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Articles by Derek Gilna

U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Wrongful Conviction Suit Against New Orleans DA, Vacates $14 Million Judgment

by Derek Gilna and Brandon Sample

In a March 29, 2011 five-to-four decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a former Louisiana prisoner who filed a § 1983 suit against Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry F. Connick, Sr., based upon admitted Brady errors. The Supreme Court’s decision reversed a jury award of $14 million to John Thompson, who had served 18 years in prison – including 14 on death row.

Thompson claimed that during his prosecution for attempted armed robbery, prosecutors failed to disclose evidence of his innocence as required under Brady. Thompson was found guilty on the armed robbery charge; he was later tried and convicted of murder stemming from an unrelated incident, and sentenced to death based on his tainted armed robbery conviction. Prosecutors later admitted that they failed to disclose the existence of a swatch of the robbery victim’s pants stained with the robber’s blood, which was type B.

According to the Supreme Court’s opinion, “there is no evidence that the prosecutors ever had Thompson’s blood tested or that they knew what his blood type was.”

One month before his scheduled execution, Thompson’s investigator discovered the undisclosed evidence from his armed robbery ...

Washington: Eye Gouging Assault Severely Injures Airway Heights Prisoner

A prisoner who killed his cellmate six years ago has assaulted and severely injured another prisoner at the Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane, Washington, according to police. The victim, Chad Bolstad, was attacked by his cellmate, Michael L. West, 34, who previously had been convicted of first-degree murder for killing his cellmate at the Spokane County Jail in 2004.

The assault at Airway Heights, which occurred on October 12, 2010, involved West gouging Bolstad’s left eye out of its socket and severely damaging his right eye, resulting in major vision loss. According to Police Chief Lee Bennett, who was quoted in The Spokesman-Review, “It was pretty graphic. He was using his bare hands.” Following the attack, Bolstad was reportedly in satisfactory condition at a hospital while West was transferred to the maximum-security Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.

Bolstad was scheduled to be released from prison in 2015; he is serving time for assault and robbery charges. West was not scheduled to be released until 2048 on his current convictions, though he will now likely face additional charges as a result of the eye-gouging incident.

Also injured during West’s attack on Bolstad was another prisoner housed in ...

Hopes Dashed for Criminal Defendants Facing Deportation in Virginia

In an interesting development resulting from the case of Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S.Ct. 1473 (2010) [PLN, Aug. 2010, p.11], a General District Court in Loudoun County, Virginia reopened four cases involving defendants who said they would not have pleaded guilty had they known they would face deportation. In Padilla, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was ineffective assistance of counsel for an attorney not to warn a client that deportation was a collateral consequence of a criminal conviction.

Another judge in Alexandria, Virginia reopened a twelve-year-old criminal case and reduced the sentence of defendant Emmanuel Morris to obviate the threat of deportation. Circuit Judge Donald M. Haddock wrote, “To allow the desire for finality to trump the need for justice in this case would be a travesty.”

The rulings in these cases were closely watched by immigration attorneys who often are hired to prevent deportation after their clients have already pleaded guilty to deportable criminal offenses without having been advised by their defense counsel of the consequences of a guilty plea.

As noted by the Washington Post, “Even immigrants with green cards are subject to deportation if they commit a felony or misdemeanor that results ...

U.S. Admits Infecting Prisoners, Mentally Ill Patients in Guatemala in 1940s

The United States’ relationship with the Central American nation of Guatemala probably hit a new low in October 2010 with the revelation that as part of U.S. medical studies conducted over sixty years ago in Guatemala, prisoners, soldiers and mentally ill patients were infected with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or consent.

The experiments were condemned by Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, who accused the U.S. of “crimes against humanity.” President Barack Obama called President Colom to apologize, and agreed that the acts were contrary to American values. According to the BBC, “Syphilis can cause heart problems, blindness, mental illness, and even death, and although the patients were treated with penicillin, it is not known how many recovered.”

The experimentation on Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers and mentally ill patients was discovered by Professor Susan M. Reverby of Wellesley College, who said the medical studies took place between 1946 and 1948. They were conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service, the National Institutes of Health and the Pan American Health Sanitary Bureau (now the Pan American Health Organization). While Guatemalan government officials had consented to the experiments, they did not receive all of the relevant details related to the ...

U.S. Deportations Set Record in 2010

According to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano in an October 2010 statement, the United States set a record for deporting immigrants in the fiscal year that ended last September, reaching 392,862 deportations.

More than half of those deported, 195,772, had criminal convictions – which was an increase of more than 81,000 deportations of such immigrants compared with the last year of the Bush presidency.

According to the New York Times, the Obama administration has been under “intense pressure to show that they are tough on illegal immigration.”

Of course, that is contradicted by the fact that the U.S. Justice Department filed a well-publicized lawsuit against the State of Arizona in an effort to strike down that state’s legislative attempt to increase arrests of illegal immigrants. [See: PLN, Nov. 2010, p.1].

According to the Times, “an outcry from Latinos in the state and nationwide, who said [the law] could lead to harassment and racial profiling...” helped trigger the lawsuit by the Justice Department. The Arizona statute, SB 1070, has been partially stayed by a federal judge.

