Americans And Mass Wrongful Convictions – Prosecutors Addicted To Prosecutorial Misconduct


Growing Number Of Inmates Found Innocent In US Prisons

Published on Feb 11, 2015

An increasing number of prisoners are being set free after they were found to have been wrongly convicted, according to a new report from the University of Michigan that is raising eyebrows. Breaking down the 125 exonerations in 2014, the study’s authors found that the defendants in 47 cases had originally pleaded guilty despite being innocent, and in 58 instances, no crime had actually been committed. RT’s Manuel Rapalo explores.

America’s Guilt Mill – Thousands of Americans, many of them poor, are wrongfully convicted each year for crimes that don’t make headlines. While innocence advocates focus on lifers, those falsely accused of lesser crimes are the overlooked casualties of our overburdened courts.


Study Estimates Alarming Wrongful Conviction Rate On Death Row – Dr. Gross estimated that 4.1 percent of convictions resulting in a death sentence are wrongful convictions. This is an alarming number, especially when understood in context. Specifically, if death row convictions are that wrong so frequently, it is very likely that wrongful convictions occur even more often in cases with less serious consequences.


National Registry of Exonerations:  2014 was Record-breaking with 125 Exonerations in U.S. – For the first time, more than 100 exonerations were recorded in the United States in one year. According to The National Registry of Exonerations Report for 2014, 125 exonerations of innocent criminal defendants mark an increase of 34 over the prior record of 91 in 2012 and 91 again in 2013. The report notes the work of Conviction Integrity Units in the increase.

The 24-page report, released on January 27, 2015, is available (here).

An information graphic illustrating patterns and trends can be viewed (here).



America We’ve Got A Problem! 

Prosecutors, Judges And Misconduct

Data Report: More Than 2,000 False Convictions In Past 23 Years They Allot Over 10,000 Years! 

Innocent Death Row Inmate Of 17 Years Now Performing On Center Stage

Montana, are you really going to try to justify and get away with the fact that your incarceration rate is higher than any other state around you and with only a population of 1 million?  The Montana Department of Corrections and Montana Department of Justice are trying to say that violent crime is on the increase, that crime itself is on the increase….yet….


Does perjury and misconduct by officials count as part of that crime increase, Montana? 

2012 In Review! Thank You, We Are Going To Make A Difference!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 42,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 10 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.


Montana Public Defender’s Office Does Not Have The Funds To Match The High Level Of Cases From County Attorneys

State Public Defender’s Office says it’s short on resources

Posted on June 21, 2012 by 

The State Public Defender’s Office continues to tell state lawmakers it needs more money. A legislative committee heard a report today outlining how the office is short on resources. The public defenders will have to compete with many other requests for a piece of the state’s projected budget surplus.

Before the State Public Defender’s Office was created, people unable to afford their own defense received help at the County level.

The Montana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued saying the county-controlled method was inconsistent—that some counties were not providing adequate public defense. So the Legislature created the State Office. It has been operating since 2006.

“But from day one the state has refused to put forward the money that’s necessary to make that commitment meaningful,” said ACLU Public Policy Director Niki Zupanic.

Both the ACLU and American University have released reports saying the state office is  not providing adequate services either. Now, the Public Defender’s Office itself has released a response to those reports that agrees in many ways.

“We are at a point where our ability to perform the mission of providing affective assistance of council becomes more and more in doubt because of lack of resources,” said the Chair of the State Public Defender Commission, Fritz Gillespie.

He says public defenders make far less than their peers in private practice—and they face unreasonable workloads. As an example, he says handling 400 misdemeanor cases a year is considered a national standard for a public defender. He then points to one Montana public defender who within six months had 260 active cases at once.

The ACLU’s Niki Zupanic agrees better management has led to a more efficient office. But she says that doesn’t entirely get to the heart of the matter—the caseloads are still going up and the funding is not keeping pace.

“The state needs to think again about the wisdom of trying to low-ball this office of trying to make this office either decrease services or try to do more with less. It’s not working, and it’s time for the state to match the commitment it’s made in creating this office with the dollars necessary to meet that constitutional obligation,” she said.

