CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Saturday, November 3, 2007

CrimProf Rob Bretz Discusses Witness Memory Accuract Over Time

Bretz2 From Thomas Cooley Law School CrimProf Rob Bretz recently discussed the 28 year time delay in a murder trial and its effect on witness accuracy in recalling what happened. 

CrimProf Bretz said that's the proper strategy for prosecutors to emphasized with jurors that by and large, witnesses are telling the same story and that they only differ on the details. This is because studies show that people who have witnessed the same event will tell different stories years later.

"We tend to distort our memory over time," Bretz said. "It's not intentional. It's just something that happens."

Bretz said that if all the witnesses were telling identical stories, that would be a cause for concern.

"If the details all matched up, I would have problems with that," he said.

Bretz also said that it shouldn't be a problem for jurors either that there was little forensic evidence to offer at trial as long as it is sufficiently explained to them why some evidence, such as DNA, was unavailable. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

November 3, 2007 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 2, 2007

CrimProf Spotlight: Cynthia Alkon

Alkon This week the CrimProf Blog spotlights Appalachian School of Law CrimProf Cynthia Alkon.

Cynthia Alkon joins the Appalachian School of Law after working to promote the development of rule of law in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union and after many years experience as a criminal defense attorney with the Office of the Los Angeles County Public Defender. She earned an LL.M. in Dispute Resolution from the University of Missouri-Columbia, a Juris Doctor from the University of California-Hastings, and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, magna cum laude, from San Francisco State University.

From 1991-1998 she worked as a Deputy Public Defender in Los Angeles handling a full range of criminal cases including a serious felony caseload in the courts in Compton and Downtown Los Angeles. In 1998 she began working in Eastern Europe. She worked in Belarus for the American Bar Association Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative promoting rule of law reform in the country. She left Belarus to work as the head of the legal department for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Albania.

From 2002-2006 she was the Head of the Rule of Law Unit for the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, based in Warsaw, Poland. During those years she worked in countries of the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia primarily focusing on providing assistance in criminal justice reform. Her main area of academic interest is dispute resolution including how alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is used in criminal cases, and how ADR might contribute to rule of law development in countries in transition to democracy.
[Mark Godsey]

November 2, 2007 in Weekly CrimProf Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

US Attorney Found Not Guilty in Obstruction Case

From A federal jury has found Assistant U.S. attorney Richard Convertino has been found not guilty on all counts of obstruction of justice.

Also acquitted in U.S. District Court in Detroit was former U.S. Embassy security agent Ray Smith.

Both were accused of concealing evidence during a 2003 terrorism trial. They were accused of hiding photographs in a federal case against four north African men accused of being members of a Detroit terrorism sleeper cell.

Three men were convicted in the trial, but the verdicts were overturned when the U.S. Attorney’s Office said there was prosecutorial misconduct.

Smith was accused of lying about taking photos. Convertino was accused of leading him through false testimony and of hiding photos that another agent took at Smith’s request.

During an emotional closing to the four-week trial, William Sullivan, the attorney for Convertino, pointed out that the terror suspects weren’t retried and said that the government had substituted Convertino and Smith for them. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

November 1, 2007 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CrimProfs Deborah Denno and Randy Barnett Predict Executions Will Stay on Hold Until SCOTUS Ruling

Ddenno_2 From The Supreme Court's orders in recent death penalty cases have been brief, cryptic and even contradictory. But after Tuesday night's action stopping a Mississippi prisoner's execution, their consequences seem clear.

Imposition of the death penalty is unlikely to resume until next year, after the justices hear the Kentucky case of Baze v. Rees and rule on the constitutionality of the lethal injections. Most of the 38 states that permit capital punishment use that method.

"The court is sending signals that make it extraordinarily unlikely that there will be any executions before Baze comes out," said Fordham University CrimProf Deborah Denno.

"I think this is unprecedented," added Denno, an expert on lethal injection issues, referring to the court's decision to review a method of execution for the first time in more than a century and the far-reaching consequences of its orders prior to hearing the case.

"It sure looks like that until they decide this issue, they don't want to see any more executions," said Georgetown University CrimProf Randy Barnett. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

November 1, 2007 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

FBI Gunshot Residue Testing Questioned in Case

From FBI testing of gunshot residue in the slaying of a pregnant Katy woman violated agency guidelines and yielded contradictory results, and therefore should not be allowed into evidence in her husband's murder trial, his attorney said.

