Wrongly Convicted


American Bar Association Report - PDF Document
Gideon's Broken Prommise:  America's continuing Quest for Equal Justice

 

 http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-02-11-wrongly-convicted_x.htm 

Report: Thousands wrongly convicted each year

WASHINGTON (AP) Thousands of suspects unable to afford lawyers are wrongly convicted each year because they are pressured to accept guilty pleas or have incompetent attorneys, the American Bar Association says in a report.

The study by a committee of the nation's largest lawyers' group says that legal representation of indigents is in "a state of crisis." These defendants are at constant risk of wrongful conviction and unjust punishment, including the death penalty, according to the study being released Friday.

"The fundamental right to a lawyer that Americans assume apply to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the United States," the study states. "All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights."

The ABA committee wants Congress and local governments to spend more money and create oversight groups to guard against shoddy legal representation. Judges also are asked to be more vigilant in ensuring defendants have competent counsel.

It has been more than 40 years since the Supreme Court ruled the government must provide legal counsel to indigent defendants who are charged with serious crimes.

The report comes one week after President Bush called for more training for lawyers who represent accused killers and greater use of DNA testing. That proposal is not on the agenda at the ABA winter meeting in Salt Lake City, which runs through Tuesday.

The ABA study points to people like Brandon Moon of Kansas City, Mo., who served nearly 17 years for the rape of an El Paso, woman before DNA tests determined he was not responsible; and Ryan Matthews, a Louisiana man who sat on death row for five years before he was exonerated.

More than 150 people who were convicted in 31 states and the District of Columbia served a total of 1,800 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. All were exonerated due to DNA evidence.

"The challenge is coming up with politically viable ways to fix the problem," said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who tracks death penalty cases. "The long-term costs of underfunding defense counsel are hard to see when a state is facing budget crises.

"Needless to say, criminals or accused criminals are not a very powerful lobby or a group that particularly draws sympathy for more dollars and cents," Berman said.

The report also pointed to negligent or otherwise unprepared lawyers, leading to faulty convictions or more serious punishment. No formal training existed for lawyers for the indigent in Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, which puts more people to death than any other state.

In the majority of states surveyed, money for prosecutors outpaced public defenders. For example, California allocates defense counsel an average of $60.90 for every $100 the prosecution receives.

In the South, the report cited a problem of "meet 'em and plead 'em lawyers" where lawyers in states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia often negotiate a plea agreement the first day they meet their clients.

In Texas, Rhode Island and elsewhere, legal experts reported incdances where indigent clients languished in jail for months without access to a lawyer or were improperly urged by prosecutors to accept plea deals without a lawyer present.

The report recommends that:

_states provide money for public defenders that is on par with prosecutors.

_states establish oversight organizations to police potential abuses such as forced plea agreements or otherwise negligent or inadequate counsel.

_lawyers refuse new cases if workloads are so excessive that id would substantially impair their defense preparation.

_judges report prosecutors who seek to obtain waivers of counsel and guilty pleas that are not voluntary and on the record.

The study was based on research and testimony gathered from 22 states. The states are: Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Washington.



 http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-02-11-wrongly-convicted_x.htm

Report: Thousands wrongly convicted each year 

WASHINGTON (AP) Thousands of suspects unable to afford lawyers are wrongly convicted each year because they are pressured to accept guilty pleas or have incompetent attorneys, the American Bar Association says in a report.
The study by a committee of the nation's largest lawyers' group says that legal representation of indigents is in "a state of crisis." These defendants are at constant risk of wrongful conviction and unjust punishment, including the death penalty, according to the study being released Friday.

"The fundamental right to a lawyer that Americans assume apply to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the United States," the study states. "All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights."

The ABA committee wants Congress and local governments to spend more money and create oversight groups to guard against shoddy legal representation. Judges also are asked to be more vigilant in ensuring defendants have competent counsel.

It has been more than 40 years since the Supreme Court ruled the government must provide legal counsel to indigent defendants who are charged with serious crimes.