Napolitano claimed that the Obama administration was trying to concentrate deportation efforts on “removing those ...

ACLU Investigates Prisoners’ Deaths at Puerto Rican Prison

An investigative report released by the Puerto Rico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in July 2010, concerning the Guerrero Correctional Institution in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, found that 53 prisoners had died during a six-year period from 2002 to 2008. According to the report, it was “particularly alarming that many of these deaths occurred during [the prisoners’] first days in jail. In the most extreme cases, the deaths occurred during the first forty-eight (48) hours following admission of the prisoner or detainee to that correctional facility.”

The study was prompted by reports in the news media commencing in 2004 that highlighted unusual prisoner deaths, and the lack of success that family members had in obtaining information as to the cause of the deaths. “Relatives of the deceased prisoners reported that they were not notified that their relative died on account of health problems, and in many cases were not notified that their relative had died at all,” the report stated.

According to jail authorities, the deaths were not due to violent causes and were unrelated to aggression from other prisoners. The study, among several findings reached following the ACLU’s investigation, revealed that prison officials were extremely uncooperative ...

Two California Prisoners Die as a Result of Doctor’s Negligence

A Costa Mesa, California doctor’s negligence contributed to the deaths of two prisoners and near-blindness of a third, according to a December 2010 announcement by the state’s medical board. Dr. Allan J.T. Yin, 74, was placed on 35 months probation as a result of incidents that occurred between 2005 and 2006. He can continue to practice medicine, but his license may be suspended if he violates the terms of his probation.

According to the Medical Board of California, Dr. Yin failed to provide even a minimum level of care and treatment for three state prisoners, and his delay in rendering necessary treatment could have made a difference. The full names of the prisoners and the facilities where they were incarcerated were not identified. Dr. Yin has admitted responsibility in all three incidents.

In November 2006, a prisoner named “Danny T.” complained to nurses of severe abdominal pain. He was examined the same day and three and four days later. On his last visit he was attended by Dr. Yin. Danny advised Yin that his symptoms had started three months earlier. Despite the fact that he was vomiting and appeared jaundiced, Dr. Yin only prescribed some medication and ...

Juvenile Justice Expert Condemns Rhode Island’s Jailing of Students for Minor Offenses

Attorney John J. Wilson, a Department of Justice lawyer for almost 31 years, and the author of federal regulations for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, has condemned the practices of Rhode Island Family Court magistrates, who have locked up dozens of juveniles for non-criminal offenses. According to Wilson, incarcerating non-criminal juveniles for even one night violates the basic premise of the federal act.

Wilson said the act provides money to states like Rhode Island if they follow federal guidelines for youths in the justice system. “We don’t punish adults for doing things that are not criminal, so why in heaven’s name would we punish children for doing things that aren’t criminal,” he asked. “[It’s] an abuse of judicial authority.... And it’s a practice that should be stopped.” At risk is the state’s eligibility to receive federal juvenile justice funding, and the state has compounded its errors by failing to report such detentions to federal officials who monitor state compliance with federal regulations.

For a number of years, according to national juvenile justice experts like Wilson, as well as attorneys, parents and students, magistrates for the Rhode Island Family Court’s ...

Mississippi Governor Grants Early Release to Scott Sisters

In a recent resolution to a celebrated Mississippi civil rights case, in which sisters Gladys and Jamie Scott each served 16 years of a life sentence for their part in a 1993 armed robbery that netted as little as $11, both were freed on January 7, 2011. Their release, however, was contingent on Gladys Scott donating one of her kidneys to her sister, Jamie, who suffers from renal failure. Gladys had already agreed to the donation.

According to Governor Haley Barbour, “The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes that the sisters no longer pose a threat to society. Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety and rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott’s medical condition ... creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi.”

Appearing with Governor Barbour, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous praised the decision, stating, “This is a shining example of how governors should use their commutation powers.” Jealous and the Mississippi NAACP had been working for most of the past year to win the Scotts’ release, and NAACP members had signed petitions urging the governor to take action.

The sisters’ armed robbery convictions stemmed from an incident in which they led two men to a secluded area where three ...

Study Highlights the Burden of Fees, Debt Collection on Criminal Defendants

In an October 2010 report examining the fifteen states that have the highest prison populations, the Brennan Center for Justice found that the practices of imposing new “user fees” on criminal defendants, raising the amounts of existing fees, and intensifying the collection of fees and other forms of criminal justice debt (such as fines and restitution) undermined the rehabilitation and reentry success of released prisoners. The report also showed that efforts expended to collect such debts, rather than increasing revenue, may actually help “pave the way back to jail and result in yet more costs to the public.”

The study noted that “fees, while often small in isolation, regularly total hundreds and even thousands of dollars. All fifteen of the examined states charge a broad array of fees, which are often imposed without taking into account ability to pay.... Thirteen of the fifteen states charge poor people public defender fees for simply exercising their constitutional right to counsel ... [which] can push defendants to waive counsel, raising constitutional questions and leading to wrongful convictions, over-incarceration, and significant burdens on the operation of the courts.”

The Brennan Center report also claims that the imposition of fees on criminal defendants can lead to ...

 

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