Supreme Court: Life sentences on juveniles open for later reviews


The Supreme Court ruled Monday that those sentenced as teenagers to mandatory life imprisonment for murder must have a chance to argue that they should be released from prison.

The ruling expanded the court’s 2012 decision that struck down mandatory life terms without parole for juveniles and said it must be applied retroactively to what juvenile advocates estimate are 1,200 to 1,500 cases.

More than 1,100 inmates are concentrated in three states — Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Michigan — where officials had decided the 2012 ruling was not retroactive.

They should have a chance to be resentenced or argue for parole, said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the new 6-to-3 decision.

Read more: Supreme Court: Life sentences on juveniles


The $40/Hr Defense Lawyer: ‘Making A Murderer’ Attorney Dean Strang Discusses The Economics of Innocence


“One of the central themes of the Netflix NFLX -3.13% documentary Making a Murderer was the imbalance of resources between the prosecution in the Steven Avery case, and Avery’s own defense team. But with a few brief exceptions, there wasn’t much attempt to actually examine it in terms of dollars and cents.

The numbers do add up. For example, a study revealed that in the State of Washington  prosecuting a non-capital murder case like Avery’s costs upwards of $2 million. (In a death penalty case, FWIW, that number rises to $3 million.)

So we talked to Avery’s attorney Dean Strang about the numbers–and dollars–behind the courtroom battle.”

To read more click here:  The Economics of Innocence

Sharing: ‘Making a Murderer’ shows that our justice system needs a healthy dose of humility

Making A Murderer 2

January 15

Keith A. Findley is co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Guilty or innocent?

Viewers addicted to the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer” are fiercely debating the case of Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey. In separate trials, the two were convicted of the 2005 rape and murder of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach. These were no ordinary murder convictions — they came just a few years after Avery was exonerated by DNA evidence, with the assistance of the Wisconsin Innocence Project (I served as his attorney at that time), after doing 18 years for a sexual assault and attempted murder that he did not commit.

The film centers on concerns that both men might have been wrongly convicted in this go-round. One cannot know at this point whether Avery and Dassey are indeed innocent victims of police misconduct and prosecutorial overreaching. No documentary could address all the nuances of the evidence needed to make those judgments in this case.

But “Making a Murderer” is about more than Avery and Dassey’s guilt or innocence, because the injustices the series suggest are hardly unique. The enduring takeaway ought to be the recognition that the criminal justice system, as a human system, is inevitably flawed. It does sometimes send innocent people to prison. And while most police, prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges are good, honest people who do their best to achieve justice, they do sometimes fail and even, on occasion, cross the line into misconduct in their zeal to secure what they perceive to be a just outcome.

Read more – click here: Washington Post

False Confessions Like Brendan Dassey’s Are Common Among Exonerated Juveniles

brandonMinors are psychologically susceptible to being coerced into false confessions and yet frequently interrogated without parents or lawyers around.

New details about the case against Steven Avery keep emerging as U.S. audiences flock to Making a Murderer, the Netflix series documenting Avery’s path from wrongfully convicted inmate to free man suing the government to suspect in a violent murder and possible target of malicious cop conspiracy. Despite popular petitions calling for Avery’s pardon, some are now suggesting that Avery is both guilty of murder and the victim of planted evidence. Yet whether Avery is guilty or innocent, the confession of his alleged co-perpetrator, nephew Brendan Dassey, seems undeniably coerced by the Manitowoc County police.

Read more: Why juveniles falsely confess to crimes


2015: A Year to Remember in False Confessions

damageBy , Clinical law professor, Northwestern University School of Law:

2015 was another momentous year in the world of false confessions. Here are my greatest hits:

2015 begins tragically as two exonerated false confessors from New York die — Sharrif Wilson, aged 38, and Daniel Gristwood, aged 48. Wilson spent 21 years and Gristwood spent 9 years in prison before being released. Wilson was a healthy 15-year-old when arrested but left prison an obese man with severe respiratory problems. He died less than a year after his release. Gristwood died of lung cancer only four months after being compensated for his wrongful conviction.

