Entries categorized "Wrongful Convictions"

Facebook Saves Teen from Confirmation Bias and Flawed Eyewitness Identification

We got a black kid who was already in jail for armed robbery.  Therefore, he must be guilty of an unrelated armed robbery.  Oh, and we have an eyewitness identification.  Let's send him to prison!  Oops:

For 19-year-old Rodney Bradford, a simple Facebook status update turned into much more: a rock-solid alibi after he was accused of a crime.

Confirmation of the time stamp on the update and the location from which it was entered showed he could not have been at the scene of a robbery in another part of New York City. After he had spent almost two weeks in jail, the case against him was dismissed.

Confirmation bias makes police work easy:

The story began at 11:49 a.m. on Saturday, October 17, when Bradford was updating his Facebook status at his father's home in Harlem. A minute later, 12 miles away in Brooklyn, two men were mugged at gunpoint.

The next day, Bradford, who is facing a separate 2008 robbery indictment, found out police were looking for him in connection with the Brooklyn robbery.

Must be guilty.  After all, he robbed someone else in 2008.  No doubt the evidence in that case is as strong as it was in the Facebook case.  Perhaps an eyewitness identification?  

Bradford turned himself in, confident he would be cleared. But after one of the victims picked him out of a lineup, he was charged with robbery in the first degree and sent to Rikers Island, home of the New York City jail.

Nice.  Fortunately the prosecutor dismissed the case after Facebook legal authenticated Mr. Bradford's location and time of posting.  (Ponder that.)  No one, though, is asking: What went wrong?  

The kid clearly did not commit the armed robbery.  Yet without the Facebook profile update, he'd have been sent to prison.  

It's great that the kid isn't going to prison for a crime that he didn't commit.  What about the teenagers not lucky enough to be home on a Saturday afternoon, updating their Facebook profiles?  

Scott Greenfield likes to jab guys who are on Twitter on a Saturday night: "Friday Night Warning: Go out. Have a life. Do not twitter. Find real people to talk to. Look them in the eye. Interact. Maybe LOL for real." 

It's a good thing Mr. Bradford stayed home, and a bad thing for society that Bradford's staying home is the only thing preventing him from being behind prison bars. 


Via Orin Kerr comes this sad story:

Prosecutors dismissed charges yesterday against a man who served 20 years in prison for the sexual molestation of two girls who recanted their allegations.

More than 40 members of the family of Sylvester Smith were in court when Judge William C. Gore gave permission for a new trial and District Attorney Rex Gore issued a voluntary dismissal.

Another innocent man is free

CNN.com has this story, which ledes:

A man who spent 10 years behind bars has been freed after a judge acknowledged new DNA evidence and overturned his conviction for raping a 13-year-old girl.

The San Joaquin County judge on Friday released Peter J. Rose, citing DNA tests that showed evidence used to convict Peter J. Rose did not match his genetic makeup.

Rose, 36, of Lodi, left Mule Creek State Prison amid tears and hugs from his children, relatives, friends and law students from San Francisco's Golden Gate University who pursued his case years after evidence had been stored away and forgotten.

Do kids lie to us, or do we lie to ourselves?

Bob Sheridan - who is really coming into his own as a blawgger - has written an excellent article on false accusations in child abuse and molestation cases, entitled "Fooling Ourselves: Cargo Cult Law and Medicine."

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool (Feynman, 1985).

ABSTRACT: A fundamental cause of false accusations is the tendency of adults to fool themselves. Adult investigators who are biased towards believing an accusation is true will be unable to conduct an appropriate investigation and therefore will find what supports their prior beliefs.

So many child sex accusations turn out false that I have wondered why presumably intelligent and well-meaning authorities believed them in the first place. False accusation fiascos have included McMartin Preschool, Morgan-Foretich, the Jordan, Minnesota case, and the Cleveland, England affair. In my practice, a six count case (worth 23 years in prison) was dismissed before trial last April after the client spent three months in jail and a 61 count case was dismissed after a hung jury a few years ago; both were false allegation cases.

I encourage you to read the full article.

