CrimProf Blog

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

Friday, February 1, 2008

CrimProf Spotlight: Susanna L. Blumenthal

Blumenthal This week the CrimProf Blog spotlights University of Minnesota School of Law CrimProf Susanna L. Blumenthal.

CrimProf Blumenthal researches and teaches in the areas of American legal history, criminal law, property, and trusts and estates.  She is currently working on a book that traces changing conceptions of human agency and responsibility through the history of American law.  Professor Blumenthal received her A.B., magna cum laude, from



and then spent a year on fellowship at



She earned her J.D. from




, where she was a Coker Teaching Fellow and an editor of the Yale Law Journal. She was also awarded a Ph.D. in history from



, and her dissertation received the George Washington Egleston Prize for the best dissertation in American history.  Her most recent articles, which explore the historical relationship between law and the human sciences, appear in the Harvard Law Review, UCLA Law Review, and Law and History Review. 

Before joining the


faculty, she served as a law clerk to Judge Kimba M. Wood, Southern District of New York, and as a Samuel I. Golieb Fellow in Legal History at NYU School of Law.  In 2003–2004, she was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at



, and also held a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. [Mark Godsey]

February 1, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Texas Finds Real Rapist After Wrongly Convicting an Innocent Man

From A man found to be the actual perpetrator in a 1994 rape and murder after DNA cleared another man is alive and serving prison time for aggravated sexual assault of a child and aggravated kidnapping.     

On Tuesday prosecutors mistakenly said that the perpetrator in the slaying and sexual assault of 14-year-old Nary Na had died. They discovered their error Wednesday.

Entre Nax Karage, now 38, was originally convicted for the crime and sentenced to life in prison in 1997. But DNA test results subsequently cleared him, and he was ordered released from prison in 2004.


Keith Jordan is now charged with capital murder and aggravated sexual assault of a child in the case. Court records show that DNA taken from evidence left on the victim matches Mr. Jordan. His cases are pending in a Dallas County court. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 31, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Private Lab Offers Free Testing to Persue Justice

from For 12 hours, they showed him photos from the bloody crime scene, screamed in his ears, threatened him with the death penalty, told him he failed a lie-detector test and even followed him into the bathroom, until Robert Caulley finally gave them what they wanted.

Told by detectives that if he confessed he could return home to his wife and young son to sort things out, Caulley buckled. On that day in December 1996, he told investigators that he had beaten his parents to death with a baseball bat nearly three years earlier in their Grove City home.

Convicted on little more than what he says was a false confession, Caulley wants a DNA test. Detectives originally had said Caulley's parents were killed when they interrupted a burglary.

"I loved my parents; I didn't kill them," said Caulley, 43, an Ohio State graduate who worked as an aeronautical engineer. He has served 10 years of his life sentence. "I just want the chance to prove my innocence."

Caulley's case is one of 30 that The Dispatch has identified as prime candidates for biological testing under a law passed in 2003 and revised in 2006. An accredited lab, which does work for the state crime lab, has agreed to conduct the tests free as a public service.

Gov. Ted Strickland called it a "terrific" opportunity to begin restoring credibility to a flawed system. He is urging prosecutors and judges to support the initiative.

"I can see no justification for any interference in the testing in those cases," Strickland said. "It's not going to cost the county. I don't know what the justification for trying to block that kind of testing would be."

The Dispatch, as part of a yearlong investigation, gathered public records and built files on the 313 cases in which Ohio prisoners applied for a DNA test under an old law, which stymied nearly everyone. Advocates hope that modest changes to the law in 2006 have created new opportunities for them.

Through consultation with the Ohio Innocence Project, a legal clinic based at the University of Cincinnati, The Dispatch identified prospects for testing.

The newspaper weighed several factors, including criminal histories, the evidence used to convict inmates and whether evidence remains available for testing. In several cases, judges had ordered tests but they hadn't been done more than two years later.

Many inmates who say they're innocent couldn't be included because evidence has been lost or destroyed.

In conjunction with The Dispatch investigation, lawyers representing the 30 inmates plan to seek approval from judges in 13 counties for DNA tests beginning today. The inmates are being represented individually either by the Ohio Innocence Project or the Ohio public defender. These cases will be among the first to be filed under the new law.

Prosecutors in Lucas and Marion counties already have agreed to tests in two cases after being questioned about the cases by Dispatch reporters. Other prosecutors said they would consider the requests after they are filed in court.

DNA tests could answer troubling questions looming over the convictions -- often with absolute finality.

The newspaper asked the Ohio Innocence Project for legal assistance in reviewing case files. Dispatch Editor Benjamin J. Marrison said the initiative is a test of Ohio's flawed system more than of any one conviction.

