Follow by Email

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jeff, prosecuted as an adult at age 17 and currently incarcerated in Colorado, writes

Jeff, prosecuted as an adult at age 17 and currently incarcerated in Colorado, writes:

“I was 17 years old when I was charged as an adult…that was in 1994 and here I sit today…I feel like the system has forgotten about me. Yet, I still believe in the system and hope that we can change and fix its problems - the biggest of which is sentencing children as adults. [Children] can’t join the military, vote, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or live on their own…because they are not responsible enough. [However], when it comes to dealing with the system, there is an exception for some reason…We have a juvenile system for a reason, why do we pick and choose who we use it for?”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

INNOCENCE: Prevalent Causes of False Confessions

INNOCENCE: Prevalent Causes of False Confessions
Posted: March 14, 2012

A recent article in the New York Times discussed the most common reasons why suspects under interrogation confess to crimes they did not commit. The article, adapted from “Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America,” a forthcoming book written by David Shipler, observed an overrepresentation of children, the mentally ill, those with intellectual disabilities, and those who are drunk or high among suspects who made confessions that were later proven false. Shipler concludes, “They are susceptible to suggestion, eager to please authority figures, disconnected from reality or unable to defer gratification. Children often think, as Felix did, that they will be jailed if they keep up their denials and will get to go home if they go along with interrogators. Mature adults of normal intelligence have also confessed falsely after being manipulated.” Shipler also pointed out that interrogators are trained in various techniques to induce suspects to waive constitutional rights and to get suspects talking. He writes, “Officers are taught to use all the tricks and lies that courts permit within the scope of the Fifth Amendment’s shield against self-incrimination.” According to the Innocence Project, false confessions are among the most prevalent causes of wrongful convictions. False confessions played significant roles in roughly 24% of approximately 289 convictions later reversed by DNA evidence, among which were cases that would have resulted in execution.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nine thousand times a year, U.S. judges move juvenile suspects into criminal court

Nine thousand times a year, U.S. judges move juvenile suspects into criminal court, opening the door to a stay in adult jail.
While judges say these transfers are meant for youths suspected of the most dangerous offenses, only two out of five transferred youths stands accused of a violent crime against another person, the Scripps Howard News Service found in analyzing data from almost a quarter-million cases. Most youths moved to adult court are charged with crimes involving drugs, weapons or property.

A case transfer flags a suspect 17 or younger as an adult. Forty-seven states allow these "certified" juveniles to be held in adult jail, the U.S. Justice Department says; 14 of them sometimes require it.

Most transferred juveniles face charges for crimes other than murder, rape, robbery or assault, National Center for Juvenile Justice data show. The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit publishes records covering 228,771 cases moved from youth court to the adult criminal justice system from 1985 to 2008.

Transfers to the adult system can negatively affect young suspects, reducing their access to social services, lengthening the time needed to resolve a case and increasing the chances that the youths will reoffend, some researchers and youth advocates say.

Judges transfer too many juveniles, said Kevin Burke, president of the American Judges Association.

"There are a fair number of not-very-serious offenders who end up getting certified. I don't quite understand that, to be honest with you," Burke said, responding to the Scripps findings. The Minneapolis-area district court judge has served 27 years on the bench.

Even a very young age doesn't exempt defendants from transfer. The database shows some 1,528 suspects 12 or younger were transferred, including 623 charged with violent crimes. More — 651 — faced charges of property crimes.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What is left of the "Just" in "Justice"

What is left of the "Just" in "Justice"
By Sandra Lean, from insidetime issue March 2011

The prosecution and conviction of Jordan Towers leaves author and researcher Sandra Lean questioning, what is left of the “just” in “Justice?”

Jordan Towers was 16 years old when, along with two others, he was convicted of murder. The basis for the conviction was Joint Enterprise doctrine, the central tenet of which is that persons believed to have participated in, or in some way to have contributed to, or to have anticipated the likelihood of the act of murder are, themselves, guilty of the crime of murder. What is wide open, however, is any secure definition of “participated in” “contributed to” or “anticipated the likelihood of.”

In Jordan’s case, there was no direct evidence of any of the above, other than that Jordan was with two other youths when a man was stabbed to death. The trial Judge, Recorder David Hodson, clearly stated that it was common ground that Jordan took no part in the killing. There was no evidence that Jordan inflicted any harm whatsoever on the victim. The two other youths blamed each other.

The murder was the result of a spontaneous eruption of violence – there was no evidence of a planned attack, none of any gang-related issues- nothing, in fact, which could possibly be used to suggest that Jordan could have, or should have, anticipated the events which unfolded that night.

