Category: Innocence

Man Must Change Seats on Plane: He Is Seated Next to Two Minors (via Free-Range Kids)

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Hi Folks! I’ts Lenore from Free- Range Kids, where “flying while male” is not a new issue to us (see this post)  just a new airline: Virgin, in Australia. In today’s story, a man named Johnny McGirr, 33, was seated next to two unaccompanied minors — boys, about ages 8 and 10. He was supposed to sit next to the window, but switched to the aisle to let the boys look out, because he’s a nice guy.

That, however, is not how the airline saw him. When the stewardess came by she saw only that he was — accckkkk! — a MALE, and she made him move. The reason? Company policy: A woman can sit next to unaccompanied children, but not a man.

The fellow — a fireman — spent the rest of the trip embarrassed and angry. Eventually, he blogged about it, pointing out quite rightly that the assumption seems to be that every male is at least a  potential pedophile, even in public, on a plane, with people going up and down the aisles. This is what I call “Worst-First Thinking” — thinking up the very WORST case scenario and proceeding as if it is FIRST on the list of likely possibilities.  The airline excused itself by saying, “Most guests thoroughly understand that the welfare of the child is our priority.” As if it’s only a deviant who’d question this practice.

But the airline is wrong. Many people do NOT understand this panicked prejudice anymore. The buzz in Australia is that there is now a “public backlash” that has Virgin (and Qantas, and Jetstar and Air Newland) re-thinking its men-must-move policy.

Let’s hope they get it right this time, as British Airways finally did. Making people sit in a certain place because of  their DNA is something Rosa Parks fought a long time ago.  – L.

Look! Up in the air! It’s predator panic!

Federal Lockups: Lost Hope, Guilty Pleas

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

One of the constant themes in both movies and television shows dealing with crime and the courts is the use of shortcuts by the authorities to nail someone who obviously is guilty. Messy things like due process of law and rights of the accused are so 1787 and have no place in modern society where outcomes are more important than the way one reaches those ends.

The ends can be frightening. The New York Times reports that one of the reasons that more than 94 percent of criminal charges in both state and federal cases end in plea bargains is that prosecutors can hang the prospect of stiff sentences over the heads of anyone who decided to go to trial and is found guilty, a situation that led Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy to note that the American criminal justice system has become “a system of pleas, not a system of trials.”

Innocent people often are swept up on that tide of guilty pleas. Regular readers of this blog may understand this is so, but most Americans are incredulous. Why in the world would innocent people agree to plead to something they had not done? Is it not the situation in the USA that if you have done nothing wrong, you don’t have to worry about being charged or convicted?

Unfortunately, one of the things I hear most from people wrongfully accused of crimes has been, “I didn’t know this was happening in America.” Well, it does and much more often than one would think, especially with federal prosecutors, who have weapons at their disposal that the framers of the U.S. Constitution would have considered utterly barbaric.

Not only has federal criminal law essentially done away with the bedrock of Anglo-American law, the mens rea requirement, but federal prosecutors can pile charges upon charges, taking the same alleged act and fashioning multiple offenses from it. For that matter, federal prosecutors are not even required to know the laws they supposedly enforce and prosecute and when they are wrong, they pay no price and innocent people remain in prison.

In a shocking article, USA Today recently reported on a horrific situation in North Carolina in which federal prosecutors went after “scores” of innocent people for acts that were perfectly legal. According to the newspaper:

Terrell McCullum did not commit a federal crime by carrying a shotgun and a rifle out of his ex-girlfriend’s house.

But he is serving a federal prison sentence for it. And the fact that everyone — including the U.S. Justice Department— agrees that he is legally innocent might not be enough to set him free.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on court records and interviews with government officials and attorneys, found more than 60 men who went to prison for violating federal gun possession laws, even though courts have since determined that it was not a federal crime for them to have a gun.

Many of them don’t even know they’re innocent.

Lest one think that prosecutors even care about what they have done, think again. While the U.S. Department of “Justice” worked hard to put them into prison (mostly on plea bargains, of course), it refuses to lift a finger to right the wrong:

Still, the Justice Department has not attempted to identify the men, has made no effort to notify them, and, in a few cases in which the men have come forward on their own, has argued in court that they should not be released.

Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge their convictions in court.

“We can’t be outcome driven,” said Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte.

For Tompkins to make that quote is especially rich, because federal prosecutors in the federal Western District of North Carolina for years have been nothing but outcome-driven. After her office secured a counterfeiting conviction against Bernard Von NotHouse, who had minted silver coins, Tompkins announced that NotHouse was a “terrorist” who threatened “the economic stability of this country.” (One is left asking how the inflationary policies of the U.S. government create stability.)