To Continue Reading And Listen:

— Clients whose cases were harmed by negligent or substandard representation. One client sat in jail for 30 days before bailing out, without help from his public defender, and then was unable to get a response from her about his court date. When he went to the courthouse to inquire, he was told that neither he nor his attorney showed up for a hearing, and he was arrested.

Another client with a drinking problem said his defender had recommended he start serving a 10-year sentence, but the client, on his own, worked out a treatment plan with the judge and was able to avoid prison.

Jim Taylor, a Missoula attorney who resigned from the Public Defender Commission in January, said the same type of problems chronicled in the ACLU report surfaced three years ago and led to a review of the system by American University.

The AU report also listed those problems, and the current leadership of the system has largely failed to address them, he said in his Jan. 11 resignation letter to Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Read more:

The Missoulian State Bureau spoke with several current and some former employees of the office. None wanted to be identified by name, for fear of jeopardizing their employment. But they described a work environment that has justifiably driven out many of their former co-workers. Here is a sample:

Several employees talked about their “crushing caseloads.” Several said they have or had so many clients, they feel they are constantly on the verge of committing legal malpractice. Many spoke of having no mentoring, no help when they need it, which is a “huge issue,” one lawyer said, because so much of the legal staff are fairly recent law school grads.

Read more:

  • Montana has a very high incarceration rate and County Attorneys plan on that number rising higher.  With the Public Defenders office not having the funds that is needed nor enough help that is needed, no wonder they have to plea bargain so much.  County Attorneys pretty well have everything tied up neatly.  No wonder we’ve seen a County Attorney and Probation Officer laughing and looking at the individual and family after they have sentenced someone. 

National Institute Of Justice Releases Postconviction DNA and Wrongful Conviction Study

English: DNA replication or DNA synthesis is t...

English: DNA replication or DNA synthesis is the process of copying a double-stranded DNA molecule. This process is paramount to all life as we know it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NIJ has released a report based on retrospective DNA testing of physical evidence that had been retained in homicide and sexual assault convictions that occurred during a 15-year pre-DNA time period in Virginia. The goal of the study, conducted by the Urban Institute, was to determine if modern DNA testing of probative evidence would confirm the original conviction.

For a variety of reasons (for example, the biological evidence was very old), the DNA testing in two-thirds of the cases yielded “indeterminate” results; that is, testing was not sufficient to determine if the DNA came from the convicted individual. With respect to homicides in the study, indeterminate results rendered the sample size too small for the researchers to make any meaningful conclusions regarding a potential wrongful conviction rate.

With respect to sexual assaults, more than half of the 422 convictions in the study yielded determinate results. In those 227 convictions, testing eliminated the convicted individual as the source of the DNA and may support potential exoneration in 8–15 percent of the convictions.

The study used a unique set of data created after the governor of Virginia in 2005 ordered the DNA-testing of all retained evidence in certain violent-crime convictions. As such, the data and the findings based on them have limitations that should prevent generalizations to other situations. The data were from one state, one time period (1973–1988) and only involved cases in which forensic evidence had been retained. That said, the findings represent one important piece of a growing body of evidence that explores the role of scientific research in the fair and equitable administration of justice in the U.S.

To learn more:

View all recently added publications and multimedia.

Research on DNA‘s Role in Uncovering Wrongful Convictions

On this page find:

About the Study and Findings

In 2008, NIJ funded the Urban Institute to evaluate DNA testing results from a sample of 634 homicide and sexual assault cases (715 convicted offenders) that occurred in Virginia between 1973 and 1987. [1] [2] The goal of the study was to determine what proportion of the people convicted in those cases might be exonerated if evidence that was retained in the cases was DNA tested.

The researchers sorted the DNA test results into four categories:

  • Indeterminate — DNA testing could not determine whether the convicted person was the source of the DNA on the evidence.
  • Inculpatory — DNA testing confirmed that the person convicted was the source of the DNA.
  • Exculpatory but insufficient to support exoneration — DNA testing eliminated the convicted person as the source of the DNA, but elimination was not sufficient to support potential exoneration without additional probative evidence.
  • Exculpatory and supportive of exoneration — DNA testing eliminated the convicted person as the source of the DNA, and that elimination supported potential exoneration.