The one piece of “evidence” which was used in court was that Jordan threw a rock to the ground. He did so after the fatal wound had been inflicted, it did not strike the victim (nor was it intended to,) and was thrown when Jordan was, according to the evidence of witnesses at the scene, standing some way off from the victim and the other youths. In what way does the throwing of a rock, well away from the victim, after the fatal blow has been inflicted, demonstrate participation in, anticipation of, or contribution to the act of murder? Common sense tells us it does not. But we are not discussing common sense, we are discussing the law, and in particular, the application of Joint Enterprise principles in serious criminal cases.

How did Jordan Towers come to be convicted of the crime of murder? The Human Rights Act, at Article 6, provides that: Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:

(a). to be informed promptly, in a language which he or she understands, and in detail, of the nature and cause of the allegation against him.

(b). to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence.

(c). to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require.

Two issues arise here. Was Jordan Towers informed, in a language he understood, and in detail, the nature and cause of the allegations against him? It would seem not. Jordan was not charged with “joint enterprise,” he was charged with murder. Had the charge been simply murder, without the need for basing it in Joint Enterprise doctrine, then it could not have stood – all of the evidence, as agreed by the judge himself, proved that Jordan took no part in the murder. The nature of the allegation against him was that he somehow participated in a murder which all of the evidence showed he did not. But was that ever explained to Jordan in detail, or in a language he understood?

Clearly not. Jordan was 16 years old, and wholly dependent on his legal representatives to advise him, and this is where the second issue arises – was Jordan Towers able to be properly defended by the legal representatives engaged to do so?

One of the other co-accused was represented by the same firm of solicitors which was defending Jordan, creating an immediate and clear conflict of interests. Since the two other co-accuseds were blaming each other, and Jordan was blaming both, it is clear that Jordan’s testimony could have been extremely damaging to the defence of both co-accuseds. Jordan was advised by his legal representatives not to give evidence in his own defence, in what can only be seen as a calculated move to protect the interests of the co-accused being represented by the same firm.

Previous advice given to Jordan appears to have also been grounded, to a large degree, in concerns for the possible consequences for another client – for example, he was advised only to speak about himself in police interview (presumably to avoid him saying anything which may incriminate another.) The consequence of this, clearly, is that Jordan was not able to adequately defend himself, by providing information about what the others had done that night.

At trial, the co-accused being represented by the same firm made several allegations about Jordan. For obvious reasons, defence counsel could not address these allegations on Jordan’s behalf, without seriously undermining the interests of their other client. The impact, therefore, of Jordan being advised not to give evidence, was compounded.

An application to the CCRC explored these issues in depth. Extensive submissions covering the failings of the legal representation, and in particular, the impact of a clear conflict of interest, were made. Further submissions, relating to the detail of charges under Joint Enterprise were also made, namely that of the three tenets of Joint Enterprise – knowledge, participation and intent – only one, participation, was addressed in Jordan’s defence, therefore a full and proper defence was not before the jury.

The CCRC refused to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal, on the basis that Jordan, himself, made the decision not to give evidence in his own defence, that the CCRC did not consider that there was any real possibility that the Court of Appeal would be persuaded that any deficiencies in the standard of defence Jordan received affected the fairness of his trial, or therefore, impacted upon the safety of the conviction, and that assumptions had been drawn that Jordan would have been a credible witness.

The first of these is patently ridiculous. Jordan was 16 years old, facing a charge of murder. He could not possibly have known what was the “right” thing for him to do, and was entirely dependent on the legal team to make those decisions on his behalf. The law in the UK deems that 16 year old children are not mature enough, and do not have enough life experience, to make informed decisions as to whether they should smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, or which political party they should vote for in an election. To suggest that they are mature and experienced enough to know what is in their best interests when facing something as serious as a murder charge defies logic.

The last of these appears to have missed the point entirely. Had Jordan been properly advised, his accounts in police interview would arguably have been more coherent, more reliable, and more credible. It was the advice of the solicitors themselves which led to Jordan being unable to tell the police properly his experience of events that night, not because it was not in his own best interests to do so, but because it was in someone else’s best interests for him not to do so. Jordan could not have known that by acting on advice designed to maintain the best interests of another, he would be damaging his own best interests.

But it is the “real possibility” test, as highlighted here, which appears to have hog-tied the decision making powers or possibilities of the CCRC. The Commission’s conclusion is that it “did not consider that there was any real possibility that the Court of Appeal would be persuaded….” Therefore, cases can only be “reviewed” in the very narrow confines of what it is thought will persuade the Court of Appeal that a conviction is unsafe. Any semblance of an independent Review Commission evaporates when that Commission is working within the confines of the very body whose findings it is supposed to be reviewing. There is no remedy to be had for Jordan Towers, when the CCRC cannot refer his case back on the grounds that his basic human rights were denied. There is no remedy to be had for Jordan Towers when the CCRC cannot address the fundamental issue that Jordan was charged and convicted of murder, but that charge could not have stood without being rooted in the principles of Joint Enterprise.