Tompkins and her colleagues in the Western District also have another weapon they use to try to force innocent people to plead guilty: the Mecklenburg County jail in Charlotte, which also is used as a federal lockup. To put it mildly, conditions in that jail are horrific, and they violate all human decency, and that works to the advantage of prosecutors.

Prisoners there get only a small cup of water each day, the food is especially bad, with dinner in some cases being nothing but a stale piece of cornbread. Authorities do not give prisoners underwear changes, deny them soap, and because bathrooms are not located in cells, prisoners must ask permission to use the facilities, requests that routinely are denied. Forget having soap for showers, and prisoners who are on prescription medications often find those meds either withheld or given in irregular doses at irregular times.

It is not difficult for federal prosecutors to find ways to hold people in lockups indefinitely. They can claim flight risk, or danger to society, or a thousand other things, most of which are not true but federal prosecutors long ago decided that truth was irrelevant to their outcome-driven missions.

Not surprisingly, people held for any length of time in these conditions become malleable to plea agreements. When someone is denied medications, thought processes may become irregular or skewed, and by actively working to destroy both the physical and mental health of people accused of committing federal crimes, prosecutors are easily able to hold out promises of better living condition — as long as the accused give prosecutors what they want.

It is difficult for someone to maintain innocence while being brutalized by the system, and when prosecutors are able to hold out the unhappy prospects for someone to face such horrific living conditions for decades, we should not be surprised that so many people will plead to something — anything — just to get out of their present circumstances.

Such conditions are not limited to Charlotte, although federal prosecutors in the Western District are notorious for using any tricks, including lying to judges and the media, in order to get what they want. The culture of lying and brutality that has been embedded in the U.S. Department of Justice for many decades is alive and well in North Carolina.

Colorado Schools Rolling Back “Zero Tolerance” (via Free-Range Kids)

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Hi Balkons! It’s Lenore Skenazy from Free-Range Kids here, happy to report that Colorado is officially rolling back its Zero Tolerance policy — the policy that, for instance, gave a school no choice but to expel a girl who brought a fake rifle to school. She was on her way to drill team practice with the Young Marines, but was treated like a terrorist.

Let’s hope that other states notice what Colorado is doing. It isn’t giving mayhem a free pass. It’s restoring common sense to schools where it had been sucked out by bureaucracy, fear and the shadow of Columbine. If you wonder how far Zero Tolerance can go, here are a few stories from my site:

Boy, 6, Suspended for Nerf Gun

Boy Suspended for Lighter He Found on His Way to School

Zero Tolerance Gets a Third Grader and His Knife Expelled

Plenty more where these come from. Just go to Free Range Kids and search for “Zero Tolerance.” But be sure you’ve taken your blood pressure medication first. — L.

Another era: Marksmanship practice at L.A.'s Roosevelt High, 1942

“I no longer believe in bite-mark analysis.”

Monday, August 6th, 2012

That’s infamous bite mark “specialist” Michael West, in a deposition last year for the Leigh Stubbs case.

This comes after West has put dozens of people in prison with bite mark testimony, including several on death row. Two of them, Eddie Lee Howard in Mississippi and Jimmie Duncan in Louisiana, are still awaiting execution.

The office of Mississippi Attorney Jim Hood so far has so far refused to go back and reopen all the old cases in which West has testified. Hood should have done that a long time ago. For that matter, the same goes for Hood’s predecessors. And the Mississippi Supreme Court. We’ve known for nearly 20 years now that this guy was a fraud. Hell, we’ve had video evidence. Lots of it. No much cared. Because, as one former Mississippi prosecutor told me, “Nobody wants to be the one to unravel that ball of yarn.”

Will Hood’s office still defend convictions won on West’s testimony now that even West himself concedes his field of expertise is quackery? I’ll be surprised if he does. My guess is that they’ll begrudgingly offer plea bargains to lesser charges that will be too appealing for defendants to turn down. That way convictions stay intact, and nobody has to admit that the system is broken.

But of course it is broken. I don’t know how you take West’s statements at the Stubbs’ depositions, compare them with the multitude of institutions in Mississippi (and Louisiana, and a few other states) that have defended and upheld West’s testimony and expertise over the years, and not conclude that significant parts of the criminal justice system are fundamentally flawed.

I mean, we could have concluded all of that well before West’s come to Jesus moment. It’s been clear for years that he’s a fraud. But it’s sure as hell clear now that he admits it.


