Last month, Frank Sterling was exonerated by DNA evidence after being incarcerated 18 years for a crime he did not commit. Sterling was wrongfully convicted of murdering an elderly woman in Rochester, New York in 1988. His conviction was based entirely on a false confession. In the meantime the actual killer remained free, and six years later he murdered four-year-old Kali Poulton. This tragedy leaves no question that addressing the flaws in our criminal justice system that lead to wrongful convictions is a public safety imperative.
|By: John Terzano Wednesday May 19, 2010 11:44 am|
|By: John Terzano Friday April 30, 2010 12:35 pm|
On April 5th Ohio Governor Ted Strickland signed a reform bill that will help reduce wrongful convictions and improve the fairness and accuracy of our criminal justice system. Among the measures included are safeguards to improve the eyewitness identification process by requiring police to use a more accurate protocol for administering live and photo lineups. The new protocol reflects the growing awareness that eyewitness evidence is fragile, and much like trace physical evidence must be collected very carefully, or it may become tainted.
|By: John Terzano Monday April 12, 2010 12:17 pm|
San Francisco’s top public defender, Jeff Adachi, recently called for the city’s crime lab to become independent of the police department. This announcement comes on the heels of a series of scandals in the San Francisco Police Department’s forensic laboratory initiated by the discovery that a criminalist was stealing cocaine from evidence storage facilities. What initially seemed to be a problem with one unethical employee has led to the unearthing of myriad problems within the lab, including two cases of tainted DNA samples. Moreover, a troubling audit was released showing an improper maintenance of chain of custody of evidence, inadequate record keeping, and a lack of cleanliness in the overall facility.
|By: John Terzano Thursday April 1, 2010 11:23 am|
Earlier this month, Orleans Parish District Judge Lynda Van Davis granted a new trial for Michael Anderson, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a trial plagued with problematic evidence. Prosecutors have appealed the ruling and indicated that they will go forward with a retrial if necessary, so the question of Anderson’s guilt or innocence is far from settled. What is clear today, however, is that his first trial was marked by prosecutors’ troubling concealment of important information that undermined the credibility of key witnesses against him. Playing fast and loose with such evidence is unacceptable. In a death penalty case, it is unconscionable.
|By: John Terzano Thursday March 4, 2010 12:51 pm|
After seventeen years, Gregory Taylor was finally freed on February 17th when the three judge panel of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission unanimously ruled to exonerate him. North Carolina created the commission to investigate and evaluate post-conviction claims of innocence in 2006 and is the first of its kind in the United States. Taylor, wrongfully convicted of first degree murder in 1993, is the first person to be exonerated by the commission.
|By: edwincolfax Tuesday March 2, 2010 2:42 pm|
On March 1 Texas Governor Rick Perry officially pardoned Timothy Cole, who was wrongfully convicted over two decades ago. Tragically, the DNA tests that proved Cole’s innocence came too late: he died in prison in 1999 while serving time for a rape he did not commit. A faulty lineup led to inaccurate eyewitness evidence in Cole’s case, which serves as a reminder of the urgent need for eyewitness identification reforms that increase reliability and reduce the risk of mistakes. Cole’s case was one of the thirty-nine Texas wrongful convictions exposed by DNA profiled in The Justice Project’s report Convicting the Innocent: Texas Justice Derailed.
|By: John Terzano Monday March 1, 2010 9:06 am|
Concerns about the validity of forensic evidence have come to the fore in recent years following a series of wrongful convictions and other scandals across the country. The National Academies of Science (NAS) identified a number of systemic flaws that demand attention in their 2009 report Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward. Yet today, hardly any states have laws providing meaningful oversight of the forensic laboratories that analyze crucial evidence upon which many criminal cases depend.
|By: John Terzano Tuesday February 16, 2010 12:53 pm|
As advocates of justice, prosecutors play a unique and powerful role in our justice system. Yet too often, prosecutors fall prey to a pervasive “convict at all costs” culture, and neglect their ethical duty to protect the innocent and guard the rights of the accused.
|By: edwincolfax Friday January 8, 2010 10:50 am|
Texas has seen more than its share of controversy surrounding forensic science in recent months.
Most recently, the Houston Chronicle reported that an audit of the Houston Crime Lab’s fingerprint division identified problems in more than half of the 548 cases selected for review. The problems discovered were serious enough to lead the authorities to require that more than 4000 violent crime cases from the past six years be reanalyzed—a process that no doubt will be very costly for the city of Houston.
|By: John Terzano Tuesday December 1, 2009 12:09 pm|
Shoddy forensic science has led to a major setback in a murder investigation that could close the door on efforts to bring the killer to justice. The family of murder victim Suzanne Jovin was recently informed that the DNA evidence in her case was useless because it was contaminated by a lab technician. A DNA sample collected from under Jovin’s fingernails after her 1998 murder was found to match that of the lab worker that processed the evidence, not her killer as was previously assumed.