Recording Interrogations is a Public Safety Imperative

Last month, Frank Sterling was exonerated by DNA evidence after being incarcerated 18 years for a crime he did not commit. Sterling was wrongfully convicted of murdering an elderly woman in Rochester, New York in 1988. His conviction was based entirely on a false confession. In the meantime the actual killer remained free, and six years later he murdered four-year-old Kali Poulton. This tragedy leaves no question that addressing the flaws in our criminal justice system that lead to wrongful convictions is a public safety imperative.

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Recording Interrogations is a Public Safety Imperative

Last month, Frank Sterling was exonerated by DNA evidence after being incarcerated 18 years for a crime he did not commit. Sterling was wrongfully convicted of murdering an elderly woman in Rochester, New York in 1988. His conviction was based entirely on a false confession. In the meantime the actual killer remained free, and six years later he murdered four-year-old Kali Poulton. This tragedy leaves no question that addressing the flaws in our criminal justice system that lead to wrongful convictions is a public safety imperative.

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Ohio Latest in Reform Trend to Prevent Wrongful Convictions

On April 5th Ohio Governor Ted Strickland signed a reform bill that will help reduce wrongful convictions and improve the fairness and accuracy of our criminal justice system. Among the measures included are safeguards to improve the eyewitness identification process by requiring police to use a more accurate protocol for administering live and photo lineups. The new protocol reflects the growing awareness that eyewitness evidence is fragile, and much like trace physical evidence must be collected very carefully, or it may become tainted.

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Crime Labs Need Independence and Robust Oversight to Ensure Justice

San Francisco’s top public defender, Jeff Adachi, recently called for the city’s crime lab to become independent of the police department. This announcement comes on the heels of a series of scandals in the San Francisco Police Department’s forensic laboratory initiated by the discovery that a criminalist was stealing cocaine from evidence storage facilities. What initially seemed to be a problem with one unethical employee has led to the unearthing of myriad problems within the lab, including two cases of tainted DNA samples. Moreover, a troubling audit was released showing an improper maintenance of chain of custody of evidence, inadequate record keeping, and a lack of cleanliness in the overall facility. Multiple legal challenges raised in the aftermath of the scandal, including a murder case, have pointed to the possibility that police and prosecutors withheld vital information about the drug thefts from defendants' attorneys.

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Jailhouse Snitches Sabotage Justice with Unreliable Evidence

Earlier this month, Orleans Parish District Judge Lynda Van Davis granted a new trial for Michael Anderson, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a trial plagued with problematic evidence. Prosecutors have appealed the ruling and indicated that they will go forward with a retrial if necessary, so the question of Anderson’s guilt or innocence is far from settled. What is clear today, however, is that his first trial was marked by prosecutors’ troubling concealment of important information that undermined the credibility of key witnesses against him. Playing fast and loose with such evidence is unacceptable. In a death penalty case, it is unconscionable.

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