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Articles about Wrongful Convictions

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 ...

Texas Man Exonerated By DNA Test He Didn't Request

A Texas man, Michael Phillips, 57, recently became the first person to be cleared of a crime by DNA testing he did not request.

Phillips was accused of raping a white teenage girl at a Dallas motel in 1990. The victim, who had partially removed her attacker’s face mask during the rape, identified Phillips as her assailant. Phillips told his lawyer that he was innocent, but the lawyer advised him to take a plea bargain because a black man accused of raping a white teen had no chance of winning before a Dallas jury. Phillips spent 12 years in prison before being released in 2002. In 2004, he was returned to prison for six months for failing to register as a sex offender.

Phillips is wheelchair bound and seriously ill with sickle cell anemia. He lives in a nursing home. His father died while he was in prison. Trying to clear his name was one of the last things on his mind when he was contacted by the Conviction Integrity Unit which was started by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins in 2007. The unit had run DNA recovered from the victim through the FBI's Combined DNA Index System which ...

U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. Creates Unit to Investigate Flawed Convictions

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia has set up the first federal unit nationwide unit to internally identify, investigate, and possible wrongful convictions, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. said.  “This new unit will work to uncover historical injustices and to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to prevent such tragedies in the future,” he said.

The formation of the new unit comes in the wake of the vacating of five wrongful convictions resulting from faulty evidence testing or exonerations based upon new DNA evidence.  A four-year review was recently concluded of more than 2,000 FBI evidence files that used now-discredited hair or fiber evidence to establish guilt.

Exonerations of the wrongfully convicted defendants are still wending their way through the criminal justice system, a recent story by the Washington Post indicated. Donald Gates was one of those who were erroneously convicted.  He was found guilty of a 1982 rape and murder based upon hair evidence, but proven innocent in 2009 on the basis of DNA testing.

Prisoner rights advocates such as Shawn Ambrust of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, cautiously welcomed the development, but expressed reservations about the project’s transparency if it was “just ...

Florida Allows Compensation of Wrongfully Convicted Man 25 Years after Release

The Florida Legislature passed a bill in the closing minutes of its 2014 session that allows a man who served 21 years on a wrongful conviction to seek up to $2 million in compensation.

James Richardson was convicted in the 1967 poisoning deaths of his seven children. Richardson, a black man, was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death. Decades later, the babysitter who served the children their last meal confessed she had committed the crime. Although she was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease, the governor ordered the case reopened.

A special prosecutor’s investigation concluded Richardson was convicted on the testimony of jail inmates beaten into perjury and via prosecutorial misconduct. That resulted in the court finding no basis for the conviction, and Richardson was released in 1989.

Since his release, Richardson has move to Wichita, Kansas. He attended the legislative session, but as it wound, down a political fight unrelated to the bill that would allow him to seek compensation was among the bills that were suspended by the deadlock. Richardson left for home. The next day, at 9:15 P.M. the legislative passed the bill that would allow Richardson to seek Compensation.

Florida law allows ...