This Week in Innocence

From a New York Times editorial today:

Douglas Warney, a person of limited mental capabilities who has been diagnosed with AIDS and AIDS dementia, served nine years in New York State prisons for a murder he did not commit. Now the state is seeking to compound the injustice by denying Mr. Warney compensation, even though there is a state law to provide redress for people who are wrongly convicted...

New York State has primarily argued, and lower state courts have rashly agreed, that Mr. Warney’s false confession makes him ineligible for compensation because the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act bars recovery for those whose own misconduct caused their conviction.

That limit was meant to weed out deliberate misconduct to gain some tactical advantage, say a confession intended to conceal a loved one’s guilt. Mr. Warney’s false confession was not the product of misconduct. It was the reaction of a particularly susceptible individual to common police interrogation techniques that sometimes cause innocent people to confess. That phenomenon was illuminated in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the American Psychological Association...

If there was misconduct in Mr. Warney’s case, it was on the part of police officers, who fed him “held back” facts about the murder and then claimed those facts in his typed confession originated with him, providing reliable proof of his guilt.

This is a common stipulation in state laws that allow compensation for the wrongly convicted. If you confessed to a crime you didn't commit you're unlikely to be compensated, even if the confession was beaten or manipulated out of you. To understand how something like this can happen, even among well-intentioned police officers, I recommend this 2008 L.A. Times op-ed by D.C. Detective Jim Trainium, in which Trainium describes how he was was floored to discover that not only had a woman he interrogated falsely confessed to a murder, but that Trainium himself had unknowingly fed the woman details about the killing.

Commenting on the Warney case, New York defense attorney Scott Greenfield notes that the courts have long endorsed the practice of lying to suspects to obtain confessions:

If the police are not merely entitled to lie, cheat and steal to get their guy, but encouraged to do so, then there's a perverse logic in the state's argument against Warney's claim.  Why blame the cops for manipulating a mentally challenged person into confessing when truth and honesty play no role in their job?  They got a man to confess.  That's what we pay them to do.  That's what the courts tell them to do.  Nobody made Warney confess, as the state now argues, provided there's nothing wrong with manipulating the innocent into falsely confessing.

The courts can't have it both ways.  It's time to jump off that slippery slope of encouraging law enforcement deceit if they can't embrace the natural outcome.

At the very least, all police interrogations need to be videotaped.

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  • MNG||

    Good Lord the rage one feels when hearing about such injustices...

  • Prison Is Your Right||

    Why do educated people pretend that police/lawyers/judges/prison staff care about something other than making money?

  • ||

    They learn it from TV. (and I'm not being sarcastic)

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Good Lord the rage one feels when hearing about such injustices...


    Why not just abolish the entire criminal justice system so it can not happen again?

  • MNG||

    A question for libertarians (I guess for non-minarchists specifically, but hey I'm no master of the lingo). If there is going to be a state which enforces laws there will be the danger of unjustly convicted persons. What would your position be on a fund or agency whose job it is to review cases for innocence? What if it were funded via compelled taxation of some sort?

    I guess the same question could be asked about public defenders.

    Just curious.

  • ||

    If it is funded by taxes compelled by force, I am not likely to trust it any more than I trust those it is intended to investigate.

  • Brett L||

    Ideally, part of the State/District Attorney's mandate would include auditing their own convictions for problems, a la the Dallas, TX DA who is running DNA tests on every capital (or major felony, not sure) conviction where they have DNA evidence. And I would vastly reduce the sovereign immunity. I think the minimum punishment for knowingly withholding evidence should be firing and disbarment of every lawyer who knew, they be personally liable to civil action, and loss of any accrued pension and benefits.

  • ||

    Eliminating immunity ought to do it. I'm sure malpractice insurance would be available in such a scenario. Want to keep your premiums down ? Do you job with integrity.

  • ||

    I have no problem, as a minarchist, funding the courts, etc. with taxes.

    Such an agency would be part of the justice system.