In 1985, 18-year-old Christopher Abernathy confessed to murder of his schoolmate in Park Forest, Ill. Thirty years later, the Cook County States Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit agreed to vacate his conviction after DNA evidence excluded him from several items left at the crime scene.

Carl Dukes and Lavell Jones confessed to murdering Erik Mitchell, an Albany, N.Y., college student in 1997. But new evidence – the confession of convicted killer and former Albany resident Jeffrey Conrad – prompts the DA to reopen their cases. The men remain behind bars.

CBS’s 48 Hours airs Blaming Melissa, a story which asks whether former daycare worker Melissa Calusinski falsely confessed to killing a child under her care in Lake County, Ill. Although Calusinski remains locked up, her case gets a big boost when the Lake County Coroner changes the cause of death from homicide to “undetermined” based on newly discovered X-rays which show that the child had a pre-existing head injury.

After 21 years, Angel Gonzalez, of Waukegan, Ill., in Lake County, is exonerated of a rape and kidnapping by DNA evidence.

Juan Rivera, another Waukegan man, who spent 20 years in prison before being exonerated, settles his civil rights case against Lake County authorities and others for $20 million dollars.

Debra Milke‘s conviction for murdering her son is reversed and she is freed from death row in Arizona.

Amanda Knox‘s long legal nightmare ends when the Italian High Court reverses her conviction.

Teina Pora, a New Zealander who falsely confessed to a rape and murder when he was just 17 and spent 20 years in prison, is exonerated.

Richard Lapointe‘s 26-year-old murder conviction is reversed and he is granted a new trial by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Tom Sawyer was never convicted of the 1986 murder of his neighbor in Tampa, Fla. But the fact that he had confessed left him with the stigma of someone who was guilty but had been released on a technicality (a judge suppressed his confession). That stigma was lifted when Stephen Lamont, whose DNA linked him to the crime, pleaded guilty to the murder.

Richard Lapointe is freed and released on bond pending the decision of the Hartford State’s Attorney on whether she plans to retry him.

Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and Michigan’s Innocence Clinic file a petition for a new trial based on actual innocence in the case of Davontae Sanford. Sanford was only 14 years old when he confessed to and later pleaded guilty to a quadruple murder at a drug house in Detroit in 2007. Sanford has languished in prison despite the fact that a hit man, Vincent Smothers, who confessed and pled guilty to at least eight murders, also took responsibility for the four drug house murders.

Jason Strong, of Waukegan, Ill., is cleared of another Lake County, Ill., murder after serving 15 years.

A California appellate court tosses out a confession of Elias V., a 13-year-old boy convicted of a sex crime, in an opinion that draws the ire of several District Attorneys who immediately seek to “de-publish” the opinion. Justice prevails. The opinion stands.

Chicagoan Daniel Andersen‘s 1980 murder conviction is vacated after DNA proves his innocence. Andersen, only 19 years old when he confessed, served 27 years in prison before being paroled. He is officially exonerated in August, is removed from the sex offender registry, and receives a certificate of innocence in December.

After settling the civil rights cases of Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson, Buncombe County, N.C., officials agree to pay out settlements to the remaining three of the Fairview Five defendants– Larry Williams, Jr., Teddy Isbell and Damian Mills— even before their lawsuits were filed. Williams, the youngest, was only 16 years old when he confessed after being threatened with the death penalty. Williams, Isbell and Mills were later officially exonerated in a case that had five guilty pleas and four false confessions to a murder that was linked by DNA and a confession to another group of men. Those men remain uncharged.

Illinois appellate court vacates the conviction of Shawn Whirl and grants him a new hearing on his suppression motion based on newly discovered evidence of a pattern of police torture and the decision of Whirl’s interrogator to invoke the Fifth Amendment.

King’s County District Attorney Ken Thompson’s Conviction Review Unit vacates the conviction of Joel Fowler. Fowler was barely 18 when he falsely confessed to a 2008 murder in Brooklyn.