— Radley

Mom Convicted of Letting 4 y.o. Daughter Draw in Park with Chalk

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Hi Folks — It’s Lenore from Free-Range Kids, alerting you to the fact you should set down your coffee cup before reading any further, lest you feel compelled to take a bite out of it in sheer frustration. That’s because a mom in Richmond, Va. was just given 50 hours of community service (which really sounds like more than 50 hours if you listen to what she is expected to do) for letting her kid draw with chalk on some rocks in the park.

Apparently chalk is the gateway drug to graffiti.

“It is all the same thing,” said James River Park Systems Park Manager, Ralph White. “A couple of weeks ago, I was covering over pornographic drawings done in chalk. It doesn’t matter what the medium is. It’s offensive.”

Yes, he just compared chalk to paint…and a 4-year-old’s drawings to porn. Here’s the rest of that article.

I wrote a little bit more the case on my site. What I forgot to add there that I’ll add here is that the mom is not even allowed to enter a park until she completes her service. As if she’s a terrifying criminal.

I guess in the eyes of the law, she is. Anyway, the debate raging over by me is about the fact that the mom was convicted two years ago of doing REAL graffiti– with paint — on the same rocks. So maybe that makes her a recidivist? And also the fact that when the cop came to arrest her for the chalk crime this time she allegedly said, “You must hate your f***ing job.”

Does that really equal the punishment? – L.

On The Sex Offender List…For a Dog Euthanasia

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Hi Folks — It’s Lenore here, from Free-Range Kids. So why am I posting about a sex offender and a dog? It’s sort of a long story, but it boils down to this:

At Free-Range Kids we LOVE safety…we just don’t believe that our kids are in constant danger. Lately, though, a lot of society has decided they are. That’s why, for instance, many schools won’t let the school bus drop a kid off at the bus stop unless there is a PRE-APPROVED GUARDIAN waiting there to escort him or her home. Even if the parents say, “It’s ok! I trust my kid to walk a block!” — no dice.

That same kind of fear of everyday life has come to pervade many adult-child interactions. The idea being: WHY does this adult want to be around a child? PERHAPS HE’S A PERVERT! In this state of panic, our country has passed laws that have little to do with keeping our kids truly safe and lots to do with suspicion of adults. Particularly egregious is the Sex Offender Registry. Instead of it listing adults who pose a big threat to kids, it is littered with people who did things like peeing in public, or going to a prostitute. You can get on the list if you’re a high school senior, age 18, and you sleep with your freshman girlfriend, age 14. Here’s a great article about the whole mess. 

And here, at last, is the article about a man on the registry for coming to help a neighbor with an ailing dog.It’s from 2010 but I just saw it today. And wept.

I feel the way this guy looks.




In Which You Discover Only What The State Thinks You Should

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Under the United States Constitution, prosecutors have an obligation to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence — whether it is evidence that is directly favorable to the accused and unfavorable to the government’s case, or evidence that undermines the credibility of the government’s witnesses.

But, as our kind host frequently discusses, there’s a broad gulf between what should happen and what does happen in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence all the time, usually without consequence.

Given human nature, the cultural pressures of law enforcement, and the lack of supervision in some prosecutorial agencies, such behavior by “rogue prosecutors” probably doesn’t surprise readers of The Agitator. What might surprise you is that the suppression of exculpatory evidence is sometimes systematic and based on written policy from the highest levels of local government.

Last week the ACLU of Southern California and the firm Bird Marella filed suit seeking to prohibit the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office from enforcing its “Special Directive 10-06,” a policy memo dictating how the office’s hundreds of prosecutors are to treat exculpatory evidence in the tens of thousands of cases the prosecute. You can read it at the ACLU site or here.

The suit alleges that far from assuring compliance with constitutional obligations, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office policy, if followed, violates those obligations. In fact, it purports to require that line prosecutors violate the constitution. For instance:

Materiality: The policy purports to permit prosecutors to withhold exculpatory material that they deem not “material” — that is, not likely to change the outcome of the trial. But that’s not the standard for what prosecutors are obligated to turn over — it’s the appellate standard for determining when a discovery violation is so prejudicial as to require reversal of a conviction. Using that as the standard for what prosecutors should turn over is the equivalent of saying “you may withhold evidence if you can get away with it.” Moreover, speaking as a former prosecutor, I submit that prosecutors hold a very cramped and narrow view of what is exculpatory and what might influence a jury, and are culturally incapable of making a reliable call about what is likely “material.” No doubt that’s exactly why that’s not the standard for what they are supposed to turn over.

