Man Wins Supreme Court Appeal For New Trial

In a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, a Louisiana man has won the right to a new trial after a major Brady Rule violation in his case has come to light. Juan Smith was convicted with for an armed robbery in which only one piece of evidence was used to convict him: a single surviving witness’ testimony in court. After investigation into the case, attorneys for Smith discovered that the witness’ statements to police and what he testified to in court were not only contradictory, but that the statements to Police were not disclosed to the Defense by Prosecutors. Read more about the ruling in an article by the Huffington Post here, and more about the Brady Rule here.

Death Sentence in Delaware Overturned

A man is once again free after serving 20 years on Delaware’s Death Row. Jermaine Wright’s sentence was  overturned after his attorneys proved that, even with a videotaped confession, the evidence against him was not sufficient enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Wright was  indeed guilty. According to an article in the Delaware Times, Wright’s  Superior Court Judge, John A. Parkins Jr., published a 101-page opinion responding to Wright’s fourth petition for post-conviction relief,  saying that the evidence was “weak to non-existent”, and the article quotes that “there was no physical evidence linking Wright to the crime, no murder weapon was recovered, no fingerprints or shoe prints were recovered, no one was able to pick Wright out of a lineup and there were no security camera images of the crime.”  Because of this ruling, Wright will be eligible to be released on bail sometime in the next week.

Perry v. New Hampshire and Eyewitness Testimony

In a case that was recently argued before the Supreme Court, questions have arisen regarding the reliability of eyewitness testimony. In Perry v. New Hampshire,  the State Supreme Court ruled that a trial judge “cannot exclude witness identification based on suggestive circumstances, unless there was improper police manipulation of the identification” (e.g. witness tampering and threats)–the ruling was subsequently brought to the Supreme Court.  The issue raised in the hearing was that, in a criminal case, should a court required to exclude eyewitness identification evidence, especially if the identification of the defendant was made under circumstances that make the it unreliable? So far, there has been no opinion from the Court published.

Wrong Convictions Spur Florida to Rethink Using Jail Informants

After the release of a man that was wrongfully convicted of a murder, Florida’s Innocence Commission is rethinking the use of jailhouse informants in their felony cases.  The man, Chad Heins, spent 11 years in prison for a murder he was innocent of — his conviction was almost solely based on the testimony of two so-called “snitches” who lied to jurors, saying Heins had confessed to them while he was being held.

Because of this gross injustice, the Florida Innocence Commission is drafting proposed legislation that could make their state the only one in the nation that would require judges to review the reliability of jailhouse informants — as well as any witness with pending criminal charges — before allowing them to testify at a felony trial.

Read more about the proposed legislation here, and more about the Florida Innocence Commission here.

Injustice in Murder Cases

According to a new study recently published by the RAND Corporation,  just providing an indigent defendant a lawyer is not enough to “obtain justice”. The issues that directly affect the outcome include: whether the lawyer assigned is screened for quality, whether they are trained to handle the client’s type of case, and whether they are paid enough to cover the time required. Based on the study and these factors, RAND was able to establish that the clients with court appointed representation (like in the felony cases that were provided) are unlikely to get fair treatment versus clients who are able to afford private representation— whether in the Philadelphia system (like in this study) or anywhere else.

Read more from the New York Times Editorial here and the complete RAND study here.

Prosecutorial Misconduct and a DNA Exoneration in Texas

After spending 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Michael Morton was exonerated last month in Texas through the use of DNA evidence. In their attempt to prove Mr. Morton’s innocence, attorneys found evidence in court records that the prosecutor from his original trial had withheld critical evidence that may have helped Mr. Morton. According to a report by The Innocence Project, that prosecutor, who is now a state judge, disobeyed “a direct order from the trial court to produce the exculpatory police reports from the lead investigator” in this case.

Read more, including the full editorial by the New York Times here.