The purpose of a review commission, most would believe, would be to consider cases where clear injustices have occurred, and to address both those injustices themselves, and the causes of those injustices. Tied by the “real possibility test” the CCRC is incapable of addressing any issues which fall outside of that narrow remit, regardless of the extent to which those issues may have contributed to, or resulted in, injustice and unfairness occurring. This strictly legalistic approach allows many cases, such as Jordan Towers’, to slip through the net.

Yet to return momentarily to the Human rights Act, Article 7 requires that the law must be clear so that people know whether or not what they are doing is against the law.

Where is the clarity which informs citizens that simply being in the vicinity of the commission of a crime is against the law? Where is the clarity which informs a 16 year old youth that the throwing of a rock which strikes nobody can see him convicted of murder? Where, indeed, is the clarity that a charge of murder, which could not stand alone, can still be the basis for a conviction for murder, by the simple utilisation of other legislation?

Friday, March 16, 2012


What happened to Senate Bill 399?
Senate Bill 399 Bill
The California Fair Sentences for Youth Act was introduced by Senator Yee, and co-authored by Senator Romero, Senate Speaker Steinberg, Assembly Members Fuentes and Hill, and Assembly Speaker J. Pérez. Senate Bill 399 would have permitted youth who had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole to petition for a resentencing hearing. It passed in the Senate, and passed each committee in the State Assembly, but failed in its final vote on August 30, 2010. 39 voted yes for SB399, although when it became clear it would not reach the needed 41 votes to pass, six Assembly Members changed their votes and abstained.

The bill recognized that all young people, even those serving life sentences, have the capacity to change for the better and should have access to the rehabilitative tools to do so. This Act would have provided an opportunity for review and resentencing after 15 years or more of incarceration for youth sentenced to life without parole in prison. Recognizing that teenagers are still maturing, this Act created specific criteria and an intense, three-part review process that would result in the possibility of a lesser sentence for those offenders who have matured and proven themselves to have changed.




Ammiano Bass Beall Blumenfield

Bradford Brownley Coto Davis

De La Torre De Leon Eng Evans

Feuer Fong Fuentes Furutani

Gatto Hall Hayashi Hernandez

Hill Huffman Jones B. Lowenthal

Monning Ruskin Saldana Skinner

Swanson Torlakson Torrico Yamada

J. Perez


(Bolded name indicates the Member first voted yes, but then abstained when the bill failed to get the 41 votes needed to pass.)

C. Calderon Carter Chesbro Galgiani

Mendoza M. Pérez Salas


Adams Anderson Arambula B. Berryhill

T. Berryhill Block Buchanan Caballero

Conway Cook DeVore Fletcher

Fuller Gaines Garrick Gilmore

Hagman Harkey Huber Jeffries

Knight Lieu Logue Ma

Miller Nava Nestande Niello

Nielsen Norby Portantino Silva

Smyth Solorio A. Strickland Torres

Tran Villines

In California, there are approximately four people sentenced to juvenile life without parole for non-homicide cases. The total number of juvenile life without parole cases in California is approximately 273.

Subject: Youth Deserve a Second Chance: We need to pass Senate Bill 9!


Right now, juveniles in California can be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. It is a sentence to die in prison. The U.S. is the only country in the world that applies this punishment to youth under the age of 18.

Several hundred teens have been sentenced to life without parole in California. Under the current law, not one of them will ever have the opportunity to demonstrate that they have turned their lives around and can safely re-enter society.

If Senate Bill 9 is enacted, California will set up a strict process for a judge to examine these individuals’ lives when they are older and determine if they are rehabilitated and remorseful. If so, they will then have a chance to earn parole after serving a minimum of 25 years.

We ask our legislators to pass this important bill during the upcoming vote.

That's why I signed a petition to The California State House, which says:

"As a concerned Californian, I urge you to give youth the possibility of a second chance. Please pass Senate Bill 9."

Will you sign this petition? Click here:


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Two Maryland inmates worthy of mercy

Two Maryland inmates worthy of mercy
By Editorial Board, Published: March 14

MARK FARLEY GRANT was 14 years old in 1984 when he was charged with the shooting
death of another teenager during an attempted robbery in Maryland. He was tried
and convicted, and was sentenced to life behind bars. A key witness in the case
has since recanted his testimony and identified Mr. Grant’s co-defendant as the

It is welcome news that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is considering commuting Mr.
Grant’s sentence. He is also weighing early release for Tamara Settles, who was
involved in a planned robbery that turned fatal when her boyfriend shot and
killed the man. The boyfriend pleaded guilty and served nine years. Ms. Settles
has been imprisoned for nearly three decades.

