Criminal Justice

Florida Sees Its 12th Exoneration

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Last week, James Bain was released from a Florida prison after serving 35 years for a crime he didn't commit. DNA testing finally cleared Bain of raping a young boy in 1974.

Bain is the 12th exonoree in Florida since the onset of DNA testing. Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell, who has pursued the phony Florida dog handler cases I've written about previously, is calling on the state to set up an innocence commission.

Already, three men convicted with help from a discredited dog handler — who manufactured bogus evidence to connect suspects with crimes — have been exonerated after spending years, even decades, behind bars.

But the dog handler testified in many more cases. And judicial activists are convinced others were wrongfully convicted.

Yet the men who could actually do something about that — Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Brevard-Seminole State Attorney Norm Wolfinger — have refused to conduct an investigation.

Instead, these three career politicians have argued that it's up to the defendants themselves to prove their own innocence … from behind bars … and without resources.

Then, in cases where the wrongfully convicted are finally freed, they respond: See, the system works!

The lack of shame and humanity is appalling…

"If there's one thing these guys have in common," said Centurion Ministries attorney Paul Casteleiro, "it's that they are all guys nobody will miss."

They didn't have the resources to mount vigorous defenses when they were first charged — or knowledgeable attorneys who could combat the tactics, such as jail-house snitches, that are so often used to convict them.

This is a common refrain from state officials and prosecutors. "It isn't our job to find innocent people in the prisons." Even in jurisdictions where there's every reason to believe an unusually high number of innocent people have been convicted. They threw the state's resources at putting the people behind bars in the first place, but argue it's the responsibility of the wrongly convicted themselves or cash-strapped non-profit groups like the Innocence Project to bring the cases to the attention of the courts—usually as the same prosecutor offices fight them every step of the way.

It makes what Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins is doing all the more remarkable—and commendable.

Related: The Washington Post has a strong editorial decrying the delayed justice in the case of Donald Gates, also freed last week after serving 27 years for a rape and murder in Washington, D.C. He was convicted due to testimony from a fraudulent FBI crime lab worker and lies from a paid FBI informant. DNA testing showed he didn't commit the crime.

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  1. Not to be outdone by snowballer-hunting cops, Balko takes a story about a miscarriage of justice being righted and makes sure to remind you that next prosecutors could be eyeing you up for your very own 35 years behind bars.

    1. A “miscarriage of justice being righted“? You’re not serious are you? The first part is a gross understatement and the last is a laughable overstatement.

      1. If you would have bothered to look at my face as I typed that comment, you would know that I am never not serious.

  2. Ah, yes. The good news –

    Last week, James Bain was released from a Florida prison after serving 35 years for a crime he didn’t commit. DNA testing finally cleared Bain of raping a young boy in 1974.

    followed by a reminder that justice is just a goddam cynical game for far too many.

    Yet the men who could actually do something about that ? Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Brevard-Seminole State Attorney Norm Wolfinger ? have refused to conduct an investigation.

    Instead, these three career politicians have argued that it’s up to the defendants themselves to prove their own innocence ? from behind bars ? and without resources.

  3. “It isn’t our job to find innocent people in the prisons.”

    Yep, actually delivering justice is far less important than a conviction rate. At least as far as the next election matters.

    1. Well, then whose job is it?

      1. Christ on a Cracker, Could you put that on ebay?

  4. Privatized courts will have only exonerations the exonerees can pay for.

    1. Get cancer, then die in a fire after a year of chemo administered by a goddamn synchrotron, you microdick fucko.

      1. Tell it what you really think!

      2. Stick your insults up you fat ass, you righting dildo.

        1. Dude (tomcat?), you got pwned badly and your comeback was overwhelming.

  5. Florida has a law that gives $50,000/year of false imprisonment, so 1.75 million tax free to Mr. Bain…

    …seems like far too little a price for half your life.

    1. Actually, not too far off, once taxes kick in: NYT

      1. Right.

        I’m just saying, ask a random person whether they’d be willing to be locked away for 35 years in exchange for 1.75 million and I find it hard to believe that anyone would agree to it.

        Christ, I wonder whether anyone would agree to it for even 100 million.

        1. The cited article says that the research says your wrong. Just saying.

          1. Because I can’t tell whether or not you’re being serious (as a limitation of this medium), I’ll respond just in case you are.

            No, that’s not what it’s saying at all. The research is speaking about the estimation of a human’s worth in terms of their likely contribution to society and how they should be valued when making economic policy, NOT in terms of how humans value their own life.

            So while very few people will be able to attain 100 million dollars, that doesn’t mean they don’t consider their life worth that much or even way more.

            I would be shocked if more than a fraction of a percent of the population would be willing to sacrifice 35 years of their life for ANY amount of money.

  6. Crist, Ira McCollum, et al are full of shit; it IS their job to make sure innocent people are not in jail. That is, if their job is to uphold the Constitution of the State of Florida and to insure Justice is carried out.

    These fuckers are pure asshats ans all involved should be set out to the street with the rest of the maggot-infest garbage next election cycle.

    And right-on, Maxwell; good job in keeping the screws turned on to these cheap bastards.

