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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

High Court Judge Theodore T. Jones Addresses Wrongful Convictions

High Court Judge Vows "Serious" Effort on Preventing Wrongful Convictions in NY
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - July 15, 2009

ALBANY, NY - As a lawyer representing criminal defendants, Theodore T. Jones Jr. said he was sure that people "occasionally" got convicted of crimes they did not commit. Now, the Court of Appeals judge is co-chairing a new state task force on wrongful convictions. He is convinced all participants in the criminal justice system recognize the high price the system pays for mistakenly convicting and imprisoning defendants. "There is absolutely no disagreement on the fact that one of the most horrendous results we can conjure up is to wrongfully convict a defendant," Judge Jones said in an interview yesterday. "Equally troubling is the fact that when that happens, the true perpetrator is still out there. …If the public loses faith in the integrity of criminal convictions, then we have lost control of our entire system." Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the formation of the "Justice Task Force" during his Law Day address, when he designated Judge Jones and Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore as co-chairs (NYLJ, May 1). Judge Jones and Ms. DiFiore last week completed the appointments of the other commission members and took other steps to meet initial goals established for the panel by Judge Lippman. The chief judge, who was not available for comment yesterday, has said he wants the panel to be a permanent, independent entity that will review police, prosecution, defense and judicial practices in cases where wrongful convictions have been confirmed. The goal is to determine why innocent people were convicted and to recommend ways to prevent future mistakes.  However, Judge Jones said the commission will focus on individual cases only after the courts and/or prosecutors have determined there has been a miscarriage of justice. It will not investigate pending appeals in which defendants are challenging their convictions. Among those named to the task force are New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, judges Karen K. Peters, Barry Kamins and Richard Lowe, the lawmakers responsible for evaluating new criminal justice legislation—Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and Senator Eric Schneiderman, and Criminal Justice Services Coordinator Denise O'Donnell. Judge Jones said the high profiles of task force members are "a sign of the commitment that we have to making this endeavor work. The fact that we are able to encourage these people to join us in this effort is a sign of how seriously we are taking it." Ronnie Abrams, a former prosecutor who joined Davis Polk & Wardwell last year as special counsel for pro bono, will act as pro bono counsel to the commission. From 1998 to 2008, Ms. Abrams was a Southern District assistant U.S. attorney, serving as the deputy chief of the criminal division from 2007 to 2008. She was honored by the U.S. Justice Department for her work on cases leading to the convictions of members of a Colombian gang wanted for the murder of an NYPD detective and approximately 100 armed robberies, and for the convictions of the leadership of the United Blood Nation, commonly known as the Bloods.
The task force will be staffed by aides to its members and by pro bono attorneys from Davis Polk. No paid staff will be hired, officials said. Judge Lippman has said he wanted the task force to build on work done by the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University and by a New York State Bar Association task force that studied 53 New York cases in which experts are in general agreement that defendants were wrongfully convicted. The cases dated back to 1964. The state bar task force concluded that multiple mistakes had been made to contribute to wrongful convictions, such as inaccurate identifications by eyewitnesses and misrulings by courts on the admissibility of evidence. Statewide, there were 48,154 felony guilty pleas in 2007 and 1,300 convictions, according to court system statistics.

Permanent Asset

The state bar commission was chaired by Judge Kamins, a New York City acting Supreme Court justice who is overseeing criminal cases in Brooklyn. Judge Jones said the state bar panel was directed to complete a report, which he called "admirable," but his group will be a permanent asset to the Legislature, governor and legal and law enforcement communities on making improvements on procedures to avoid future false convictions. He noted that the presence of Mr. Lentol, D-Brooklyn, and Mr. Schneiderman, D-Manhattan, the chairmen of the Codes Committees in their respective chambers, will give the commission direct influence with lawmakers should legislative changes be needed. The task force also would seek procedural changes in the courts through rulemaking by the Appellate Divisions, Judge Jones said. Judge Jones, a one-time criminal defense attorney with the Legal Aid Society and in private practice, said he "occasionally" encountered instances where defendants were wrongfully convicted. "One of the points that probably bothers me the most is wrongful identifications," Judge Jones said. "That is the ultimate nightmare of the criminal justice system. For that reason, it shaped my philosophy in my life on the Court of Appeals." Judge Jones noted that he wrote the Court of Appeals' unanimous ruling in People v. LeGrand, 8 NY3d 449 (2007), in which the Court affirmed that judges should consider whether expert testimony should be allowed in some circumstances to help jurors consider the reliability of uncorroborated testimony of eyewitnesses. He said it is in everyone's best interest to minimize the chances of wrongful convictions. "This is a universal problem," Judge Jones said. "I don't think that any one sector of the justice system is any more concerned about this problem than any other sector. The police and the district attorneys are just as committed as the defense bar is at seeing this doesn't happen, maybe more."