Ellen Reasonover

Another innocent person set free. At least Ms. Reasonover was reasonably compensated:

It took 16 years for Ellen Reasonover's pleas of innocence to be heard. A federal judge released her from prison in 1999, overturning a murder conviction.


Reasonover's troubles began in January 1983 as a witness reporting what she claimed she had seen about the murder of 19-year-old attendant James Buckley at a Vickers station on West Florissant Avenue in Dellwood.

She ended up the primary suspect in the case, was later convicted of capital murder, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole for 50 years.

From the beginning, Reasonover insisted she was innocent. Her failure to testify at her trial was the recommendation of her trial attorneys and a mistake, she said in later interviews.

In August 1999, U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton ruled that the trial Reasonover got in St. Louis County Circuit Court was "fundamentally unfair." The judge went further. She said there was compelling evidence that jurors would have agreed with her assertions of innocence if they had heard the evidence.

Hamilton's ruling was based in part on a 58-minute tape, a secretly recorded Dellwood jailhouse conversation between Reasonover and her boyfriend, Stanley White, in which 20 times they deny being involved in the murder.

Reasonover was placed in another jail cell where two hours later she supposedly confessed the shooting to a cellmate, Rose Jolliff, who later told the jury about the alleged confession. A future cellmate, Mary Lyner, also claimed Reasonover had confessed.

Later, new evidence would prove that Lyner had lied to the jury about her dealings with prosecutors. And questions arose about the deal Jolliff got for her testimony.

Eyewitness ID and a POW Bracelet

My wife and I were walking our dog the other day when a man on horseback approached us.  He began talking about his dog (a blue heeler).  We talked a while and got to know each other.  He said that 33 years ago to this day he was fighting for his life in Vietnam.  I didn't belive him.  Then he grabbed at his wrist, and a look of shock came over his face. 

"I lost my bracelet.  It had the name of the only Ranger from my company still missing in action.  It has not left my hand in 20 years.  Oh my God, would you please help me find it?" 

I am generally suspicious of people who claim to have served in the military; more suspicious when they claim to have been a Ranger.  I also did not want to prance through a poison oak infested trail to look.  However, I knew that if he was telling the truth, I was under a  moral obligation (as a patroit and responsible citizen) to help him look. 

I looked at his wrist to see if he had a tan line.  Sure enough, there was a tan line approximately the size of a POW-MIA bracelet.  My wife and I agreed to help him look.  He rode off in one direction; we walked in the other.

About 30 seconds later, my wife asked, "What hand was the tan line on his wrist on?"  "Uh, the right," I replied.  "Are you sure, because I thought it was on the left," she answered. 

I thought about it and realized that I was not sure.  My wife thought about it and realized that she was not sure.  Even though both of us paid particular attention to this detail, we would not bet anyone's life on it.  Each day people make this bet.

Juan Catalan from Los Angeles was recently released from jail after spending 5 1/2 months there awaiting trial.  Video from HBO corroborated his alibi.  The only inculpatory evidence against him was eyewitness identification.  I wonder if the photo identification that took place was similar to this:

OFFICER: I’ve got eight photographs here. I want you to look at them. LARRY: Mmm. There is the guy that - I, that’s him, that man, I think. OFFICER: Which one? LARRY: That’s the guy. OFFICER: I want you to look at the picture a little better. You look at them some more. . . . OFFICER: I know which one you are looking at. I can tell by the expression on your face. Larry. Which one are you really looking at? LARRY: I’m really looking at him. OFFICER: You are not looking at him. Okay? Which one are you really looking at, Larry? Which one are you really looking at, Larry, tell the truth. I will count from here, 1, 2,3.4,5,6,7.8, and give me a number that you are looking at, and be truthful with yourself. Tell me which one you are looking at. Should we put a number underneath each one of them? Which one are you looking at? LARRY: Number 8. OFFICER: Larry? (much later, after Larry has finally identified #7) OFFICER: Okay. That’s all I’m asking you. And you are positive?’

I do not hate the police.  But I do not trust the police.  And I (nor my future offspring) will never talk to the police.

Transcript via CrimLaw.  AP story via Howard Bashman.