Bobby Johnson, who at age 16 falsely confessed and then entered a false guilty plea to a murder, is exonerated by a Connecticut court after he had served 9 years in prison. His co-defendant, 14-year-old Kwame Wells-Jordan, also had falsely confessed but had been acquitted.

Trevon Yates, a 17-year-old from East St. Louis who falsely confessed to an armed robbery and served 9 months in jail before being cleared, settles his civil suit against the Belleville authorities for $900,000.

In Death on the Hudson, 48 Hours asks whether Angelika Graswald falsely confessed to murdering her husband or whether her husband accidentally died when he fell out of his kayak into the cold water of the Hudson River without a life jacket and drowned?

Judges for Justice releases A Plea for Justice, a video laying out the case for Chris Tapp‘s innocence. Many in Idaho Falls, Idaho, believe Tapp falsely confessed to the 1996 murder of Angie Dodge, including Dodge’s mother Carol.

Richard Lapointe is officially exonerated as the State decides not to retry him.

Johnny Hincapie, who as an 18-year-old in 1990 confessed to participating in the murder of a tourist in New York, is granted a new trial. Here’s his account of why he falsely confessed.

Dateline NBC releases The Confession, a story about 17-year-old Daniel Villegas‘s false confession to a 1993 murder and the heroic efforts of John Mimbela, a local El Paso, Tex., businessman, to clear Daniel’s name.

A Japanese High Court in Osaka grants a retrial to Keiko Aoki, 51, and Tatsuhiro Boku, 49, finding that their 1995 arson-murder rests on an unreliable confession.

West Virginia Supreme Court vacates Joseph Buffey‘s rape conviction, finding that his rights had been violated when prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory DNA results to him prior to accepting his guilty plea.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock grants clemency to Barry Beach, who has always insisted that a Louisiana detective, linked to numerous questionable convictions, pressured him into confessing to a murder he did not commit.

Donovan Allen, who falsely confessed to the murder of his mother in 1990 at the age of 18, is exonerated by DNA evidence. Allen becomes the 334th person to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

New trial is sought for Lamarr Monson, a Detroit man convicted of the 1996 murder of a 12-year-old girl, after a bloody fingerprint found on the murder weapon – a porcelain toilet tank lid – is linked to another man.

George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts, and Eugene Vent — three Native Alaska men and one American Indian known as the Fairbanks Four – are freed and their 1997 murder convictions are vacated.

Netflix releases Making a Murderer, a ten-part documentary chronicling the convictions of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey for the murder of a Wisconsin woman. Moira Demos’ and Laura Ricciardi’s film raises questions about the then 16-year-old Dassey’s interrogation and focuses on the extent to which detectives coerced Dassey and fed him facts to make his confession appear to be credible.

Read more: 2015: A Year to Remember in False Confessions via @HuffPostCrime

Un-making a murderer


January 6, 2016

ASU’s Post-Conviction Clinic works to free the wrongfully convicted

Since its release last month, the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer” has inspired a host of social media debates, many soaked in outrage aimed at an alleged injustice.

The series follows the murder case against Steven Avery in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, and the accusation that the county’s law enforcement conspired to frame him.

Although Avery’s innocence is in question, one thing is certain: We devour these stories. Other binge-worthy, fact-based productions built around the premise of being accused of or getting away with murder — such as the podcast “Serial” and HBO’s docu-series “The Jinx” — enthrall and enrage the public, casting a light across the criminal justice system and making us wonder: How can justice prevail?

One way is through the ASU Post-Conviction Clinic, which is partnered with the Arizona Justice Project, giving Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law students the opportunity to work on real cases with claims of actual innocence. The clinic recently received nearly $1 million from the National Institute of Justice to work on cases where DNA evidence could exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

Katherine Puzauskas is the supervising attorney for the ASU Post-Conviction Clinic, and previously held the position of director of the Arizona Justice Project. Robert Dormady is a graduate of ASU Law, who is now an ASU Law Fellow and serves as the program coordinator for the clinic. The two contributed answers, via email, on this subject for a Q&A with ASU Now.

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