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Monday, April 20, 2009

Harm Is From Cover-Ups and Corruption, Not Human Error

Examining Human Error in Wrongful Convictions
The New York Times by MANNY FERNANDEZ - February 1, 2009

A new examination of wrongful convictions in New York City and around the state found that a number of them stemmed not from DNA evidence being used to prove someone’s innocence, but from a far older phenomenon: human error. The report, released on Friday by the New York State Bar Association, studied the cases of 53 men and women whose convictions were overturned, often after spending years, sometimes decades, in prison for murders, rapes and other crimes they did not commit. It determined that the root causes of the convictions included errors by a prosecutor, judge or member of law enforcement, as well as the misidentification of the accused by victims or witnesses. The mishandling of forensic evidence and a reliance on false confessions from the accused or false testimony from jailhouse informants were also to blame. Fewer than half the cases involved new DNA evidence. Even with the DNA cases, elements of human error were found.

In many of the 53 cases, several factors, not just one, played a role in the wrongful convictions, the report found. Thirty-six cases involved a misidentification by a witness or a victim, and 31 involved errors by prosecutors, judges or law enforcement, it said. “If you were manufacturing widgets, and 53 widgets were defective, it would be acceptable,” said Barry M. Kamins, a Criminal Court judge in Manhattan who was the chair of the state bar association task force that prepared the report. “If you’re dealing in human lives, and 53 people are innocent and serving time for crimes they didn’t commit, that is unacceptable. One is too many, and 53 in New York is unacceptable.” The 53 cases in the report read like a litany of legal missteps. Betty Tyson spent 25 years in prison before her murder conviction was overturned in 1998. She was convicted of strangling a Philadelphia businessman in Rochester in 1973, largely as a result of the testimony of two teenagers who said they had seen her with the victim.

One of the teenagers later recanted his account, and a police report of an interview with the other teenager, in which the witness said he did not see Ms. Tyson with the victim, was suppressed by the police and never given to her lawyers at the time of the trial, according to the report and news accounts. James Walker was convicted in 1971 of murdering an armored car driver in Brooklyn, based on the testimony of an informant. But the report stated that the prosecutor and the lead detective in the case suppressed the fact that the informant had actually implicated a second man and that a surviving victim had seen Mr. Walker in a lineup but selected another person. Mr. Walker served 19 years in prison and was freed in 1990. Bernice K. Leber, the president of the bar association, said the wrongful convictions have not only eroded public confidence in the criminal justice system but have also had a significant, often-overlooked economic impact. A 1984 state law permits lawsuits and damage awards for unjust conviction and imprisonment.

Anthony Faison and Charles Shepherd, two men whose cases were examined, were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 14 years in the 1987 shooting death of a livery cab driver in Brooklyn. Their conviction relied on the testimony of a witness who later admitted she had lied to collect a $1,000 reward. In a settlement with the state, Mr. Faison and Mr. Shepherd each received $1.65 million. “These are huge numbers of dollars we’re talking about,” Ms. Leber said. “What kind of toll is that taking on the state? I really do think that this report will be a seismic step and a wake-up call for our legislators and the governor to take a hard look at where these dollars are going.” The report comes amid criticism that New York has failed to do enough to prevent wrongful convictions. Several states have established innocence commissions to review cases and propose legislative and procedural changes, but New York has not. The state also does not require law enforcement agencies to record interrogations, as some other states do. In a statement, Ann Pfau, the state’s chief administrative judge, said, “We look forward to studying the report and working with the bar, legislative leaders, the executive branch and criminal justice professionals on this critical issue.” Paul J. Browne, the New York Police Department’s chief spokesman, said police officials had not had a chance to review the report.

“The N.Y.P.D., as much as anyone — in fact, more than most — is committed to convicting the guilty and exonerating the innocent, and reasonable measures to accomplish both are welcome,” he said in a statement. The task force that prepared the report makes a number of recommendations, including additional training for the police, prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges, as well as changes in how police lineups are conducted. It also calls for interrogations of all felony-level suspects to be electronically recorded, and urges the state to provide financial aid and re-entry services to those exonerated, which Mr. Kamins said is not provided currently. The bar association will hold two public hearings on the report’s findings — one in Manhattan on Feb. 13 and the other in Albany on Feb. 24. The report will then be presented on April 4 to the bar association’s House of Delegates, which will vote on whether to formally adopt it.


Anonymous said...

It always starts with a lie, or a cover up. Then the problem balloons into a huge disaster!!

Anonymous said...

Don't give the thugs a break, they know what they're doing, it's no mistake, they do it on purpose or they're just stupid and don't give a damn, either way good people get hurt and suffer.

Anonymous said...

A simple step is to record all police questioning and not rely on what the police said you said. This recording also should be of all trial actions, so that it's not possible for transcripts to be altered or changed before or after being reviewed by the judge. Video all court cases and the public can see excerpts of any misbehaviors by the attorneys or the court. Sunshine disinfects.

Anonymous said...

can you believe that in this day of hi-tech we still have a stenographer taking notes with symbols only the reporter can interpret. No back up for the stenographer to check on their own writing.

You don't need to be a Benjamin Cardozo to understand why more isn't being done.

You can't tell me why court proceedings aren't videotaped and recorded to back up the steno.

I have personally witnessed whole parts of testimony erased from the record. Testimony that was given to us on the daily sheets bought and paid for by the defense only to have it disappear from the official transcript.

Whole passages of Q&A are altered. some of them disappear in its entirety. And nobody cares, not even the NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct when asked to investigate this serious matter.

Pete F

Anonymous said...

There is no videotaping because it could be used to show improper judicial and lawyer conduct.

Anonymous said...

Someone has possession of a seriously altered transcript that was used by OCA Administrative Judges to secure a decision in their favor...and the proof that accompanies, AS it is NOW in the hands of the federal court.
By the way..OCA has stamped DELAY AND DENY...all over this case in every regard for the past 5 this information does not get out, so they can influence or change it all before it becomes public..which it will in any is way too late and too many important people have the knowledge!

We shall see how it is handled there..and it is not downstate.
It is though, a major part of the lawsuit..because what OCA deleted is the reason they could even attempt to get away with the lies of the determination they officially established!

What better than to have sections of the words in the transcript be negated by the very witness who testified at that hearing and then testified to that illegal action in a federal court deposition?

That crime also has some other interesting proof gathered to establish it, when it was suspected that the person whom OCA targeted ...was fighting them hard about their corruption in proceeding with that case and knew the system better than most judges and employees.... so went and documented and secured his/her own corroborating proof...right from OCA!

Oversight MUST be an obligation for Court Reporters, as well as Judges...if the NY state justice system becomes an honest and viable entity...ever again.

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