The report comes one week after President Bush called for more training for lawyers who represent accused killers and greater use of DNA testing. That proposal is not on the agenda at the ABA winter meeting in Salt Lake City, which runs through Tuesday.

The ABA study points to people like Brandon Moon of Kansas City, Mo., who served nearly 17 years for the rape of an El Paso, woman before DNA tests determined he was not responsible; and Ryan Matthews, a Louisiana man who sat on death row for five years before he was exonerated.

More than 150 people who were convicted in 31 states and the District of Columbia served a total of 1,800 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. All were exonerated due to DNA evidence.

"The challenge is coming up with politically viable ways to fix the problem," said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who tracks death penalty cases. "The long-term costs of underfunding defense counsel are hard to see when a state is facing budget crises.

"Needless to say, criminals or accused criminals are not a very powerful lobby or a group that particularly draws sympathy for more dollars and cents," Berman said.

The report also pointed to negligent or otherwise unprepared lawyers, leading to faulty convictions or more serious punishment. No formal training existed for lawyers for the indigent in Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, which puts more people to death than any other state.

In the majority of states surveyed, money for prosecutors outpaced public defenders. For example, California allocates defense counsel an average of $60.90 for every $100 the prosecution receives.

In the South, the report cited a problem of "meet 'em and plead 'em lawyers" where lawyers in states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia often negotiate a plea agreement the first day they meet their clients.

In Texas, Rhode Island and elsewhere, legal experts reported incdances where indigent clients languished in jail for months without access to a lawyer or were improperly urged by prosecutors to accept plea deals without a lawyer present.

The report recommends that:

_states provide money for public defenders that is on par with prosecutors.

_states establish oversight organizations to police potential abuses such as forced plea agreements or otherwise negligent or inadequate counsel.

_lawyers refuse new cases if workloads are so excessive that id would substantially impair their defense preparation.

_judges report prosecutors who seek to obtain waivers of counsel and guilty pleas that are not voluntary and on the record.

The study was based on research and testimony gathered from 22 states. The states are: Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Washington.



December 1, 2004 

LOS ANGELES
Man Wrongly Imprisoned for 24 Years Files Civil Rights Suit
Thomas Goldstein, who was falsely convicted of murder, seeks damages from Long Beach, Los Angeles County and other defendants.
 

By Henry Weinstein, Times Staff Writer

Thomas L. Goldstein, who spent 24 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of murder, said Tuesday that he has filed a civil rights suit in federal court in Los Angeles that seeks damages from Long Beach, Los Angeles County, four police officers and two prosecutors.

"There is no way to give me back those 24 years," said Goldstein, 55, who announced the lawsuit at a news conference at the Pasadena offices of Kaye, McLane & Bednarski, the law firm representing him. "No way to give me a career, a wife, a family all those things I had for myself when I was arrested all those years ago.

"Throughout my 24 years of incarceration, I expected the system to work," Goldstein said.

He added that the system had failed him many times before he secured his freedom last April. Five federal judges ruled that his constitutional rights had been violated, and a state court judge dismissed the charges "in furtherance of justice."

He cited a lack of evidence against Goldstein and the "cancerous nature" of the case.

"I am immensely grateful for the work of the federal public defender's office and other people who helped me, but justice has not been done yet," said Goldstein, a former Marine who served in Vietnam. "Today, I ask for justice. I ask the city of Long Beach and the county of Los Angeles to make amends."

Goldstein, a native of Kansas, was convicted of the November 1979 shotgun slaying of John McGinest in Long Beach.

His conviction was based largely on both the testimony of a notorious jailhouse informant and an eyewitness who later recanted.

Goldstein, who was a Long Beach City College student at the time, has steadfastly maintained his innocence. No physical evidence tied him to the crime and no evidence existed that he had ever met the murder victim. Most of the witnesses who saw the slaying identified the killer as black or Mexican American and several said the gunman was considerably larger than Goldstein.

