NYT: Rampant Prosecutorial Misconduct

The New York Times put out an editorial regarding what they call “rampant prosecutorial misconduct” which is occurring in both state and federal courts. They observe that prosecutor offices are often set up to disincentivize prosecutors from handing over exculpatory evidence. The piece cites an appellate judge stating, “only judges can stop” Brady violations. But prosecutors office’s, elected positions, can be also held to account by the community to which they serve. The more impacted communities understand the power they wield, the more courts and their institutions can be held to higher standards of fairness and justice.

Rampant Prosecutorial Misconduct — By In the justice system, prosecutors have the power to decide what criminal charges to bring, and since 97 percent of cases are resolved without a trial, those decisions are almost always the most important factor in the outcome. That is why it is so important for prosecutors to play fair, not just to win. This obligation is embodied in the Supreme Court’s 1963 holding in Brady v. Maryland, which required prosecutors to provide the defense with any exculpatory evidence that could materially affect a verdict or sentence. read more >>>


Supreme Court: Right to Remain Silent Must Now Be Invoked

Submission by Robin Yeamans

The US Supreme Court recently ruled that in order to assert your right to remain silent, you must speak up and say you invoke the Fifth Amendment. In Salinas v. Texas, Mr. Salinas answered officers’ questions for an hour but became silent when police questioned him about shotgun shells found at the crime scene. At trial the prosecutor used Salinas’ silence to persuade the jury he was guilty, and he was convicted of murder.

Justice Alito stated in the Court’s ruling that the defendant’s “Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self incrimination in response to the officer’s question.”

Justice Breyer, writing a minority opinion disagreed, pointing out, “But does it really mean that the suspect must use the exact words ‘Fifth Amendment’? How can an individual who is not a lawyer know that these particular words are legally magic?”

A public defender from San Francisco pointed out: “This ruling will hurt our most vulnerable citizens: the mentally ill, those with language barriers, people with little education and those who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of their questioning.”

The US Supreme Court, so careful to protect corporations’ supposed rights, are destroying the rights of others, literally ripping up years of precedent.

Why Public Defender Offices Should Have Public Information Officers

ACJPCourtThe month marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions this country’s criminal justice system has ever known – Gideon V. Wainwright. The case, along with later decisions, cemented the 6th amendment right to counsel for anyone, regardless if they have the ability to pay for an attorney or not. To protect this right, we now have indigent defense systems (such as Public Defender’s Offices and Private Defender Panels) in counties and states, which serve the eighty percent of people who face criminal charges.

Chances are the only people who are going to recognize this date – both to honor the historic victory and acknowledge how far our indigent defense systems have to go to fulfill the promise of Gideon – will be lawyers. But the condition of indigent defense systems in 2013 is not a discussion only for attorneys. That’s like saying the need to solve a medical issue that affects 80 percent of everyone who enters a hospital should only be had amongst the doctors. Continue reading

New York Times Editorial: Who Will Mourn George Whitmore, Jr?

In 1968, George Whitmore, Jr. was beaten by New York police and coerced to signing a 61 page confession that he murdered two women.  He contended that he was somewhere else that day — watching Martin Luther King Jr’s historic civil rights speech and had witnesses who could attest to him.  Nevertheless, he was convicted for these murders.  Steadfast to his innocence — and supported by lawyers, advocates, and civil rights activists — his conviction was overturned 9 years later.  And his case was pivotal to the Supreme Court’s Miranda ruling to protect alleged suspects and to the partial repeal of capital punishment in New York City. 

While he is 3,000 miles away from Santa Clara County, the impact of his resolve to maintain his innocence reverbrates here.  At ACJP, we’ve seen youth as young as 15 forced to make confessions to crimes they didn’t commit.  But because of cases like Mr. Whitmore Jr, people can still be protected.  This particular editorial talks about the emotional toll the system can take on you and the personal fall-out of the struggle for justice.  It is this silent and sad struggle that is rarely documented.  To the question the writer posed on “Who Will Mourn George Whitmore Jr”, we resoundingly answer — we will, and we will honor his sacrifice as we hold our systems accountable.  Submitted by Charisse Domingo

Op-Ed Contributor
Who Will Mourn George Whitmore?
Photo by Tom Cunningham/NY Daily News, via Getty Images
New York Times
Published: October 12, 2012

I received news this week of the death of George Whitmore Jr., an occurrence noted, apparently, by no one in the public arena. That Whitmore could die without a single mention in the media is a commentary on a city and nation that would rather bury and forget the difficult aspects of our shared history.

Forty-eight years ago, as a New York City teenager, Whitmore was initiated into an ordeal at the hands of a racist criminal justice system. For a time, his story rattled the news cycle. He was chewed up and spit out: an ill-prepared kid vilified as a murderer, then championed as an emblem of injustice and, finally, cast aside. That he survived his tribulations and lived to the age of 68 was a miracle.
Continue reading

Is the Prevailing Legal Standard for ‘New Evidence’ Right?