"In other words, the state would offer such evidence only to mislead the jury," defense attorney Dick DeGuerin stated in a written motion to state District Judge Doug Shaver, who is presiding over the trial.

David Temple's murder trial began two weeks ago. The question of whether the gunshot residue will be allowed into evidence will be decided at a hearing Monday.

Neither the defense nor Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler, who is prosecuting the case, would comment on the motion.

Belinda Temple was shot to death in the couple's home on Jan. 11, 1999. According to his statement, David Temple told investigators that someone had broken into their home and killed her.

Detectives from the Harris County Sheriff's Office concluded that the break-in had been staged, and that Temple had been having an affair with a woman he later married.

During the murder investigation, officials collected several items belonging to David Temple — a shirt, a warm-up jacket and a pair of tennis shoes — for gunshot residue analysis at the FBI's national crime laboratory in Quantico, Va.

According to DeGuerin's motion, the shirt and jacket were not received by the FBI lab until May 2000, 16 months after the killing. It was almost three more years — April 2003 — before the agency received the shoes. During the time in between, the evidence had been stored by the sheriff's office "under unknown conditions," according to the motion. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

November 1, 2007 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

ABA Calls for Nationwide Moratorium of Executions

From Reuters/ The American Bar Association said on Monday it was renewing its call for a nationwide moratorium on executions, based on a three-year study of death penalty systems in eight states that found unfairness and other flaws.

The lawyers' group said its study identified key problems, such as major racial disparities, incompetent defense services for poor defendants and irregular clemency review processes, making those death penalty systems operate unfairly.

The American Bar Association in 2001 launched its Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project as the next step toward a nationwide moratorium on executions. The study was part of that project.

The project was created to encourage state government leaders to establish moratoriums and undertake detailed examinations of capital punishment laws and systems in their jurisdictions.

The eight states in the study were Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

The study did not include Texas, which is by far the most active capital punishment state. Since 1976, Texas conducted 405 executions, distantly followed by Virginia with 98, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 30, 2007 in Capital Punishment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

West Memphis 3 Claim New DNA Evidence in Habeas Petition

From In 1994, three teenagers in the small city of West Memphis, Ark., were convicted of killing three 8-year-old boys in what prosecutors portrayed as a satanic sacrifice involving sexual abuse and genital mutilation. So shocking were the crimes that when the teenagers were led from the courthouse after their arrest, they were met by 200 local residents yelling, “Burn in hell.”

But according to long-awaited new evidence filed by the defense in federal court on Monday, there was no DNA from the three defendants found at the scene, the mutilation was actually the work of animals and at least one person other than the defendants may have been present at the crime scene.

Supporters of the defendants hope the legal filing will provide the defense with a breakthrough. Two of the men, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, are serving life in prison, while one, Damien W. Echols, is on death row. There was no physical evidence linking the teenagers, now known as the West Memphis 3, to the crime.

“This is the first time that the evidence has ever really been tested,” said Gerald Skahan, a member of the defense team. “The first trial was pretty much a witch hunt.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 30, 2007 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CrimProf Andrew King-Ries Speaks at "Know Your Rights" Panel

Kingries_3 At the “Know Your Rights” panel discussion last Wednesday night,  students and community members posed questions about their constitutional rights, and five experts offered their varied interpretations, including University of Montana CrimProf Andrew King-Ries.

Hosted by Brett Schandelson, a third-year law student and American Civil Liberties Union board member, the open forum was an opportunity for students to discuss the law with legal professionals, and learn more about their rights on and off campus. The event was organized by the Associated Students of the University of Montana, the law school's chapter of the ACLU and a Missoula community-based group called Citizens for Responsible Crime Policy.

 When discussing if citizens can just say “no” to police searches, or if they consent to an officer's request, University of Montana CrimProf Andrew King-Ries stated, “I can’t think of a good reason to give an officer consent to search anything. There is no good reason to say yes” [Mark Godsey]

October 30, 2007 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Florida PD's Office Calls for Eye Witness Reform

From When a bad ID by an eyewitness can land an innocent man in prison for almost 14 years, it's time to kick-start change, says Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

Trying to remove bias from what he says can be misleading police-lineup procedures, Finkelstein sent a letter last week to Broward law enforcement officials suggesting reforms. This action brings Broward in line with a growing national movement to prevent mistaken witness identification.

The DNA exoneration last month of Larry Bostic, 50, of Fort Lauderdale, prompted Finkelstein's Oct. 23 letter. A Broward judge tossed Bostic's prison sentence — 13 days shy of its completion — after DNA tests showed he was not the man who raped a Fort Lauderdale woman in 1988.