Goldstein's suit asserts that four Long Beach police officers worked with a jailhouse informant to fabricate testimony that Goldstein confessed the murder to him when they were cellmates. The complaint also said the officers improperly influenced one witness, Loran Campbell, to identify Goldstein as the killer. 

In the suit, Goldstein's lawyers assert that during his preliminary hearing and trial, prosecutors sat mute as the jailhouse informant, Edward F. Fink, committed perjury when he said that he was receiving no benefits for his testimony against Goldstein.

In reality, Fink received significant benefits for his testimony, a point made by federal judges who overturned Goldstein's conviction. Prosecutors dropped one case against him and reduced charges in another. Fink, who had three felony convictions and a heroin habit, was arrested at least 35 times, including 14 times in Long Beach. He died in 1994. 

The district attorney's failure to tell the defense about the deal denied Goldstein a fair trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert N. Block ruled in November 2002. That conclusion was later ratified by four other federal judges.

Goldstein's suit contends that now-retired Long Beach Police Officers John Henry Miller and William MacLyman and other unknown members of the department "illegally influenced Mr. Campbell's identification by pointing to Mr. Goldstein as the perpetrator of the crime," when they showed him a picture of Goldstein in photos of potential suspects.

Block also ruled that Campbell's original testimony against Goldstein was false and that his recantation in 2002 was credible. 

The suit also asserts that Long Beach engaged in a pattern and practice of acting with deliberate indifference and reckless disregard for the constitutional rights of Goldstein and others through their training and supervision of the police officers. In addition, the suit contends that Los Angeles County acted with reckless disregard toward Goldstein's rights by permitting jailhouse informants to testify falsely and commit perjury.

"Like most of us, Tom Goldstein believed in the criminal justice system, but the system failed him miserably," said attorney Ronald O. Kaye. "All along the way, the system proved that where police officers fabricate evidence and prosecutors permit perjury and give their stamp of approval for this outrageous conduct, the system is not only broken, it was corrupt."

Kaye's co-counsel, David S. McLane, said Goldstein's case was not an aberration. He emphasized that the Los Angeles County Grand Jury had issued a special report in 1990 that chastised the district attorney's office for the misuse of jailhouse informants between 1979 and 1990. 

McLane said Tuesday that the extensive use of jailhouse informants "created an absurd system of justice where the word of known perjurers was believed over innocent men like Thomas Goldstein."

Attorney Marilyn Bednarski said that another key aspect of Goldstein's suit involves the actions of Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys Ann Ingalls and Patrick Connolly to keep Goldstein in jail for an additional four months after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had twice ordered that he be released in December 2003.

Bednarski said the prosecutors exceeded their lawful authority by faxing orders to prison officials to not release Goldstein until a detective had been sent from Los Angeles to pick him up and keep him in custody.

Last June, after investigating this issue, U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian issued a tartly worded order that criticized the prosecutors' conduct.

"This court condemns and censors" Connolly and Ingalls "for their cavalier attitude, ethical amnesia and questionable conduct in issuing a detainer that did not comply with" the California Penal Code, Tevrizian wrote. Last week, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that order.

On Tuesday, Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, issued a one-sentence statement regarding Connolly and Ingalls: "Their actions were fully supported by the law and were properly undertaken when reviewing whether or not to proceed with retrial of a murder case."

The Long Beach Police Department declined to comment except to say that the four officers had retired after long careers. "They had years of homicide experience," Sgt. David Cannan said.

MacLyman declined to comment when reached by phone. The Times was unable to reach Miller or the other two retired officers William Collette and Logan Wren who are named defendants. County Counsel Ray Fortner said he had not had time to review the suit. The Long Beach city attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Goldstein, now a paralegal, said Tuesday that he was working on a case involving conditions at a jail in Orange County where he had interviewed inmates. Asked about that, he smiled and said, "I kinda liked the idea of being able to walk out." 



 http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-goldstein3apr03,1,944093.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Inmate Finally Freed as D.A. Backs Off
Wrongly convicted of murder, he is ordered released after 24 years behind bars. He says he may bring suit against authorities.
By Henry Weinstein and Christiana Sciaudone
Times Staff Writers

April 3, 2004

Thomas Lee Goldstein, wrongfully imprisoned for murder for 24 years, was freed Friday by a Long Beach Superior Court judge after the Los Angeles County district attorney's office finally conceded it had no case against him.