Impeachment Evidence: The policy regulates the DA’s “Brady Alert” system, a database that collects information impeaching the credibility of law enforcement officers and government witnesses. The DA’s Office touts this system as assuring discovery compliance, but the lawsuit — and the attached Special Directive 10-06 — suggests that in fact it is a systematic justification for withholding discoverable impeachment evidence (that is, for you non-lawyers, evidence that can be used to question the credibility of a witness). For instance, as the suit alleges and the Special Directive shows, the DA’s Office only includes information about witness credibility if it believes that information is supported by “clear and convincing evidence” — a higher standard somewhere between preponderance of the evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt. But that’s not the law — a prosecutor doesn’t get to withhold impeachment evidence because he or she doesn’t credit it. Prosecutors are culturally prone to believe government witnesses and disbelieve accusations against them; it’s patently ridiculous to make them the gatekeepers of what damaging information is sufficiently credible to be turned over to the defense. Moreover, the Special Directive requires prosecutors to withhold impeachment evidence about government witnesses if it is based on pending criminal or administrative investigations — that is, investigations that have not yet led to a result. Once again, there’s no basis in law for that limitation — if the government’s witness is under investigation for a crime, that goes directly to bias, motive, credibility, and any number of other relevant factors.

Read the lawsuit. This is what the government does openly, in writing, as official policy — so imagine what it does as a matter of practice, behind closed doors.

I’ll offer updates on the lawsuit as it proceeds.

Disclosure: I have litigated against the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office for 12 years, and currently represent defendants charged by them. Moreover, I know both Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU attorney on the matter, and Benjamin Gluck, the Bird Marella attorney on the matter, and think highly of both of them.

–Ken White

The Way It’s Supposed To Work

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Teresa Culpepper didn’t assault anybody. She didn’t throw hot water on anybody. She didn’t match the description of the person who did. For one thing, she was the wrong height, and didn’t have a gold tooth. Nobody claimed she did it. The victim of the assault said that it wasn’t her — he even said it in open court.

Nevertheless, Teresa Culpepper spent 53 days in jail because the state arrested her for that offense and then wouldn’t release her. She spent the time in jail because she couldn’t afford the bail. While in jail, she lost her car and her possessions. She has to pay back the disability payments she received during that period because you aren’t allowed to get federal disability payments when you’re in jail, even if you’re in jail by accident and murderous indifference.

Teresa Culpepper had no prior record.

Aimee Maxwell, executive director of the Georgia Innocence Project, said arrests based on mistaken identities are common. “I think it’s a rare occurrence when people find out about it,” she said.

The state doesn’t try to convince you this never happens — they admit it. The state doesn’t try to deny that mistakes were made — they admit it.

What the state wants you to believe is that this is a bug, not a feature, of the criminal justice system.

Question that.

Hat tip to Joe.

Maggie’s Afternoon Links

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

(Thanks to Jesse Walker for #2 and Lenore Skenazy for #5).

Sunday Links

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Saturday Links

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Leigh Stubbs, Tami Vance To Be Released From Prison

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

I just heard from the Mississippi Innocence Project that Leigh Stubbs and Tami Vance will soon be released from prison. This is fantastic news. They’ll be transferred to a local jail and will be able to post bond as soon as the judge signs an order vacating their convictions. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood will then decide if he wants to try them again.

Stubbs was convicted based on more absurd testimony from Michael West, although in this case it was particularly nutty. He not only gave his “expert” opinion with respect to his usual bite mark quackery, but also in videography (enhance!), and some bizarre theory about the crime patterns of lesbians. (A male dentist in Hattiesburg, Mississippi would naturally be who’d I’d turn to for expertise on lesbian domestic violence.)

My Huffington Post article on the case here. Check here to watch the video of West actually using a dental mold of Stubbs’ teeth to create the bite mark that he’d later testify came from Stubbs on the night of the alleged crime.

Kudos to the Mississippi Innocence Project for their great work on this case. I’ll have more later.

Morning Links

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Saturday Links

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Morning Links

Friday, June 15th, 2012
  • This USA Today investigation is just mind-blowing. The quotes from DOJ officials are just surreal. There are innocent people in prison, everyone knows it, yet the government won’t work to get them out, due to “procedure.” Just when you think you’ve seen every way the criminal justice system can screw someone over . . .
  • Headline of the day.
  • Government is just another word for the things we do together, like setting up staged drug buys at a concert venue, then arresting the venue’s owner, imprisoning him, and taking his property from himbecause he didn’t do enough to stop the staged drug buys.
  • How your tax dollars helped the Obama administration pay off the auto unions.
  • Hard to even know where to begin with this story.
  • Ten commercials directed by Wes Anderson.
  • Indian skeptic shows that the “miracle water” dripping from a crucifix, which Indian Catholics were drinking, was actually sewage. Naturally, he was arrested for this.