"There's no reason to not pursue the truth," Marrison said. "What motivated us was examining the system to find out if it's flawed and, where it is flawed, having the legislature and the governor craft fixes. The findings of this investigation should alarm every Ohioan, because the lack of evidence protocol means any one of us could be wrongly convicted."

The Ohio Innocence Project, a team of law students led by two professors, said the Dispatch investigation accelerated their review of innocence claims. Typically, the group has about five active cases, which can drag on for years and sometimes extend beyond DNA issues.

"Now that we've got the new (law) in place, we need to have a whole new round of examination on these cases and, of course, need to have a more open mind," said Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project.

"Each of these cases represents systematic flaws that suggest our justice system is not working the way we all would like," said Jenny Carroll, academic director. "I think the publicity The Dispatch can bring to those issues will bring about more systematic reforms than I can bring about as an individual lawyer."

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 31, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Text Message Scandal Builds In Detroit

From The office of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is reeling following publication of a series of e-mails between him and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. The messages suggest that the pair lied under oath last year in denying they were having an affair. Beatty is resigning. Their testimony last summer was part of a lawsuit by two police officers who claimed they lost their jobs because they investigated whether Kilpatrick used his security officers to cover up extramarital affairs. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 30, 2008 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Federal Judge Denies Motion to Suppress in Obscenity Case

From A federal judge yesterday denied a motion to suppress statements made by a Pennsylvania woman charged with transmitting obscene materials.

Karen Fletcher, 56, is charged with six counts of sending lewd stories, depicting the rape and killing of children, on the Internet.

Ms. Fletcher ran what was known as the "Red Rose" Web site, where she posted her fictional stories.

She charged subscribers -- there were only 29 -- $10 per month to belong to the site.

At a hearing yesterday before U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti, Ms. Fletcher's defense attorney tried to argue that when his client was interviewed by FBI agents in February 2005, she should have been read her Miranda rights, warning her that what she said could be used against her.

But the two FBI agents who interviewed her said at the time that they weren't even sure what Ms. Fletcher was doing was a crime.

"She did ask as we were leaving if she was in trouble and about her First Amendment rights," testified Special Agent Christopher Cantrell. "I told her I didn't know, because I didn't."

Ms. Fletcher is the first person charged in this district in decades with obscenity related strictly to written materials. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 30, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

11th Circuit Lifts Stay of Execution

From A federal appeals court has lifted a stay of execution for James Harvey Callahan, who is scheduled to be executed Thursday, but it could be delayed again by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court on Jan. 7 heard oral arguments in a Kentucky challenge to lethal injection, a case that has delayed executions nationwide. A ruling is unlikely before spring. Alabama uses lethal injection in its executions.

In a 2-1 decision, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday lifted the stay granted by U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins in Montgomery on Dec. 14.

The court said Callahan waited too late to challenge the method of execution.

Callahan, who is now scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Thursday at Holman prison near Atmore, was sentenced to death for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Jacksonville State University student Rebecca Suzanne Howell on Feb. 4, 1982.

Authorities said she was abducted from a coin laundry in Jacksonville and raped before being strangled and dumped in Tallasseehatchee Creek.

In lifting the stay, the 11th Circuit ruling said it did not make any finding on "the relative merits of Callahan's constitutional claim because we conclude the claim is barred by the statue of limitations."

Judges Gerald Tjoflat and Susan Black, forming the majority, said the two-year time deadline began on July 31, 2002, when Callahan selected lethal injection as the method by which he would be put to death. They said he waited more than two years after the deadline expired to challenge lethal injection.

January 30, 2008 in Capital Punishment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tony Rezko Sent to Jail

From A federal judge sent accused Illinois political fixer Antoin "Tony" Rezko to jail today after federal prosecutors accused him of violating his bail terms by a convoluted series of financial transactions with Mideast banks.

Rezko has become an "Achilles heel" for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama after disclosures he and people associated with him had raised almost $200,000 for Obama and that Obama sought Rezko's "help and advice" in the purchase of a new home.

In a court hearing in Chicago, prosecutors detailed a $3.5 million wire transfer from a bank in Beirut, Lebanon that they said was moved through a series of accounts until it reached Rezko or some of his relatives who had posted property for his bond.

Under the terms of his agreement, prosecutors said in a filing with the court, Rezko was obligated to disclose any change in his financial status.