"I'm nervous and anxious and uncertain about the future, but I am glad to be out," Goldstein, a 55-year-old former Marine, said outside the Long Beach courthouse moments after his release.

A native of Kansas, Goldstein has always maintained his innocence in the November 1979 shotgun slaying of John McGinest on a Long Beach street. He had been living in a garage in a neighborhood near the scene of the murder and attending Long Beach City College.

He was convicted on the basis of testimony from a jailhouse informant and an eyewitness who later recanted.

In recent years, five federal judges agreed that Goldstein's constitutional rights had been violated by the district attorney's office during his 1980 trial.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge James B. Pierce ordered Goldstein released after a prosecutor told the judge that the district attorney's office was unable to retry him.

Earlier this week, Pierce dealt a critical blow to prosecutors' case when he ruled that they could not present testimony from Loran Campbell, the eyewitness who recanted his testimony in 2002 and died last year.

"In light of the court's previous ruling on the trial testimony of Loran Campbell, the people are unable to proceed," Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick Connolly said.

Goldstein looked numb as his nearly a quarter of a century in custody came to an end after a two-minute hearing.

After Connolly dismissed the charges, defense lawyer Charles L. Linder asked the judge to rule that the district attorney's office could not charge Goldstein again because this was the second time this year that a Superior Court judge had dismissed the case. Connolly had no objection and the judge agreed.

Lindner and Goldstein's lead attorney, Dale M. Rubin, briefly embraced their client before Goldstein left the courtroom. Rubin later drove Goldstein to a downtown Veterans Affairs center to meet with social workers, who he hopes will help facilitate his reentry to society.

Goldstein said he planned eventually to move back to Kansas, where his mother lives.

Wearing yellow and white jail clothes, Goldstein said he had been meditating to help ease the bitterness he felt toward those who tried him on the basis of two highly suspect witnesses.

Goldstein also indicated that he was considering a lawsuit against authorities.

Earlier in the day, Goldstein said he had been skeptical about whether authorities would set him free. He had been held even after a panel of three judges of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December that his constitutional rights had been violated and ordered his immediate release. After state and local officials failed to comply, the Justice Department initiated a criminal probe, which is pending in Los Angeles.

Goldstein's attorneys said they were pleased at Friday's outcome. But both expressed disgust that Goldstein had been imprisoned for so long on thin, unreliable evidence.

"They had nothing," Rubin said. "No fingerprints. No forensic evidence. No gun."

Linder said, "This was nothing but pure, outrageous false imprisonment."

In continuing to push the case the last four months, the district attorney's office engaged in "a display of prosecutorial chutzpah nearly equal to the mendacity it employed to secure the defendant's original conviction," Lindner declared outside the courtroom.

Sandi Gibbons, public information officer for Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, gave reporters a prepared three-paragraph statement that said Goldstein had been convicted by a jury, and that the verdict had been upheld by state appellate courts. The statement said the conviction had been overturned on the basis of the eyewitness Campbell "who, after two decades, recanted his identification of the defendant."

"When jury verdicts are overturned, it is incumbent upon a public prosecutor to make sure the evidence is reinvestigated, witnesses are reinterviewed and all legal and investigative avenues are explored as a decision is made on a retrial," the statement continued.

"In the Goldstein case, the available evidence was tested in court at this week's hearing," Gibbons said, referring to a Tuesday session at which Judge Pierce rejected the prosecution's attempt to use the transcript of Campbell's testimony from the 1980 trial.

Rubin contended that the testimony had been doubly discredited. Campbell had recanted, and the 9th Circuit ruling had held that Long Beach police had been "impermissibly suggestive" in helping Campbell identify Goldstein at trial.

