A committee tasked with fixing problems at the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) is recommending North Carolina legislators consider a new law that would allow prosecutors to charge law enforcement personnel with obstructing justice for violating discovery laws. This law would apply not just to the SBI, but all state and local law enforcement agencies in North Carolina as well as district attorneys and their assistants. Wrongful Convictions Clinic Co-Director James Coleman believes the law could have a significant effect on the criminal justice system if passed by creating a strong deterrent for withholding evidence. The proposed law is one of many reforms being recommended by the committee. Read more here.
Center Associate Director, Theresa Newman, and Exoneree Darryl Hunt Speak to Durham Congregations in ActionJanuary 24, 2011
A crowd of more than 150 people from the 64-member congregations of the non-profit organization Durham Congregations in Action (“DCIA”) responded with emotion and a flurry of questions to a talk given by Professor Theresa Newman and Darryl Hunt. Newman described what leads to wrongful convictions and how the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic strives to unravel them; and Hunt, who was exonerated in 2004 after spending 19 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit, talked about the great hurdles to be overcome after being released from prison. “Freedom is only half the battle,” he said. For more, click here.
Clinic student and Schweitzer Fellow Tricia Hammond has developed a much-needed program for incarcerated Durham teens, providing them with legal and health education, literacy classes, and mentoring. Partnering with fellow-Schweitzer Fellow and medical student Simon Ascher, Hammond is hoping to make a difference in the juveniles’ lives: “By going to the Youth Home and getting to know the kids and engaging them intellectually, we hope not only to teach them important information but also to communicate to them that they are valuable, intelligent, and capable of making choices for a different life.” For more on the program, click here.
Duke Law School’s Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility belongs to a Network of innocence organizations responsible for 29 exonerations this past year, including two at the Duke Center: Shawn Massey, who was released after serving 12 years, and Scott Pierpoint, who served nearly 18 years of a life sentence. The Network recently issued a report, entitled “Innocence Network Exonerations 2010,” which provides details of the 29 exonerations and highlights the common causes of the wrongful convictions, including mistaken eyewitness identification, faulty forensic science, and police and prosecutorial misconduct. Duke Center’s co-director Theresa Newman, who serves on the Innocence Network board, said, “Individual stories of wrongful convictions tell us much about the failings of the criminal justice system, but, collectively, these 29 exonerations illustrate the compelling need for reform in a number of areas.” The 29 people profiled in the year’s report served more than 426 years in prison. Download a PDF of the Network report here.
The January 2011 issue of the ABA Journal includes an article on the nearly insurmountable problems faced by the exonerated after they are released from prison. They often have no job, no place to live, and no health insurance. They have a 10-, 15-, 20-year gap in their résumés, and the skills they had before prison have long since atrophied. The world moved on while they were in prison, but they have not. And there is little help for them to adjust – much less than if they had actually committed the crime for which they were convicted.
Clinic client Shawn Massey, who was released from prison on May 6, 2010, after more than 12 years of imprisonment because of a mistaken eyewitness identification, launched a new youth movement in Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday, December 5, 2010. “Youth on the Move” was introduced in a rousing afternoon program at Greater St. James United Church of God, where Massey’s grandmother, Annie Massey, is the pastor.
Massey told the packed sanctuary that he knew something had to be done when he started to see young men entering the prison system with 50 and 60-year sentences. There was not much he could do while he was incarcerated, but he still tried to help the young men adjust. “I talked to them and sometimes bought food for the ones who said they were hungry, and, every once in a while, I even had Bible studies with some of them.” Now, on the outside, Massey thinks he can do more. “Youth on the Move” is part of that effort.
Special guest speaker Jacotron Potts, youth minister at Charlotte’s University Park Baptist Church, captured the crowd with stories of change and potential, limitations and energy, and drive and focus. He exhorted the youth not to let “other people’s low expectations” control their behavior or their destiny. Not to go along with others just to get by. Not to assume they can’t do more. At the end of his talk, the young people moved to the front of the room to solemnize their commitment to themselves and to their potential. Massey’s 18-year-old son was among them.
Massey is planning more programs and activities for the coming months.
According to the SBI’s new director, Greg McLeod, the promised SBI reforms have been slowed for a number of reasons, but he emphasized that the focus of the review and implementation of reforms is on “quality” not “speed.” Others in the criminal justice system, including some prosecutors, are urging for quicker action. Given the SBI practices that were uncovered last spring during the Greg Taylor hearing and the important rights that were implicated, it is clear that a thorough examination of all SBI units should be conducted – and with all due speed. For more, click here.
North Carolina exoneree Dwayne Dail is suing law enforcement for failing to turn over DNA evidence for testing. He asked Goldsboro officials for access to the evidence in 1995, eight years after his 1987 conviction for raping a 12-year-old girl, but was told all of the evidence had been destroyed. In 2007, after many more requests, police finally discovered evidence that led to his freedom. Read more here.