Judge Lippman said he appointed Ms. DiFiore to co-chair the task force in part because of her county's experiences in the case of Jeffrey Deskovic, who was convicted of the 1989 rape and strangulation of a Peekskill high school classmate. In 2006, with the help of the Innocence Project, DNA evidence exonerated Mr. Deskovic and implicated another man. Ms. DiFiore subsequently commissioned a report detailing the errors leading to Mr. Deskovic's conviction and steps that could prevent future abuses, including the complete videotaping of interrogation sessions by police. Members of the task force said yesterday they had agreed to defer to Judge Jones to speak publicly about the panel's work. Judge Jones said he wanted to have some kind of preliminary report to Judge Lippman by Dec. 1. The commission also plans to call on as many as 30 or 40 others to lend expertise in specific areas, such as forensics, as the task force goes forward. Stephen Saloom, policy director for the Innocence Project, said his group thinks the task force is a "great idea" that will identify the "training, education and police changes necessary at the legislative, executive and judicial levels" to minimize wrongful convictions. While similar to a panel created in North Carolina in the early 2000s, Mr. Saloom said the New York task force is unique among state efforts because of its ongoing nature and because it brings together officials from all three branches of government to hasten needed changes in statute or court rules.


Anonymous said...

I wish Ted Jones was the Chief Judge of this state. Things would be a lot different. Not the same old crap from the same old hacks, but with a few different faces to make it look good.

Anonymous said...

I wonder when and who is going to address the rigging of child custody and divorce cases.

Anonymous said...

Some DA's make their rep on convictions of innocent people and they know it. Hope they all go to Hell.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the Guardianship business model that the illegal profession turned in to a profit center.

Anonymous said...

Jones is a class guy.

Anonymous said...

Third Department Judge Karen Peters put on to this Panel JUST issued a Decision Today Completely Disregarding FRAUD by the Third Dept and Judge Maney in a case where a Father has been wrongfully denied even ACCESS to his TRANSCRIPTS to Show WRONGFUL SENTENCE and Conviction for Years! Systematic Due Process denial condoned by the Third Department.

So What Good is this Task Force if ALL the APPEALS going on Now Never get Looked at?

Link to Decision involving Judge Karen peters:

Link to Related Articles:

Anonymous said...

Dear Judge Jones,

Your statements regarding wrongful conviction is laudible, however, those standards you hope for the courts to acquire are not possible.

Judge, with all due respect, if you don't know the problems by now, you will never know, or you simply don't want to know.

Not only are wrongful convictions are abominations, but the correction process is far worse a hurdle to overcome. The Courts, or more to the point, the appellate courts make the correcting of wrongful convictions all but impossible. Common sense most always plays no role in the appeal processes.

I am amused that Westchester DA DiFiore is on the Task Force to examine wrongful convictions and how to prevent them. DA DiFiore rests her case on the Jeffrey Deskovic wrongful conviction that she made right. It is not nearly enough.

Ask DA DiFiore why she offered no protest when I informed her that Suffolk DA Spota knowingly and intentionally withheld from her evidence of arson for hire on an occupied building in Yonkers, NY, on 8/7/00. That DA Spota did so as to further another wrongful conviction where he knew the defendant to be innocent.

