When a crime is allegedly committed, the police and the prosecution can often seize items related to the crime. This can sometimes happen when the owner of the property is completely innocent. In tough times, this has created a conflict of interest in the police and prosecutors. They can easily make a ton of money to help their departments at the expense of innocent individuals. Two bills were recently introduced in the Michigan Legislature to place some modest limits on this problems. HB 5213 would require a criminal conviction before a forfeiture action could be filed. HB5081 tightens up the reporting requirements on the forfeiture so that problem departments can be identified in the future.
Some police departments maintain “Brady lists” of officers with troubled pasts. They try to keep these officers from being affiants in search warrants where possible and regard it as their duty to turn evidence of past scandals over to the defense. At least in California, however, there is no consistent policy about what is in a Brady policy or when a prosecutor has to go back to the police department looking for evidence of past lying on the part of a given officer.
The now disbanded California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice had recommended in their 2008 report that prosecutor’s offices maintain strict and consistent Brady lists. Unfortunately, police departments have pushed back because they think that these lists will make these tainted cops unusable.
One of my new favorite blogs (the Open File) has a nice commentary on this article. The Open File about prosecutor misconduct and urging public accountability. Not surprisingly on the same page are articles about convictions being overturned because the police have failed to turn over more than 11,000 pages of exculpatory evidence in one case, of a federal judge in New Orleans overturning another conviction because their US Attorney’s Office elicited perjured testimony, and a 9th Circuit case overturning a money laundering case because the declassified summaries turned over to defense counsel were misleading and withheld favorable evidence.
As I was about hit the “publish button” on my software, I saw today’s story about Debra Milke, the German mother convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of her son and received the death penalty. The Maricopa County Arizona prosecutor had concealed the fact that the police officer who supposedly took her undocument “confession” had a long history of perjury. Not surprisingly, the prosecutor concealed evidence that the police had a history of perjury. Despite the fact that there was four incidents of perjury by the officer he was kept on the force. Judge Kozinski’s opinion can be found here. Chief Judge Kozinski is the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit a independent minded conservative. Despite the Arizona’s Attorney General’s vow to appeal this ruling, I don’t think he has much chance. While the US Supreme Court has not been kind to the Ninth Circuit, this error strongly suggests actual innocence and seems to be within the four corners of Brady.
In Balko’s latest article, he writes about a study clearly stating its premise: “The Criminal Justice Creates Incentives for False Convictions” by Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks. He details the most noteworthy finds such as a crime lab that receives $10 for each guilty plea or verdict from a speeding ticket and $50 for each DWI (Driving While Impaired) and drug offense. Another specious fact: An Illinois crime lab receives fees upon sex offense convictions.
As Balko says, “every analyst knows that a test result implicating a suspect will result in a fee paid to the lab. Every result that clears a suspect means no fee. They’re literally being paid to provide the analysis to win convictions.”
Balko finishes his article by noting scandals that arise from such practices. Balko isn’t the only one to predict more problems from such a compromised system.
Yesterday, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) introduced legislation designed to strengthen and improve the quality of forensic evidence routinely used in the criminal justice evidence. The bill is designed to increase the overall integrity of the evidence and take on many of the problems that have recently popped up around the country involving sloppy forensic evidence and wrongful convictions. The bill will establish federal oversight over the labs under the joint supervision of the Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technologies. The bill is inspired by a February 2009 National Academy of Sciences report which identified massive problems in forensic science. Senator Leahy chaired two Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in the last session of Congress focusing on the report’s finding. He heard testimony from the directors of various state forensic labs and heard testimony about the need for improvement in these forensic investigations. Source: Vermont Column