A few interesting criminal justice reads

LaMonte Armstrong was recently pardoned after being wrongfully convicted of murder

LaMonte Armstrong was recently pardoned after being wrongfully convicted of murder

Wrongfully convicted man released from prison just before Christmas

“Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions,” said IPNW Policy Director Lara Zarowsky. “It played a role in nearly 75% of the convictions overturned through DNA testing.” Zarowsky is partnering with Washington state law enforcement, social scientists, and prosecutors to develop best practices for police officers implementing eyewitness identification procedures.

McCrory pardons Chapel Hill man wrongly convicted of murder

Armstrong was wrongfully convicted of murdering an N.C. A&T University professor found dead in her Greensboro home in July 1988. He maintained his innocence throughout – from the first time Greensboro police interviewed him to when a Guilford County jury returned a guilty verdict to his arduous appeals of his life sentence.

Rampant Prosecutorial Misconduct (a New York Times editorial piece)

The defendant, Kenneth Olsen, was convicted of producing ricin, a toxic poison, for use as a weapon. Federal prosecutors knew — but did not tell his lawyers or the court — that an investigation of the government’s forensic scientist, whose lab tests were critical to the case, had revealed multiple instances of sloppy work that had led to wrongful convictions in earlier cases. A state court found the scientist was “incompetent and committed gross misconduct.”

Yet the majority of the federal appeals court panel ruled that the overall evidence of Mr. Olsen’s guilt — including websites he visited and books he bought — was so overwhelming that the failure to disclose the scientist’s firing would not have changed the outcome

The Mystery of the San Antonio Four

For 20 years, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez have fought to prove their innocence.

Though the women are free, they’re not exonerated. A local judge still must make recommendations to the Court of Criminal Appeals about whether to throw out the convictions and how to rule on some of the women’s lawyers’ arguments. Ware expects a battle over whether the women are declared “actually innocent,” a designation that would entitle them to compensation from the state for their imprisonment.

Ware and the other lawyers for the women have said that no matter how much the ongoing investigations may cast doubt on the legal and medical context for the convictions, much about the case will remain a mystery. “I look at this as a giant jigsaw puzzle,” said Mary Burdette, an investigator hired by the lawyers, “and sometimes a piece is missing and it’s just gone.”

Is DNA analysis stuck in the past?

“DNA evidence is much more complex than most labs can handle,” says Dr. Ria David, one of Cybergenetics’ principals, who says as much as 80 percent of the evidence collected at crime scenes gets thrown away or cast aside. Cybergenetics’ software has been used in a number of high-profile cases, she says, but its use is limited.

According to Harris, law enforcement’s resistance to accepting computer-based DNA analysis amounts to a travesty. Think about it: if Dr. David is correct, and 80 percent of the DNA evidence collected at crime scenes today is neglected, what would happen if even half of that neglected evidence were able to be tested going forward? “You would get many more convictions and probably many more exonerations, too,” Harris says. “If you thought DNA was a powerful tool for finding the truth, [Cybergenetics’] method is just that much more powerful and precise.”


About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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