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Articles about Wrongful Convictions

Illinois: Exonerated Prisoner Calls $80,000 Award a Travesty, Retrial Ordered

Nathson E. Fields spent 18 years in prison due to a conveniently “lost” file that would have cleared him. Fields was a member of the El Rukn street gang when he was convicted of a double homicide in 1986. After a dozen years on death row and another six in general population, he was granted a retrial and cleared in 2009, then filed a wrongful conviction suit.

On April 28, 1984, at about 10:15 a.m., Talman Hickman and Jerome “Fuddy” Smith were shot to death on Chicago’s East 39th Street. Over 100 witnesses were interviewed, including a woman who described two black men with a “light complexion” fleeing the crime scene. Both wore ski masks but appeared to be in their “early 20s.” Fields had a dark complexion, was 30 years old and did not fit the description given to detectives.

Fields’ “street file” was kept by Chicago detective David O’Callaghan. Defense attorneys requested the file during Fields’ trial but prosecutors and police officers denied its existence; hiding street files was common practice in the Chicago Police Department. Years after his conviction, Fields’ file was found buried in a cabinet with cold cases dating back to 1944.

In 1985, El ...

$15,000 Settlement in D.C. Prisoner’s Bogus Parole Revocation Suit

The District of Columbia (D.C.) paid $15,000 to settle the lawsuit of prisoner George Hill for negligence and false imprisonment.

On October 15, 1999, Hill surrendered himself to the D.C. Jail, believing there was a parole violation warrant. On September 22, 1999, Parole Officer Nelex Brown, along with her supervisor, ...

North Carolina Man Awaits Compensation Four Years After Death Row Exoneration

Glen Edward Chapman's conviction for two Hickory, North Carolina murders was reversed and a new trial ordered because lead investigator Dennis 'Money had lied during his trial testimony and detectives had "lost, misplaced or destroyed" evidence that showed a different man had committed the murders. In 2008, the district attorney dismissed all charges against Chapman due to insufficient evidence of guilt. Despite spending 15 years on death row for crimes he did not commit, Chapman has yet to see a penny of compensation.

According to a 2009 report by the Innocence Project, Chapman shares this status with 402 of the wrongly convicted who were exonerated by DNA testing and have received no compensation for the years they spent in prison. This startling statistic is primarily due to the fact that 23 states offer no assistance to the wrongly convicted.

Even among the states that do offer compensation, technicalities might prevent or delay compensation. Such was the case with Anthony. Graves, who spent 18 years on death row in Texas. Graves was denied compensation because the judge who ordered his release failed to use the magic words "actual innocence." That he was exonerated by DNA test that proved another man had ...

Justice Department Impedes Release of "Legally Innocent" Prisoners

Despite several recent high-profile cases where the U.S. Justice Department has urged the release of prisoners who all parties agreed were "legally innocent, dozens more remain behind North Carolina. The cases arise in instances where men were imprisoned for violation of the federal law preventing convicted felons from possessing a gun. The problem was that, according to USA Today who has investigated such cases is that" none of them had criminal records serious enough to make them felons under federal law.

Adding to the problem is the fact that the Justice Department has not made efforts to identify or notify men in these circumstances that would be entitled to release. The Justice Department avers that these prisoners must still file court pleadings to challenge these convictions and win their release.

The convictions that fall into this category stem from a law enacted decades ago that made it a crime for convicted felons to possess a gun, thereby giving prosecutors an avenue to win a longer sentence than they might have obtained without such a law. Under Congress' definition, a person who has been convicted of a crime serious enough to be sentenced to more than a year in prison ...

Citizen's Wrongful Detention suit against ICE 'reinstated by Second Circuit

Viterbo Liranzo was a U.S. citizen through section 321 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), which conferred derivative citizenship on children of U.S. citizens, even though neither parent nor the child requested it. Liranzo was unaware of his citizenship, having carried his "resident alien card" or "green card" most of his life. Federal immigration records mistakenly showed him to be a lawful permanent resident.

In 2005, Liranzo was convicted of criminal sale of a controlled substance, a felony; an offense which subjected him to possible deportation. He was detained by immigration agents, which resulted in him being in custody for seven months beyond his release date. He was then transported to the Federal Detention Center in Oakdale, Louisiana, where his attorney convinced the government that he was, in fact, a U.S. citizen.

Liranzo exhausted his administrative remedies with the Department of Homeland Security and filed his complaint in U.S. District Court in New York in 2008, seeking five million dollars for "false arrest and imprisonment" and other tortious conduct. After two years of discovery, the government filed a motion alleging sovereign immunity from suit based on the limited nature of the Federal Tort Claim Act's waiver of sovereign immunity. ...