For a variety of reasons — including the age of the biological evidence — DNA testing in two-thirds of the cases yielded “indeterminate” results, meaning that DNA testing was not sufficient to determine whether the convicted person was the source of the DNA.

Among homicide cases, the high number of indeterminate results meant that the sample size was too small for the researchers to make any meaningful conclusions regarding a potential wrongful conviction rate.

More than half of the sexual assault convictions, however, yielded determinate results: In 227 of 422 convictions for sexual assault, DNA testing was sufficient to determine whether or not the convicted person was the source of the DNA.

In 33 of the sexual assault convictions, DNA testing of probative evidence eliminated the person convicted, and that elimination supported exoneration. The 33 convictions are 8 percent of the total number of sexual assault convictions in the study (422) and 15 percent of the convictions in the study that yielded determinate results (227).

Study Context and Limitations

It is important to keep in mind that the data and the study’s findings have a number of limitations. The study looked at a single state, covered a single 15-year time period and only addressed cases in which forensic evidence had been retained. Additionally, the study did not address non-DNA factors that might have been relevant to the original convictions, such as the method of conviction, type of defense attorney (appointed or retained), and victim and eyewitness identification.

Read a statement from NIJ Director John H. Laub (pdf, 1 page).

Read the full report, Post-Conviction DNA Testing and Wrongful Conviction (pdf, 70 pages).

For more information about NIJ’s initiatives in postconviction DNA testing, see Postconviction DNA Testing Is at Core of Major NIJ Initiatives from the NIJ Journal.


Another Innocent Man Served 25 Years

Evidence of Innocence: The case of Michael Morton

“I did not do this,” Michael Morton said as he was led away in handcuffs, convicted of murdering his wife in 1987. Hardly anyone believed him. Now, after twenty five years in prison, Morton has been proven right and freed based on DNA tests. Morton and his lawyers say they recently discovered something astonishing: sitting in his prosecutor‘s file all those years was evidence that could have established Morton’s innocence during his trial.



The following script is from “Evidence of Innocence” which aired on March 25, 2012. Lara Logan is the correspondent. Andy Court and Anya Bourg, producers.

It’s not every day that a convicted murderer clears his name and then returns to court to argue that his prosecutor should be prosecuted. But that’s what happened recently in a high-profile case in Texas that raises broader questions about the power prosecutors have and what happens when they’re accused of misusing it. At the center of this story is a man named Michael Morton. He was once an ordinary citizen with a wife, a child, a job, and no criminal record whatsoever. But then he was sent to prison for life.

In 1987 in a very public trial, Michael Morton was convicted of brutally murdering his wife. As he was led away to prison, he insisted he was innocent.

[Michael Morton: I did not do this.

Reporter: I’m sorry what?

Michael Morton: I did not do this.]

Hardly anyone believed him until last year when he was exonerated by DNA testing. By then, he had spent nearly 25 years of his life behind bars. 

Lara Logan: What was it like for you to walk from the court a free man? 

Michael Morton: It was so alien at first. It wasn’t quite real. We stepped out of the courtroom and it was a beautiful sunny day. The sun felt so good on my face, on my skin. I can just feel like I was just drinking in the sunshine. 

Lara Logan: Had you felt it in 25 years? 

Michael Morton: I’d felt the sun, but I hadn’t felt free sun.

Lara Logan: And free sun feels different? 

Michael Morton: It does. It sounds stupid, but it feels different. 



His nightmare began on a summer afternoon in 1986 when he came home from work in Austin, Texas and found the sheriff at his house. A neighbor had discovered his 3-year-old son Eric alone in the yard, and his wife Christine bludgeoned to death in the bedroom.

Michael Morton: I didn’t really have the opportunity to grieve for her, because it– everything changed so rapidly away from her to me.

Lara Logan: So were you a suspect from the very first moment?