    The key is reforming the culture. If that agency were an essential stop, and a record of success there an essential requirement, for anyone ambitious of going higher as a government lawyer, I suspect we would be pretty happy with its results.

    If its a backwater, and the only way out is to tongue some DA buttock, then no, we wouldn't be happy with it.

    Kind of like how I think that no one should be allowed to progress in the FBI until they have some pubsec scalps - dirty cops, crooked Congressmen, that kind of thing.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    Given all your .. umm ... givens, sounds good to me. I'll predict it won't really be worth a crap, but I don't have any principled problems with it.

  • Gregory Smith||

    Big deal, I'm sure 99% of the people in prison are guilty, are we going to open the prisons and let everyone go free just because some might be innocent?

    What's wrong with American Exceptionalism?
    http://libertarians4freedom.bl.....rican.html

  • BakedPenguin||

    You tell 'em, Neal!

  • W James||

    Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier's and Bellamy's and Morris's utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?

  • 1980 Redux||

    You're the only person around here who ever makes any sense. You are, of course, quite correct: it is stupid to hem and haw just because a few innocent people MIGHT get executed (which has never been proven) or imprisoned for life. While of course tragic, it is nothing compared to the alternative of letting maniacs and criminals run rampant in the streets.

    Most of these people would have never made it to trial if they weren't guilty of something; DAs don't want to waste their time anymore than the next man.

  • Zeb||

    Fuck off, racist piece of shit.

  • ||

    Except that when an innocent man IS imprisoned or executed for a crime he did not commit, it necessarily means that the guilty criminal runs free in the streets.

    Also, do you think the officers and DA's guilty of misconduct turn around and run the next case straight? Gimme a break, they're bending the rules on every investigation, not just these. Get these cops and lawyers out.

  • Gregory Smith||

    Thanks. I know criminal defense attorneys would rather let 100 guilty men go free than one innocent man go to jail, and I can understand that from their perspective. After all, repeat offenders make excellent clients.

    But in the real world you have to fight crime hard. I'm so sick of liberals and pseudo-libertarians defending cop killers like Mumia Abdul Jabar and other vermin.

    People don't get arrested for watering flowers and taking care of petunias. In fact, some of these "innocent" criminals have plenty of priors. So frankly, I trust our system. Is there room for improvement? Of course.

  • Barack Obama||

    "People don't get arrested for watering flowers and taking care of petunias."

    No. But they can be arrested in Louisiana for doing floral arangements without a license.

  • ||

    People don't get arrested for watering flowers and taking care of petunias.

    I seem to recall someone getting their door kicked down for having Japanese maples. They weren't arrested for that, but they damn sure wound up getting arrested.

  • Zeb||

    This is a joke, right?

  • ||

    One assumes so.

  • BakedPenguin||

    It's sad to say, but the simple fact that Trainium didn't push ahead with the trial when he found out his suspect was innocent is impressive.

    Also, apropos of nothing his name sounds like a metallic element, perhaps an Lanthanide.

  • dunkel||

    Silly Penguin, Trainium is the metal that China uses for the rails for their high speed rail, it's an ancient chinese secret, and it's why they have a successful HSR system. Alas, they control all of the known deposits of Trainium, and they ain't letting us have any, so we're fucked for HSR.

  • BakedPenguin||

    And since they use all their Trainium on HSR, they don't have any left to exonerate innocent suspects. Gotcha.

  • ||

    Why don't defense attorneys put the offending officers on the stand and ask "Did you lie to my client to get him to confess? Why do you think it is acceptable to lie in your official duties when a man's freedom as well as the justice you are paid to seek is at stake? Is it better to lie to earn a confession than to seek the real killer. You did know you were lying, did you not? Were you aware you were lying or were you not competent enough to know the right questions to ask? Why is it acceptable for you to lie when you are trying to get the truth from my client? Remember, you are under oath."

  • Matrix||

    I believe there was a H&R post last week that discussed how officers commit perjury routinely in court. So, what would this line of questioning accomplish? He'll just perjure away.