Wrongfully-convicted Former Prisoner Receives $13.2 Million in FBI Hair Analysis Case

A 55-year-old man who was convicted based upon the now-discredited “science” of forensics hair analysis has been awarded $13.2 million by District of Columbia Superior Court Judge John M. Mott. This was just the latest in a long line of cases where pseudo-scientific testimony by the FBI crime lab resulted ...

$4 Million Jury Award to Wrongfully Jailed Immigrant Reversed on Appeal

In May 1997, Yongping Zhou (plaintiff), a Chinese mechanical engineer, entered the United States on a fiancée visa. The marriage ended with charges of domestic violence, for which Zhoe was convicted in 1998, though the charges were eventually overturned. The INS later initiated deportation proceedings pursuant to the domestic violence conviction and took Zhou into custody. He retained the law firm of John Z. Huang, P.C. (defendants), a firm that specialized in immigration matters. After twenty-five months in detention, Zhou finally was released on bond after firing Huang's firm and retaining other counsel.

Zhou sued Huang, asserting that he had failed to adequately represent him, failed to seek proper relief, and failed to advise the INS judge of the relevant facts and law, resulting in his extended incarceration, loss of normal life, emotional distress, depression, adjustment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

On his part, Huang claimed he had brought the proper issues to the attention of the INS judge and did not have the duty to correct the judge, but could only appeal an adverse decision. Both sides employed expert witnesses. The case was tried by a jury in May-June 2008, and a verdict was returned in favor of Zhou with ...

USDC ED NY Grants Opposition to Quash Depositions in Murder/Rape

A magistrate judge at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted in November 2011 the Plaintiff’s motion opposing Defenses’ motion to quash deposition notices and notice of subpoena in a civil case resultant from vacated convictions and sentences of Plaintiffs in a 1984 murder and rape. Plaintiffs Kogut, Restivo, and Halstead saw their convictions overturned  in 2003, prevailed in retrial for Kogut in 2005 (Restivo and Halstead were not retried), and initiated civil action against the Nassau County Attorney’s Office and Police Department thereafter, alleging false arrest and other related offenses.

The object of the deposition and subpoena was the work product of Nassau County Police Detective Robert Hillman, investigator from May 10, 2010, for the Nassau County Attorney’s Office. Hillman, investigating Kogut’s civil suit, used various detective’s ploys to case a net of inquiry- Plaintiffs sought to discover the information thus gleaned. Defendants resisted, launching the motion to quash, using as justification “the attorney work product doctrine.” Plaintiffs opposed the motion, advancing a) the documents created by Hillman were part of a criminal investigation and thus not protected; b) the Defendants waived work product entitlement in any case by not claiming the product ...

Eighth Circuit Dismisses Suit for Faulty Rape Investigation

On July 22, 2014, a man who spent 17 days in jail for a false rape accusation had his lawsuit against the Sheriff's office dismissed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court upheld the summary judgment order of the U.S. District Court for Nebraska, which held that the faulty police investigation did not amount to a constitutional violation.

The case began in the early morning hours of November 24, 2011, when Jennifer Valenta reported she was raped. Officer's from the Gage County Sheriff's Office met Valenta at the hospital and took her story. Valenta said her assailant was a man named "Elliot," who she had met only a few days earlier.

"Elliot" was Elliot Hawkins, who told the police that he had met Valenta through her sister, and the Valenta agreed to perform sex acts for Hawkins for money.

Valenta refused to complete a rape kit after she says she was told too much time had passed for the kit to be effective. Officers then had Valenta call Hawkins to try to elicit a confession from him. Hawkins only admitted they were together that night, but denied the rape and Valenta's accusation that three other men were ...

Civil Suit Against Wise County, Virginia for Case of Mistaken Identity

In a case of mistaken identity, an innocent man residing in Memphis, Tennessee was extradited to a regional jail in Wise County, Virginia where he remained incarcerated for more than three months. Once the Commonwealth’s Attorney could be convinced of the mistaken identity, the three indictments were dismissed against the plaintiff.

In 2005, a member of the drug task force in Big Stone Gap, Virginia agreed to three controlled drug buys through a confidential informant (C.I.) between November 29, 2005 and December 16, 2005. The C.I. identified the defendant by name and description – an old man who drove a jeep with a stolen Tennessee license plate.

The defendant relayed this information to the drug task force office, which, in turn, provided a social security number of the alleged suspected drug dealer, and a Big Stone Gap, Virginia post office address.

On May 31, 2006, armed with the information provided by the Defendant a Grand Jury returned three separate indictments relating to the three drug transactions with the C.I. Consequently, the Circuit Court of Wise County, Virginia issued three separate bench warrants.

Nearly six months later. The Plaintiff, who was living in Memphis, Tennessee became aware of the outstanding arrest ...