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January 2010 Archives

Difficult Maine Supreme Court Decision - Observing Someone Violates PFA

This decision could have difficult consequences for those who are on bail and have no contact provisions with a family member. The decision in State v. Mark Elliott can be found here: http://www.courts.state.me.us/court_info/opinions/2010%20documents/10me3el.pdf

Wrongful Convictions

This phenomenon is unfortunately not limited to New York. Nice editorial from the Buffalo News on wrongful convictions.Curb wrongful conviction
Innocence Network's valuable work should lead to better procedures
Updated: January 04, 2010, 11:15 PM Twenty-six people rang in the new year in freedom because of a handful of dogged lawyers, investigators and students who believe — sometimes, it seems, all by themselves — that the point of the American criminal justice system is to do justice.The several state organizations that are allied under the umbrella of the Innocence Network have no trouble finding clients for their services. They have succeeded again and again, not just in casting some reasonable doubt on past convictions but proving them to be flat wrong.If states such as New York ever get tired of being shown up by this group of justice-seekers, weary of being found to have employed unconstitutional pressure tactics, sloppy forensic science or kangaroo courts, they might seek to institutionalize the kinds of checks-and-balances that Innocence Network members are inventing as they go along.A recent audit of the New York State Police crime lab by the state inspector general found an alarming pattern of untrained workers, slipshod work and administrative cover-ups. While no wrongful conviction has been directly tied to this mess, the situation, still under internal review, seriously undermines the faith that the people deserve to have in their system of justice.The Innocence Network's annual report outlines the cases of 27 people, from New York to California, where its members' diligence and application of modern DNA technology have led not just to new trials or reviews but to actual and total exoneration of people who spent as much as 35 years behind bars for crimes that, we now know, they did not commit. One of those, Timothy Cole of Texas, had already died in prison before the evidence that might have freed him was uncovered.Too often, the success of police and prosecutors is measured by the short-attention-span media and tough-on-crime politicians according to the number of cases cleared and people imprisoned. The need to be sure that the case really has been solved, and the people sent to jail are the ones who belong there, carries far too little weight in our culture.Even those who cannot shed a tear for those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and wound up with lengthy prison sentences, or even on death row, as a result, should see that every innocent person in prison equals a guilty person still on the loose.Our police and prosecutors have a rough job. Day after day they see horrible things done to innocent people, and it is their job to channel society's need for safety and urge for revenge into diligent enforcement of the law. We do our law enforcement professionals no favors by providing them with clumsy tools or by measuring their performance only by the number of scalps on their walls.The kind of reviews accomplished by the Innocence Network suggest that for every innocent person released, dozens remain imprisoned, some for decades, some for the rest of their lives. That not only harms the innocent who are imprisoned, but also the families they leave behind and any claim America has to being a society that promises liberty and justice for all. How much longer will it take, how many more innocent people must die waiting their turn for justice, before our government installs as routine the kind of safeguards these consciences-at-large are urging upon us?