To DA DiFiores credit, she did communicate with me in a letter, dated 2/4/08, that there was no record in her files that DA Spota asked for her permission and leave to grant immunity to two scoundrels that signed confessions as to that crime.

Her predeccsor, Jeanine Pirro, where this conspiracy to deceive has now moved on to Hollywood and is taking down millions of dollars. And not a word of adomination has been entered against her by the courts, the various bar associations, or herself.

Please stop the BS with the Task Force. I can tell you everything you need to know about wrongful and malicious prosecutions.

Pete F.

Anonymous said...

To Pete are very astute to absorb from your experiences and obvious knowledge extracted from the NY court's deliberate and evident mistakes... and then realize that OCA cannot and will not allow corruption cleansing!
To cling to the hope that some one individual employed by the court system or any other state government entity is going to buck these criminals at the expense of their career and financial livelihood is clearly delusional and the wrong path to be promoting for reform and ethics.
The situation in our NY courts relative to corruption is grave and is being ignored by the federal government and media..... in hopes that it cures itself... or we go away and get bored from frustration... or maybe just somehow is removed from the public eye.
The understanding of these agencies and the media is clear. As one crooked and still sitting upstate appellate court judge once said to me...if the public and esp the criminals ever get a sense that the judiciary is as criminal as they are presently...civil unrest will be worse than keeping the cover-up of that behavior.
So what he meant was simply that... everyone strays from dealing with the corrupt judicial system so the community is forced to believe that it is functioning ethically with justice for all(even though many suspect otherwise but have no experience to prove it) keep this country from imploding from total despair.
That judge, and I am sure many others have promoted this concept for many years and saw that if they continued to tell it they could commit crimes themselves and all the freightened media and FBI would not investigate them. This falacy the court system perpetuates.... then only serves to negate dealing with it because the civilian animals have no solution but to uprise beyond anyone's control.
Whenever I write something relative to the serious activites BEING conducted by our NY court system in my large local paper...the article dies at my comment and the paper never responds as they do with other remarks...I appear invisible.
If I mention the FBI's obvious ignoring of any viable complaints I have made to them...esp to their alleged government corruption unit(which just Massively investigates CITY HALL..WHERE WE THE CITIZENS ARE TO BELIEVE AND ACCEPT THAT THIS FORM OF GOVERNEMNT IS ALWAYS APPARENTLY CORRUPT)..they go silent,too!

The final thought is...the NY courts will not see any concern for ELIMINATION OF CONTINUED criminal corruption until a large number of people that have facts and information relative to this corruption are taken seriously and interviewed by the media and the FBI or DOJ and it then gets reported. We must force them to listen by one mass set of documents from everyone who exits with them..inundating their offices..return receipt requested.
Splitting public hearings in upstate and the very effective divide and conquer theory. Verbal words are measured differently from the more veracity to men over people in general...forensic psychiatric determination.
The written word is the most effective civil weapon to fighting government atrocities!

Anonymous said...

THANX TO THE ABOVE. I had commented to the post with a long post of my own. It never got posted. Nothing will kill a thread more than one spending a lot of time writing a post out and then not seeing it there.

Anonymous said...

With my long time in law enforcement with 15 years in the Manhattan DA squad I got to know a lot of prosecutors that have gone on to judgeships. I also know some outside of NYC that became judges, local and federal alike. One such person now sits on a Circuit Court of Appeals. There are also many prosecutors that have gone on to be prominent defense attorneys and held high positions in State and City government.

I asked some of these people what I could expect when my son in law’s case went before the 2nd Department Appellate. To a man they told me not to get my hopes up for the appellate court to turn over a guilty verdict. Some of them said they are lazy and shiftless, and many times they read or supervise the reading of the appeal. Now that can be pretty discouraging knowing that your chances are in the hands of less than honorable jurists.

I can tell you that I believe that in this case the court never read the appeal. How could they have read it and not noted that the prosecutor’s reply to the appeal had many instances of information that wasn’t in the trial transcript.