Sentences of life without parole are often touted as an alternative to capital
punishment because they provide certainty to victims and communities; these
sentences should not be tinkered with lightly. But we commend Mr. O’Malley, who
has yet to grant a clemency request during his six years in office, for finding
the courage to revisit cases in which this open-ended sentence may conflict with
the ideal of fairness.

In Maryland, only the governor may commute the sentence of an inmate facing life
behind bars for murder. The Parole Commission, which has the authority to parole
inmates convicted of lesser crimes or facing lesser sentences, has forwarded to
Mr. O’Malley 61 cases in which it has recommended commutation for individuals
sentenced to life. Mr. O’Malley has rejected 57 of these. Two landed on the
governor’s desk in February and are in the early stages of evaluation.

In determining whether to grant clemency, Mr. O’Malley must, among other things,
take into account the views of law enforcement officials, the inmate’s role in
the crime, the inmate’s age at the time of the crime, the length of time served
and the likelihood that the inmate will transgress again.

Public safety must always be a priority. But Mr. Grant and Ms. Settles appear
worthy candidates for mercy. Mr. Grant, who approaches his third decade behind
bars, was a child at the time of his offense, and serious questions exist about
the extent of his culpability. The prosecutor who took his case to trial
supports clemency, and the current state’s attorney does not object.

Ms. Settles, now 53, has successfully completed an extended drug rehabilitation
program, earned an associate’s degree and is pursuing her bachelor’s degree,
according to The Post’s Aaron C. Davis.

Even if granted clemency, neither Ms. Settles nor Mr. Grant would be released
until the state has crafted a transition plan with programs to help them
reintegrate into society. Both would be subject to supervision.\

Monday, March 5, 2012

16-year-old Brendan was convicted On the basis of his police-induced confession

State: Wisconsin
On the basis of his police-induced confession, 16-year-old Brendan Dassey was convicted of the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach, as well as the destruction of her corpse. Brendan was brought in for questioning months after his uncle, Steven Avery, has already been arrested on charges related to Ms. Halbach's murder.

At trial, the prosecution argued that 19 specific facts from Brendan's confession were corroborated, meaning that his confession was obviously reliable. CWCY attorneys, who now represent Brendan for his appeals, have discovered that each of these 19 so-called 19 corroborating facts were either widely publicized in the media, fed to Brendan by police during his interrogation, or information Brendan easily could have known simply by being in his uncle's house on previous occasions.

CWCY attorneys just concluded a five-day hearing on the issues raised in their petition. In addition to the issues related to the confession described above, the hearing also focused on the ineffectiveness of Brendan's attorneys. With the assistance of a defense-hired private investigator, evidence was presented that one of Brendan's attorneys actually had loyalties with the prosecution and was actively working against Brendan in an attempt to secure his conviction.

A decision on the motion for a new trial will be given later this year.

Update: May 25, 2010
CWCY attorneys have filed their post-conviction hearing brief in the case of Brendan Dassey. The brief argues that Len Kachinsky, Brendan's original attorney, abandoned his duty of loyalty to his client by working with the prosecution to assure Brendan's conviction. Other errors made by Brendan's subsequent trial counsel also contributed to his conviction. See article below from the Post-Crescent.

Update: July 26, 2010
The CWCY has filed its post-hearing reply brief in Brendan Dassey's case. The investigation and litigation has taken close to 3 years. The next step is a court ruling on the motion for new trial.


Brendan Dassey post-hearing brief
CWCY - May 25, 2010
State: Wisconsin
Type: Case
Topic: Interrogations, Miranda, or False Confessions

The post-hearing brief in the Brendan Dassey case, addressing issues of ineffective assistance of counsel, contaiminated confessions, and coercive interrogations of minors

Brendan Dassey Motion for New Trial
Steven Drizin, Joshua Tepfer, Laura Nirider - August 25, 2009
State: Wisconsin
Type: Sample Brief Or Motion
Topic: Interrogations, Miranda, or False Confessions

A sample memorandum of law for post-conviction motion involving an alleged false confession.

Brendan Dassey post hearing reply brief
CWCY - July 26, 2010
State: Wisconsin
Type: Sample Brief Or Motion
Topic: Juveniles and Wrongful Convictions

Post-hearing reply brief in the case of 16-year-old Brendan Dassey.

Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth
Northwestern University School of Law 375 E. Chicago Avenue, Chicago IL 60611-3069
Phone: (312) 503-8576 E-mail: