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From the Editor

This month’s cover story looks at the ongoing scandal at the nation’s crime labs. The problem is so pervasive – PLN has reported on it extensively over the years – that several books could easily be written on the topic. Yet just as wrongful convictions tend to be the exclusive province of the poor, crime lab “mistakes” and “errors” tend to only benefit the police and prosecutors. The reality is that crime labs are as relative to science as the military is to music. The purpose of crime labs is to provide the dramatic props that prosecutors need to convince juries to convict criminal defendants. Nothing more and nothing less.

Tellingly, there is no effort afoot to make crime labs either independent of police and prosecutors or to ensure they have any type of independent oversight. In a truly equal system this would be of little consequence because defendants accused of a crime would simply retain their own experts who would review the evidence and “scientific” conclusions of the prosecution-run crime labs and issue their own reports. After all, science is immutable. Yet the reality is that most defendants are too poor to afford their own counsel much less their own experts, and court-appointed lawyers are left to do little more than cross-examine the professional witnesses from the crime labs with no evidence of their own. This is another component of a criminal justice system designed to control and imprison the poor.

The lack of counsel and legal resources is nowhere more evident than it is for prisoners. By definition, prisoners tend to have a major legal problem which is their confinement, and in many cases it is the conditions in which they are confined as well. While prisoners nominally retain a right to court access, the reality is that substantive barriers prevent most prisoners from gaining meaningful access to the courts in order to present their claims. PLN has recognized this reality since our inception in 1990 and we have long championed self-reliance by prisoners for the simple reason that there is usually no other option.

Thus, I am very pleased to announce that the 4th edition of the Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual is now available from PLN for only $39.95 plus $6 shipping for orders under $50. This book has long been referred to as the bible of jailhouse lawyers and provides a concise means by which to learn what rights prisoners actually have and, more importantly, how to go about vindicating them in the court system. My review of the book is in this issue of PLN. Ads for the PSHLM will be in the next issue of PLN, but given the anticipation that has been awaiting this book, readers should know it is available for shipping immediately.

I am also pleased to announce that the second book by Prison Legal News Publishing will be available at the end of October 2010. The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, by PLN contributing writer Brandon Sample, is a detailed compilation of federal court cases where the courts actually granted habeas relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel claims. It includes pleadings from a successful habeas case and a detailed explanation of federal habeas corpus procedure. The book is being printed as this issue of PLN goes to press. For habeas litigants who had ineffective assistance of counsel, The Habeas Citebook will save hundreds of hours of research as it jump-starts habeas petitioners with the winning cases they need.

Subscribers will soon be receiving PLN’s annual fundraiser request. This year marks PLN’s 20th anniversary, and if you have not yet donated to PLN, please do so. Your donations help make our work above and beyond publishing the magazine possible.
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