Wrongful Conviction

  • June 23, 2015
    Video Interview

    by Nanya Springer

    As Stephen Bright provided closing remarks at the 2015 ACS National Convention, he extoled the virtue of representing unpopular clients ‒ particularly criminal defendants, who are usually poor and often people of color.  He listed the names of inmates who have been wrongfully convicted and recently released from prison, all unwitting members of a far-too-large society of American exonerees:  Willie Manning in Mississippi, Anthony Ray Hinton in Alabama, Alfred Brown in Texas, and Glenn Ford in Louisiana.  But Bright also delighted the crowd by introducing a special guest: exoneree and recent law school graduate Jarrett Adams.

    Adams served almost 10 years of a 28-year prison sentence for a crime that he did not commit.  After being exonerated with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, he obtained a degree in criminal justice and then attended law school at Loyola University Chicago.  He has worked at the Federal Defender’s Office in Chicago and at the public interest law firm Loevy & Loevy, and soon he will begin a dual fellowship with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ‒ the very court that overturned his conviction and set him free.

    At the convention, Adams sat down with ACS to explain why it’s so important for law students to develop professional networks.  He said, “There are only so many big firms, and if you don’t . . . get a 4.0 or know someone . . . you don’t have the opportunity to summer with them and to get into the door.  ACS offers you the opportunity to network with the big law firms at events like this.”  He added, “You never know when you’re going to be in a networking event and meet someone that’s going to help you become someone.”

    Arguably, Adams – who hopes to practice civil rights law and continue leading the nonprofit organization he co-founded, Life After Justice – is already “someone.”  But, as he would probably agree, there is always room for growth and advancement.

    Adams’ entire interview can be viewed below.

  • November 3, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at University of Virginia School of Law and author of "Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong.”

    While there had been great interest in the oral arguments in Perry v. New Hampshire yesterday, because the case is the first case dealing with due process standards for reviewing eyewitness identifications that the Court has heard since deciding Manson v. Brathwaite thirty-four years ago, and because there has been a drumbeat of revelations about wrongful convictions based on eyewitness misidentifications, the proceedings suggested that this was an odd case for the Court to have accepted in the first place. 

    The case involved a report of a black man breaking into a car in a parking lot to steal a stereo. Police arrived at the scene and asked Barion Perry to wait with a uniformed officer. Another police officer went into a building to talk to an eyewitness, who promptly looked out the window and identified Perry, the only black man standing there, next to the officer in uniform, as the man who had stolen the stereo. The eyewitness was later unable to identify Perry either in a subsequent lineup or at his trial. The trial court rejected Perry’s claim that this was a show-up identification, where the eyewitness was shown a single suspect, that should be reviewed under the Manson v. Brathwaite due process standard.  The trial court, and then the New Hampshire Supreme Court, concluded that the identification happened by happenstance, and since the police did not intend to arrange a show-up, there was no state action, and due process did not apply.  Since the case was about whether to even apply the Manson v. Brathwaite standard, the larger and more pressing issues about improving that standard, regulating presentation of eyewitness evidence in the courtroom, and improving lineup procedures in the first instance, are not squarely raised.

  • April 1, 2011

    By Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.

    Is it obvious that prosecutors cannot hide evidence of a defendant’s innocence? Can an entire prosecutor’s office fail to take that obligation seriously? What if that happens and an innocent man spends 18 years in prison and is nearly executed – could the office then be held responsible? What if they buried a forensic lab report that would have provided scientific evidence of innocence?

    The Supreme Court addressed those questions in its ruling this week in Connick v. Thompson. John Thompson spent 18 years in prison and came within weeks of execution for a murder he did not commit. Prosecutors had concealed a key lab report with a blood test from the victim’s clothing, which the culprit had bled on, as well a series of other items including eyewitness statements describing an attacker who did not at all resemble Thompson.

    In a chilling ruling, the majority, split along 5-4 lines, said that the issue raised “nuance[d]” and technical questions, but in a formalistic and circular way, said that there was no “obvious” need for prosecutors to be trained on such “gray areas.”  

    When prosecutorial misconduct came to light in the Duke Lacrosse case, did we dismiss Mike Nifong’s actions as a technical issue? Or when it came to light that key evidence was concealed from the defense in the Ted Stevens prosecution? Yet in a cavalier prosecutor’s office without careful training and procedures, such serious violations will occur; shouldn’t that much be obvious?

  • October 15, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and author of the forthcoming book, Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong.
    This week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Skinner v. Switzer, concerning a request for DNA testing by an inmate, convicted of murders and on death row in Texas. Prosecutors have opposed the DNA tests and intend to proceed with an execution.

    Why does this scenario sound familiar? Because Hillary Swank is currently starring in a major motion picture about the true story of how Betty Anne Waters put herself through law school and fought for years to obtain DNA tests that ultimately proved her brother’s innocence?

    Because just last term the Court decided Osborne v. District Attorney’s Office, in which the state of Alaska successfully opposed DNA tests that it conceded could resolve the question of an inmate’s innocence?

    Because in 2006, the Court decided House v. Bell, in which a death row inmate sought relief based on evidence of innocence including DNA, and following the Court’s remand, he obtained DNA tests that led to his exoneration?