Michael Morton: Yeah, if– all the questions were adversarial, accusatory. It became clear to me that the sheriff showed up, looked around, and “Okay, husband did this.”

Lara Logan: And not long after that, you were arrested.

Michael Morton: About six weeks, yeah. They literally pulled my son out of my arms ’cause he was screaming for me. And, you know, the little hand is out. And they’re be– he’s being pulled away. That was one of the worst parts.

To Continue Reading:;contentBody

The Innocence Project defended Morton in appealing his life sentence conviction. While testing a bloody bandanna found near the crime scene, the organization was able to match DNA evidence to a man with a criminal record in several states. Authorities have not identified the suspected perpetrator.

Paul Cates, a spokesman for the Innocence Project, told The Los Angeles Times that the organization is now working with the Williamson County district attorney’s office to investigate allegations that prosecutors suppressed evidence that could have cleared Morton years ago. For instance, Cates said there is evidence that someone cashed one of his wife’s checks and user her credit card while Morton was already incarcerated.

In addition, the Innocence Project reports the prosecution kept statements made by Christine Morton’s mother away from the defense. She had said Morton’s her grandson told her he watched his mother get killed and that it was not his father who did it.

Wrongful Accusation: Enormous Damage to One’s Life

Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley told the Austin-American Statesman that he will not file new charges against Morton.

Morton was released on Oct. 4 but was not formally cleared of all charges until Wednesday’s ruling.

Nina Morrison, another lawyer with the Innocence Project, told the Times that Morton is committed to discovering how he could have been wrongfully imprisoned for so long.

“He’s thrilled and relieved and looking forward to the next chapter in his life, but also still determined to get to the bottom of how and why he was wrongfully convicted in the first place and make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Morrison said. “There’s still a lot of unanswered questions and he very much wants answers.”

Morton on prison life: “It eats at you kind of like a rust.”

In 1987, Morton was convicted of beating his wife, Christine, to death. Twenty-five painful years later, he finally cleared his name through DNA evidence, walked out of prison, and began to pick up the pieces of his life.

For the 60 Minutes team who came to know Morton, one of the most emotional parts of this tragic tale was Morton’s estrangement from his son, who was just three at the time of the murder.

“The relationship between Michael Morton and his son, I think, transfixed all of us,” Court told Overtime. “The fact that this little boy saw his mother murdered…and then at the very point when the father needed the son and the son needed the father, they were ripped apart. The son was raised by relatives, no doubt thinking that his father had killed his mother. You can only imagine what it was like for the son to find out, “Oh my God, what people told me was wrong. Dad didn’t kill mom. Dad was an innocent man.”

In this week’s Overtime feature, Court, his co-producer Anya Bourg, and correspondent Lara Logan, tell us more about Morton, his relationship with his son, and his newborn grand-daughter, Christine.

Rebuilds Life After Serving 25 Years In Prison Michael Morton

Life After Prison Michael Morton

What a shame.  I seriously don’t know how some people sleep at night knowing they are playing with others lives.  Friends, we have some innocent people sitting in our prisons right here in Montana.  

U.S. Supreme Court Has Ruled That Defendants Have A Constitutional Right To Effective Assistance Of Counsel In Plea Bargains

High Court Expands Defendants’ Plea Bargain Rights


March 21, 2012

For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that defendants have a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel in plea bargains. In a 5-4 decision Wednesday, the court went further, declaring that when a lawyer acts unethically or gives clearly wrong advice, the defendant may be entitled to a second chance at accepting a plea offer.

The court’s ruling came in two cases. In one, Missouri college student Galin Frye was charged with a felony for a fourth offense of driving with a revoked license. The prosecutor sent Frye’s lawyer a letter offering to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if Frye would plead guilty and agree to a 90-day sentence. The lawyer, however, never informed his client of the offer, and when it expired, an uninformed Frye pleaded guilty with no conditions and was sentenced to three years in prison, more than 10 times the plea bargain offer.

In a second case, Anthony Cooper was charged with assault with intent to murder after he shot a woman in the thigh and buttocks. Prosecutors twice offered a plea deal with a recommended prison term of four to seven years, but Cooper’s lawyer advised him to reject the offer, because the lawyer said Michigan law did not permit an attempted murder conviction for wounds below the waist. The advice was indisputably wrong and Cooper was tried, convicted and sentenced to three times as much prison time.