In court, prosecutors said Rezko had become a "flight risk" because of his secretive transactions in the Mideast. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 28, 2008 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

FBI Attempts to Develop a Voice Fingerprint

From  The FBI is trying to develop a system that could make your voice as unique and recognizable as your fingerprint. Although not yet at its peak potential, the technology currently helps investigators with tasks such as verifying Osama bin Laden videos and locating gunshots.

Running an audio clip of someone's voice through the system, called FASR, prompts bright squiggly lines to rise and fall. Each voice is quite distinct. While the pattern isn't as definitive as DNA, the FBI says, FASR gets pretty close.

When a new Osama bin Laden audio or video tape pops up on the Internet, the forensic analysts at the FBI Audio Lab in Quantico, Va., process the voice through this system. The results allow them report whether the tape is authentic.

It doesn't matter what language is being spoken, Steven Lanser who heads up the FBI audio team says. Regardless of whether one is speaking Arabic, Urdu or English, a voice follows a particular pattern.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 28, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Investigation Reveals Fatal Flaws in Ohio Inmate DNA Testing Program

From A man on Ohio's Death Row held faint hope that a DNA test might keep him from his grave. But no one could find the evidence in the Cleveland man's murder case.

Another man was changing a flat tire when a 5-year-old girl pointed to him as the man who had raped her 11 weeks earlier. The Toledo man was convicted on little more than her word. A DNA test could end all doubts, but swabs from the girl's medical exam are lost in an evidence room the manager describes as a disaster.

A judge ordered a DNA test for a Cleveland man, but the evidence remains untested more than two years later. When his father died, the prisoner stood alone over the casket, in shackles and unable to prove his innocence.

These cases reflect the empty promises and missed opportunities typical of Ohio's inmate DNA testing program.

A yearlong Dispatch investigation revealed a system in which prosecutors ignore court orders for testing, judges reject inmates without following the law, and evidence is routinely lost or destroyed before it can be tested.

The flaws have ruinous consequences for inmates, victims and society at large.

Presented with The Dispatch's findings, Gov. Ted Strickland immediately called for a compete overhaul that would speed up the review process, open up testing to more inmates and establish statewide standards for preserving evidence.

"It's not honoring the victim to take the chance that an innocent person is paying the price for victimizing them, because the flip side of the coin is that means the guilty party has escaped justice," Strickland said.

"It's just a matter of trying to do everything we can to be as careful and as accurate as we possibly can be."

The Dispatch reviewed the 313 cases of inmates who requested DNA testing and found:

• Evidence had been lost or destroyed nearly two-thirds of the time when prosecutors agreed to search for it. Ohio does not require evidence to be catalogued and saved, as 22 states do.

• Even when evidence was available, the applications for testing typically went nowhere. Judges didn't bother rejecting the requests in 53 cases; they simply ignored them.

• Ohio law requires judges to cite a reason when they reject a DNA test. Nearly a third of the time, they didn't. Many rulings were one-sentence denials.

• Even in cases in which a judge granted testing, the inmate's odds of actually receiving a test still were no better than a coin toss. The Dispatch discovered 13 cases in which testing hadn't been done more than a year after a judge approved it -- in some cases, more than two years.

• Tests have been done in only 14 cases since a 2003 law allowed inmates to apply. Two resulted in exonerations. Seven confirmed guilt. The others were inconclusive. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 27, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Columbia Law Review recently released "Judging Innocence" by Brandon Garret.  Here is the summary:   

This empirical study examines for the first time how the criminal system in the United States handled the cases of people who were subsequently found innocent through postconviction DNA testing. The data collected tell the story of this unique group of exonerees, starting with their criminal trials, moving through levels of direct appeals and habeas corpus review, and ending with their eventual exonerations.

Beginning with the trials of these exonerees, this study examines the leading types of evidence supporting their wrongful convictions, which were erroneous eyewitness identifications, forensic evidence, informant testimony, and false confessions. Yet our system of criminal appeals and postconviction review poorly addressed factual deficiencies in these trials. Few exonerees brought claims regarding those facts or claims alleging their innocence. For those who did, hardly any claims were granted by courts.

Far from recognizing innocence, courts often denied relief by finding errors to be harmless. Criminal appeals and postconviction proceedings brought before these exonerees proved their innocence using DNA testing yielded apparently high numbers of reversals a 14% reversal rate. However, that reversal rate was indistinguishable from the background reversal rates of comparable rape and murder convictions. Our system may produce high rates of reversible errors during rape and murder trials.

Finally, even after DNA testing was available, many exonerees had difficulty securing access to testing and ultimately receiving relief. These findings all demonstrate how our criminal system failed to effectively review unreliable factual evidence, and, as a result, misjudged innocence. [Mark Godsey]

January 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)