics



Science News - August 29, 2013

Posted: August 29, 2013 11:50 am

Tags: Arizona, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah, Science Thursday