  • Federal Dog||

    That's the least of it. That kind of questioning is destined to make jurors loathe both counsel and his client.

    You never, ever state that the cop is lying. You get inconsistent facts before jurors and hope like hell that they will admit the obvious logical conclusion.

    And you know what? Your hope will be dashed roughly 80% of the time. People believe anyone they perceive as authorities -- especially uniformed cops.

  • ||

    Not if I was on the jury.

  • mr simple||

    At the very least, all police interrogations need to be videotaped.

    But that would be an invasion of their privacy an interfere with their administration of justice. Plus the cameras are always malfunctioning and the VHS they are forced to use because of their tiny budgets, the confiscated money obviously earmarked for much needed Hummers, constantly erase themselves or fall behind a filing cabinet or something.

  • Zeb||

    And if tapes are not available to defense attorneys, then the evidence gathered from the interrogation is not admissible. In that case, I bet the equipment would become a lot more reliable.

  • Anomalous||

    Geez, Radley, twice in one morning? My balls can't stand any more kicking.

  • Zeb||

    Interrogations should be video taped. The police should also be required to go out of their way to make sure the suspect gets a lawyer if he wants one. I'm thinking a requirement that they stop interrogation every 5 minutes to ask "would you like a lawyer now?". It is sickening that to police, the rights of the accused are largely seen as legal technicalities to be avoided in clever ways.

  • Officer Jackboot||

    Everyone we arrest is guilty of something. What does it matter if we charge them with something that they did not do? At least they'll pay for something they DID do, even if we did not know about it. And, besides, we need to continue to prove to the public WHY THEY NEED US!

  • ||

    ..and again I have to point out, that's what the general public sees on TV. The noble cop/detective/DA is always finding clever ways to get around the system to get the bad guy. I've noted this in other posts, but I cannot watch police dramas anymore, the wife doesn't like me constantly yelling at the screen: "Shut Up and get a lawyer...NO ! you Don't have to talk to the cops."

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    This guy in Virginia was just released today after spending 27 years in prison for rapes that DNA evidence now shows he did not commit.

    The weird thing is, after he was convicted and imprisoned, the rapes continued, but evidently nobody thought that meant anything.

  • ||

    This is what baffles me, a little.

    When cops and the DA railroad the wrong man, that means the real criminal is still out there, doing crimes.

    I wish I could say I was mystified that damn near the entire law enforcement community is unconcerned by this, but its all too easy to understand the mindset that allows them not to be. The phrase "banality of evil" comes to mind.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    This is what baffles me, a little.

    When cops and the DA railroad the wrong man, that means the real criminal is still out there, doing crimes.

    I wish I could say I was mystified that damn near the entire law enforcement community is unconcerned by this, but its all too easy to understand the mindset that allows them not to be. The phrase "banality of evil" comes to mind.


    According to the article, the DNA evidence pointed to a convicted rapist.

    Of whose rape was that rapist convicted?

  • Nothing succeeds like failure||

    When cops and the DA railroad the wrong man, that means the real criminal is still out there, doing crimes.

    You can get ONE conviction of the real criminal or you can get the same number of convictions by convicting an innocent. As a bonus, the crimes continue and you can get a second conviction on another person. At some point, there is no incentive to actually convict the real criminal.

    It's not a justice system, it's a numbers game; the justice system doesn't even give a shit about the victims anymore.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    You can get ONE conviction of the real criminal or you can get the same number of convictions by convicting an innocent. As a bonus, the crimes continue and you can get a second conviction on another person. At some point, there is no incentive to actually convict the real criminal.

    It's not a justice system, it's a numbers game; the justice system doesn't even give a shit about the victims anymore.


    So why are people not rebelling against the criminal justice syatem?

    Why is not the network media focusing on this, instead of trying to blame Sarah Palin for the attempted murder of Gabrielle Giffords?

  • The Joker||

    Hmmm? You know... You know what I've noticed? Nobody panics when things go "according to plan." Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all "part of the plan." But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

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