"What the district attorney was trying to do was recycle the constitutional violations from 25 years ago and use them now to get a retrial against Mr. Goldstein, which does seem outrageous," Rubin said Friday, referring to the argument he had made in court earlier.

Pierce agreed, finding that the transcripts were not reliable and were inadmissible.

Because of Pierce's ruling, "we are unable to proceed with this case and asked the court to dismiss the murder charge against the defendant," Gibbons said. "In making this decision, we pursued all legal avenues."

After numerous appellate setbacks in the state courts his first job in prison was as a janitor, which gave him access to the prison library and its law books Goldstein's long journey through the federal appellate system gained new life in July 1990.

At that time, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, after a yearlong investigation, issued a detailed report stating that, from 1979 to 1990, the district attorney's office had tolerated suspected perjury by jailhouse informants as a way to win murder cases.

By doing so, the grand jury said, the district attorney's office "failed to fulfill the ethical responsibilities required of a public prosecutor."

Goldstein cited the grand jury's report in appeals filed from prison. He said snitch Edward F. Fink had lied when he said Goldstein had confessed to him in jail.

Eventually, Goldstein persuaded a federal court that he was entitled to an attorney to investigate his case.

Federal public defender Sean Kennedy began representing Goldstein, and his investigator, Terry Rearick, tracked down Campbell, leading to the recanting of the testimony Campbell had given against Goldstein.

Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert N. Block eventually issued a 73-page opinion in November 2002, striking down Goldstein's conviction.

Block's opinion and the subsequent 9th Circuit ruling made it clear that Campbell's recantation had not been the sole basis for the overturning of Goldstein's conviction, as suggested by the formal statement from the district attorney's office on Friday.

Beyond the problems with Campbell's testimony, the federal judges emphasized the prosecution's use of Fink, the jailhouse informant, who testified that Goldstein had confessed to the murder when the two were briefly incarcerated together in the Long Beach city jail.

Fink, a longtime informant with three felony convictions and a heroin habit, testified falsely that he had received nothing in return for his testimony.

In reality, prosecutors had agreed to drop one case against him and to reduce the charges in another case. The district attorney's failure to tell the defense about the deal denied Goldstein a fair trial, Block said.

Block noted that Campbell had first told police he was "not sure" Goldstein was the man he had seen carrying a gun the night of the murder. Then, at the preliminary hearing and the trial, Campbell testified he was positive about his identification.

Twenty years later, after investigator Rearick tracked him down, Campbell signed a sworn declaration saying that "the photo of Mr. Goldstein differed from the person I saw."

Before he testified, Campbell was told by police that Goldstein had failed a polygraph examination, which was not true, and that police were sure he was the killer.

At a hearing in 2002, Campbell said of his 1980 testimony: "Believing the police had arrested the right person and believing that the police wanted me to identify the photograph they had selected, I put my doubts aside and tentatively identified the photograph of Mr. Goldstein."

Block said notes turned over by the district attorney's office years later included a memo written by the prosecutor handling the case, who said, "This case was filed in great haste. Filing officers assure me that it will get stronger."

But Block concluded, "It did not."

His findings were upheld by U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian in Los Angeles and the three 9th Circuit judges.

"By obtaining Goldstein's conviction through the use of testimony known to be false, the prosecution violated Goldstein's rights to due process of law," 9th Circuit Judges Kim M. Wardlaw, Betty B. Fletcher and Jerome Faris wrote.

They gave prosecutors 60 days to decide if they would retry Goldstein, sending the case back to Long Beach. Early in February, Superior Court Judge Arthur Jean dismissed the case against Goldstein, saying there was "at least the appearance of impropriety" in the prosecutors' use of Fink.

Within hours, however, the district attorney's office refiled the case against Goldstein and announced plans to retry him.

The case was then assigned to Judge Pierce, setting the stage for this week's hearings.

Reached by phone Friday in Topeka, Kan., Goldstein's mother, Geri, 76, was jubilant.

"You can't imagine how I'm feeling," she said. "What a wonderful gift for Passover. Freedom at last!"
 


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