Bostic's accuser recently told an investigator she never saw her rapist. She picked Bostic out of a photo lineup, she said, because she had seen him in the neighborhood in the days before the attack.

Simple extra precautions could keep this from happening again, Finkelstein said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 29, 2007 in Eyewitness Identification | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

NY Gov. Spitzer Flips in Plan and Now Supports the Scarlet Letter for Illegal Immigrants

From Eliot Spitzer’s retreat from his plan to permit illegal immigrants to obtain the same kind of driver’s licenses as other New Yorkers drew angry reactions yesterday from civil liberties advocates and immigrant groups, some of whom described the shift as a stunning betrayal.

The governor has been under fierce assault from conservative groups and others since proposing last month to allow illegal immigrants to get New York driver’s licenses. But joined by the federal secretary of homeland security, Micheal Chertoff, in Washington yesterday, the governor announced a starkly different version of his plan.

It calls for separate tiers of licenses. New Yorkers who could provide stringent proof of legal residency could get the new federally recognized license known as Real ID. The licenses available to illegal residents would not serve as federal identification.

“What a huge political flip,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. 

“He’s now embracing and letting his good name be used to promote something that has been widely known in the immigrant community as one of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation to come out of Congress,” Ms. Hong said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 29, 2007 in Homeland Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

US Davis Begins The Guantanamo Testimonials Project

Pursuant to its mission, the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas (CSHRA) launched, in Fall 2005, a long term research project to assess the effects of the U.S. war on terror on human rights in the Americas.

Whether invoked as the rationale for the "extraordinary rendition" of Canadian citizen Maher Arar to Syria or as the basis for the suppression of indigenous movements in South America, the war on terror has had significant effects on human rights in the Americas. But nowhere have these effects been greater than at the detention facilities of the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Consequently, it seemed appropriate to begin our project by looking into the human rights situation at these facilities.

We begin our endeavor with The Guantánamo Testimonials Project. The goal of this project is to gather testimonies of prisoner abuse in Guantánamo, organize them by the source of the testimonies given and by the type of the abuse alleged, and post these testimonies on this site even as we gather them. The strength of these testimonies is considerable. Based on them, a number of distinguished individuals and organizations have called for the closure of Guantánamo.

At CSHRA we take no position as to whether the Guantánamo prisoners are guilty or innocent. Yet we recognize that these individuals are, in either case, entitled to a set of fundamental rights (a) as individuals held during an armed conflict, (b) as prisoners in general and (c) as ordinary human beings.

[Mark Godsey]

October 29, 2007 in Think Tank Reports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Judge Claims Vulgar Comments Were Intended to Theraputically Benefit Defendants

From All right, what do you say to a career criminal who tells you to suck his dick? On Jan. 23, King County District Court Judge Mark Chow's response was: "I would, if you pulled it out—but you can't find it."

Chow now regrets that, but it seemed a fair enough rejoinder to someone he'd just sent back to jail with a record of more than 30 theft convictions and 10 assaults. Yet later that day, Chow moved from the jail court to the mental health court, and asked a female defendant, "What flavor are you?" Japanese, she replied. "No Chinese? See I'm Chinese," Chow shot back. No Chinese, she said. "That's OK," Chow replied. "My wife's Japanese; you've got some good." When another woman stepped to the bench, he said, "I think I know what flavor you are, so I'm not even going to ask."

The 53-year-old Chow, a judge for 16 years, now stands before the state Commission on Judicial Conduct facing ethics violations for lack of courtroom decorum and undignified comments. He's had a few run-ins before: a 1996 CJC admonishment for improperly involving himself in a relative's divorce case, and a 2002 lawsuit for sexual harassment filed by a mental health court worker (the case was later tossed).

His recent comments in the mental health court now seem to be the CJC's biggest concern. Chow has hired a high-profile attorney, Anne Bremner, and is mounting an unusual defense: His racial comments were intended to therapeutically benefit the defendants.

In a written response to the CJC, signed by Chow and authored by Bremner, he says "therapeutic jurisprudence" allows a judge to interact with mental health defendants through "purposeful engagement." That's a clinical way of saying that friendly racial banter reduces a defendant's anxiety. Bremner says it "therapeutically creates a non-adversarial environment. IT WAS IN THIS CONTEXT [caps hers] that Judge Chow was using such engagement" with the women in mental health court.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 29, 2007 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)