In both cases, the state conceded that the defense lawyers provided ineffective legal assistance to their clients. But the states contended that didn’t matter since there is no constitutional right to a plea bargain. On Wednesday, however, the Supreme Court rejected that argument by a 5-4 vote.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, shown on Capitol Hill in April 2011, wrote the court's ruling Wednesday that for the most part, plea bargaining determines "who goes to jail and for how long. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system. It is the criminal justice system."

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, shown on Capitol Hill in April 2011, wrote the court’s ruling Wednesday that for the most part, plea bargaining determines “who goes to jail and for how long. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system. It is the criminal justice system.”

To Continue Reading:

I believe that there are cases that need to be re-opened in Montana due to ineffective counsel.  When the ACLU has to step in due to Montana public defenders not doing their jobs for several different reasons there is definitely a problem.  When a public defender in Montana has to lie to her client to enforce a plea bargain that is just plain unethical. 

Defense Plea Bargains

As many as 90% + of all criminal cases are settled by plea bargain. Why are plea bargains so popular with both prosecutors and defense attorneys? For prosecutors, it means not having to prosecute the case which saves time and resources. For defense attorneys, it means potentially saving their client from more serious charges and jail time. Finally, for defendants, it often means receiving a reduced sentence and resolving the matter quickly.

The Benefits of Defense Plea Bargains

From the defense standpoint, the benefits of plea bargaining are numerous. Here are some of the most commonly cited justifications for agreeing to a plea bargain.

  • Trade risk for certainty: one of the primary reasons that defendants agree to plea bargains is simple anxiety. If a case goes to trial, they might get off – but they also might get the maximum sentence. Most people can’t stand living in a state of constant anxiety and prefer certainty, so they sign plea agreements.
  • Avoid jail time: a big reason for agreeing to a plea bargain is to avoid jail time. Not having to go to jail and live with the stigma associated with it, and not being separated from family and friends is a huge incentive to sign a plea agreement.
  • Reduction in charges: the most common form of plea bargain, a reduction in the severity of the charge, is a great benefit to a defendant. A lesser charge looks better on a permanent record, won’t have as serious an impact on future convictions (especially in “three strikes” states) and may not exclude the defendant from a variety of things that those convicted of more serious charges are prohibited from doing (eg, voting)
  • Reduction in sentencing: sometimes the prosecutor does not lower the charge, but rather lessens the sentence sought to something below the maximum allowed sentence for a crime. While not nearly as advantageous as a reduction in the charge, the difference in sentencing can be a matter of years and crucially important to a defendant.
  • Resolve the issue quickly: probably the most practical reason plea bargains are sought is simply to resolve the issue as quickly as possible and move on. It may not be the most “just” outcome, but many defendants simply want to move on with their life.
  • Avoid stigmatizing sentences: several crimes have a severe social stigma attached to them, and plea bargains often recognize this by dropping the most stigmatizing offense (such as rape) in favor of a less stigmatizing offense (like assault).
  • Avoid publicity: one of the biggest tools prosecutors or defendants can use is the media. As a result, many defendants simply want to keep the matter quiet, without dragging the case out in front of the public. (Montana uses the media beforehand to ensure a guilty verdict, they also manipulate the media about plea bargains even with court documents proving that what they are saying is not true.)
  • Avoid hassles: finally, there are a multitude of hassles that come with going to trial. The time, expense and exposure can be exceptionally draining on a defendant, and many defendants will seek a plea bargain just to avoid the circus that may accompany a trial.

Not everyone agrees that plea bargains are really a good deal for defendants, especially where many of the considerations seem to favor time, expense and convenience over justice. Finally, many defendants agree to plea bargains simply out of fear or ignorance in which case no one is well served – the system or the defendant.

If there was a citizen panel that was able to sit in on the meetings with defendants, I wonder if there would be less threats, less plea bargains and less convictions because defendants would finally receive due process.