Very informative piece about the ever increasing hurdle for those who are challenging their wrongful convictions. Also, it comes from a very good blog called Wrongful Convictions Blog. Thanks to our friends at the Innocence Project for sending this along!

Many post-conviction innocence cases rely upon the discovery of new evidence to support a claim of actual innocence.  But to be admissible in the case, the new evidence must meet the prevailing legal standard for admissibility.

In Ohio, this standard is called the Petro standard, because it resulted from the case of Ohio vs. Petro in 1947.  OH vs. Petro  Most states use some version of this standard.  There are six prongs to the standard: Continue reading

Blocking Parts of Arizona Law, Justices Allow Its Centerpiece – New York Times

Seems like more conservative states are the ones to be watched, as they are the ones trying to get over on federal law. -Post Submission By: CFlo

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday delivered a split decision on Arizona’s tough 2010 immigration law, upholding its most controversial provision but blocking the implementation of others.

The court unanimously sustained the law’s centerpiece, the one critics have called its “show me your papers” provision. It requires state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if there is reason to suspect that the individual might be an illegal immigrant. Continue reading

Bay Area Legal Leaders Move on From Their Posts, While Leaving a Legacy of Community Collaborations

In one season, Bay Area families are seeing three prominent leaders of legal institutions that have fought for, and in some cases, created, protections for low-income and marginalized communities, leave their posts. Mary Greenwood, the Santa Clara County Public Defender, and Miguel Marquez, the Santa Clara County County Counsel, have been appointed by Governor Brown to move on judgeship. Michael Kresser, the Executive Director of the Sixth District Appellate Project, is retiring after helping start the non-profit in 1985. While the three led distinctively different agencies, each were able to advance the rights of indigent and marginalized communities through their willingness to listen to, and work with, the communities they served. Through their collective leadership, Santa Clara County expanded its indigent defense, held prosecutorial misconduct in check, and created nationally recognized policy protections for immigrants.

Certainly, as new leadership is developed at each respective legal agency, a continuance of this inclusive, community-partnering approach is vital to continue the legacy laid-down by Greenwood, Marquez, and Kresser. Continue reading

Supreme Court Rules Any Offense, However Minor, Allows for a Strip Search

Post submission by Aram James: The US Supreme Court today –in a 5-4 decision (Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington) ripped at the heart of our of 4th Amendment – our right to be free of illegal and unreasonable searches and seizures; and our right to insist that before the government invades our privacy, our homes, our cars, our bodies—that they must have probable cause to do so.  Today’s decision does away with the probable cause requirement for strip-searches– for even the most minor offense i.e., violation of a leash law.

Today’s decision states only that jail officials may strip-search anyone arrested who will subsequently be placed in the general population of a jail or prison –even for the most innocuous offense—not that they have to or must be strip-searched.  The decision leaves wide-open discretion to jail officials to determine who and under what circumstances someone shall be subject to an invasive strip-search. Continue reading

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Expands Defendant’s Rights In Plea Deals

In both the federal and state court systems, 9 out of 10 cases end up in a plea bargain, wiping out the notion of your “day in court”.  Both Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties are no different. We know families with loved ones serving long prison sentences, had their children taken away, or ended up in deportation proceedings because of a plea bargain gone wrong.  But the Supreme Court ruled this week that defendants have a right to competent counsel during the plea bargaining phase of the criminal justice system.  This ruling honestly is a little surprising, because you’d think effective assistance of counsel should extend to all phases of the justice system already.  But this seals the clarity once and for all.  Submission post by Charisse Domingo

Supreme Court expands defendant’s rights in plea deals

In two 5-4 decisions, the Supreme Court rules that defendants in criminal cases have a constitutional right to a competent lawyer’s advice when deciding whether to accept a plea deal.

By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau
Los Angeles Times
March 21, 2012

Reporting from Washington—

Defendants in criminal cases have a constitutional right to a competent lawyer’s advice when deciding whether to accept a plea bargain, the Supreme Court ruled, providing a significant expansion of rights that could have a broad impact on the justice system. Continue reading

Supreme Court Revisits Issue of Harsh Sentences for Juveniles: New York Times

Do you feel that juveniles should be charged with the death penalty? You be the judge. – Submission by Cesar Flores

WASHINGTON — At a pair of Supreme Court arguments on Tuesday, the justices returned to the question of what the Constitution has to say about harsh sentences imposed on juvenile offenders.

A majority of them appeared prepared to take an additional step in limiting such punishments, but it was not clear whether it would be modest or large. The court’s precedents have created so many overlapping categories — based on age, the nature of the offense and whether judges and juries have discretion to show leniency — that much of the argument was devoted to identifying the possible lines the court could draw. Continue reading