  7. The Washington Post has a strong editorial decrying the delayed justice in the case of Donald Gates, also freed last week after serving 27 years for a rape and murder in Washington, D.C. He was convicted due to testimony from a fraudulent FBI crime lab worker and lies from a paid FBI informant. DNA testing showed he didn’t commit the crime.[italics added]

    Which brings up SCOTUS and the revisiting of Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts

    “Already data and anecdotal evidence are demonstrating an overwhelming negative impact,” a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by 26 attorneys general last month said. The decision, they said, “is already proving unworkable.”

    As much as I hate to be the one to break this news to the AGs, already data and anecdotal evidence are demonstrating an overwhelming reasonable doubt about the accuracy, and integrity of crime lab procedures and technicians.

    I guess we wouldn’t want anything like fair trials to slow the administration of the justice conviction system, would we.

    1. Screwed up my first link (you used to be able to op-test your links in preview. I miss that*), oh well, try, try again..

      * As much as I bitch about various format and technical shortcomings of H&R, I’ve got to say site search here is friggin’ awesomely useful.

    2. The decision Constitution, they said, “is already proving unworkable.”

      So amend it, motherfuckers.

  8. Great.

    Now we have more potential recruits for Al Qaeda and Hamas.

  9. This man should receive $1m / year at least — not just as compensation, but as punishment against those who imprisoned him. (Namely, us.) Can you imagine being this poor guy, languishing for 35 years for something he didn’t do? I feel sick.

    1. Would not such a person seek vengeance against America?

  10. Stuff like this pisses me off to no end. What’s worse is all the “He deserves to get raped in prison, because he molested a kid” probably made his life a living hell. $50,000 grand a year? He deserves a shit load more and a free cockpunch to every motherfucking prosecutor, cop, and judge involved in the case.

  11. Not necessarily. It’s quite possible that such a man might have found some sort of spiritual englightenment and realizes that hatred and vengence would only eat him up inside.

    1. In that case, we could always set up a carnival-style “Cockpunch-A-Cop” booth to deliver the balance.

      The trouble would be that I’d be too busy doing the deed to sell any tickets.

  12. “It isn’t our job to find innocent people in the prisons.”

    I love how they completely don’t care that the people you really committed these terrible crimes are still out there.

    1. A jury convicted him, therefore he is the one who committed the crime. End of story. Now excuse me while I go take some more dangerous black people off the street.

  13. Hallelujuh, Amen. All the best to you.

  14. “It isn’t our job to find innocent people in the prisons.”

    Wow!! …. just WoW!! Talk about a cog in a machine.

  15. Sadly, the lesson some will take from belated exonerations, with respect to capital cases at least, is that we need to get these people executed in a more timely manner so as to avoid messy questions. Better to execute a few innocent people than risk letting the occasional guilty one go free.

  16. As we build our great nation, we should remember: “God is not mocked.”

    “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.”
    Ps 89:14
    “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” Pro 20:13

    It has been an open secret, that too few have been willing to look at, and fewer to ponder, that we pay no attention to exact justice in our justice system. We are satisfied that the guilty are usually convicted, and the unpopular also (so that a few of the rich, and a larger number of the poor are railroaded.) Actual innocence is secondary to other considerations. The power of the state is allowed great leeway in the name of social control.

    To enshrine a better measure of justice (perfection being impossible) will require many changes, which will have consequences. We might be better served not to have an adversarial system. We need to supervise prosecutors more. We might, at the same time, not make procedural errors be a get out of free card for malefactors. Failing that, we need many incremental reforms.

    Until you have seen the system in all its glorious indifference and malfunction, you might not realize that it is only custom and social class that keeps the vast majority of us from being its hapless victims.

    I say this as Barry Scheck’s classmate in college who was as conservative as he was liberal. It is a question of using our wealth and our intelligence to actually pay attention to the individual while maintaining public order and taking our biblical roots seriously.

  17. It isn’t our job to find innocent people in the prisons.

    And that means, as has always been the case, that the private sector will do the job for them.

    The quoted statement is truly breathtaking for its cluelessness. If the state did take this upon themselves, it would ameliorate the damage. Now, each time an outside organization finds a case of actual innocence, the state is doubly on the hook — first for false conviction, then for failing to pursue real innocence.

  18. This is a common refrain from state officials and prosecutors. “It isn’t our job to find innocent people in the prisons.”

    Umm, yes it is? It is your job to abide by the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Any punishment of an innocent person is cruel and unusual, ergo, it is your Constitutional duty to find and release innocent people who are behind bars.

    Was that so hard?

  19. ‘This is a common refrain from state officials and prosecutors. “It isn’t our job to find innocent people in the prisons.”‘

    In that case, quit filing prosecutions in the name of the state, or the people. File prosecutions in the name of the particular police department which believes the defendant is guilty. They’re the ones you represent, apparently, not the entire people of a state – a group which includes the person you’re prosecuting, and their family and friends.

    Filing prosecutions in the name of the entire people is a silly piece of grandiosity. It also suggests that the prosecutors, as representatives of the ‘people,’ share the interests of the people in doing justice to all parties, which would include innocent accused.

    And isn’t it time to stop with the jailhouse snitches – or at least to reinstate the doctrine of infamy. If someone is convicted of a felony involving dishonesty, he shouldn’t be allowed to swear away someone else’s liberty or property.

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