The fact that the prosecutor’s reply almost entirely digressed on issues of law and concentrated in ‘retrying’ the case meant absolutely nothing to the court. The fact that the assertions made by the prosecutor were in obvious contradiction to the trial transcript, also, meant nothing to the court. The fact that assertions made in the reply were not in the trial transcript never got as much as a rebuke from the court. This reply was a 66 page of outright lies and willful distortions and fabrications as to the facts of the case.

In the first 33 pages I counted 125 such lies and fabrications, and then I stopped counting. I highlighted each one and offered an explanation as to why those assertions were false, distorted, and weren’t a part of the trial. All I got back was a letter by the Chief Clerk that the court’s hands are tied, and the defendant should file an appeal. The defendant simply ran out of money. He already spent more than $100, 00.00, that if more was spent he would place his young family in jeopardy of financial ruin. So much for equal justice under the law.

The fact that the court, in their decision was both factually and legally incorrect had no bearing whatsoever on the court. The court made assumptions of corroborative evidence of a witness accomplice that were never even proven in court.

When I wrote a letter of protest to two of the judges on the panel, and detailed why they were wrong, and noted that I didn’t seek the advice of the attorney that filed the appeal, the court admonished the lawyer, not me. You see, I couldn’t be intimidated, but the lawyer could.

Two of the same judges that heard this case heard a case less than a year earlier: People V. Gomez. Those two judges ruled, in part, that the credibility of the prosecution’s witness (Suffolk County) was highly suspect as the suspect was subject to a lengthy jail sentence (Perhaps 5 years) while the three witness accomplices in our case the three defendant’s faced a combined sentence of up to 200 years. It appears that the court didn’t take this into consideration when they ruled on the witness accomplice testimony. There were other facts in People V Gomez that caused the court to set aside a guilty verdict as there were in our case.

Anonymous said...

The Appellate courts and possibly the State Appeals Courts are aware that the lower courts are altering transcripts to affect outcomes...because most have come from courts that participated in that behavior....and that is why they are not overturning those determinations! PROTECTION AND JUDICIAL COVER-UP!
These judges in your area as well as the 4th dept house some shady judicial characters in these alleged appeals depts...who should be have been de-benched and disbarred years before they secured that upper position on the bench or established any viable law office.
But as theses judges sat for awhile on the state bench, they eventually recognized that there was no accountability at any level in the judicial system and they could certainly keep any accountability from ever existing. They then connected corruptly with and solicited high level local monied attys who catapulted them to appeals level for the purpose of serving the needs of both themselves and the attys , as they then ruled illegally for the benefit of power and position!
These mobster judges, who cling to less than mediocre credentials... gladly protect the decisions that the lower brother and sisters are making with many altered transcripts...which the FBI seems to believe is just a simple misdemeanor that has no bearing on their corruption unit.... because the act deals with no funds!
The FBI wants judicial corruption to be about brown bags of money exchanging hands in the courthouses...that is it!

Transcripts are the true difference between guilt and innocence and the decision to overturn the judges legal thinking in a worthy appeals court, that obligates themselves to reads them. But as NY state courts now proceed...the judges' trial notes and individual written or verbal decision..often done with the input of court reporters and court clerks.. written on scrap paper are the validity of choice ( even when the transcript accompanies the file) ..because it shows these courts what the judge's prejudice is and how it should remain.
Because of this secret procedure and nod..we the people in this country and state are in a national judicial crisis...that Lippman claims he is attempting to fix...but he will never ever address the transcript altering catastrophe!
Believe me...I had to listen to judges daily in the lower courts make huge mistakes within the law... while my heart and head sank in disgust and outrage!

Your story should remain well documented as it appears it is, because eventually this judicial travesty will be exposed and all of what exists will serve to implicate all of those who participated in and refused to manifest the biggest downfall of America... systemic domestic terrorism.

Anonymous said...

To 12:01PM A Court Officer says yes there is plenty of funny business that goes on between the Judge, Court Reporter, and the clerk as far as the record goes. That is why Judges have permanent clerks who do not rotate into a different court room every month or two like court officers. They stay with the judge until he moves on or retires and are loyal to his majesty.

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
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