Feb. 8, 2016
“Bob Orr, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice, says it’s time for a comprehensive outside review of the state agency that oversees lawyers.
“Orr… is part of a committee looking at legal professionalism as part of Chief Justice Mark Martin’s recently launched review of the state justice system….
– From “Former NC Supreme Court justice calls for review of state bar” by Anne Blythe in the News & Observer (Feb. 6) (text cache)
Right on, Justice Orr. And thanks to the N&O for its continuing attention to the flagrant self-dealing of the Prosecutors Club, most recently this account (text cache) by Joseph Neff contrasting the bar’s two sets of ethical standards:
“For most of 2015, the North Carolina State Bar vigorously and publicly pressed ethics charges against two anti-death penalty lawyers for what were eventually judged to be unimportant inaccuracies in two sworn affidavits.
“During the same time, the bar privately dismissed complaints that three prominent prosecutors – one running for attorney general, another now a Superior Court judge – used a false affidavit in a racially divisive case that has roiled Winston-Salem for more than a decade….”
I’ve even seen it suggested that the situation demands a separate panel specializing in prosecutorial misconduct (text cache).
Feb. 3, 2016
“A new survey finds that adults at school, day care and organizations such as churches and scouting groups are less likely than relatives to abuse or mistreat children.
“In general, organizations that serve young people ‘do not look like particularly risky environments,’ said study co-author David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center. This contradicts perceptions by some people who ‘think these are magnets for molesters,’ he said.”
– From “Child Abuse at Daycare, Youth Groups Rarer Than Thought: Survey” by Randy Dotinga in the Northwest Indiana Times (Feb. 2)
Surprising to see Dr. Finkelhor dismiss the notion of day cares as “magnets for molesters,” given that his own overwrought “Nursery Crimes: Sexual Abuse in Day Care” (1988) was an influential text in spreading the moral panic.
How did he determine back then whether sexual abuse had actually occurred? “If at least one of the local investigating agencies had decided that abuse had occurred and that it had happened while the child was at a day-care facility….then we considered the case substantiated.” In other words, one supposed “red flag” sighting from Brenda Toppin was certification enough.
As recently as 2012, when I queried Dr. Finkelhor about his beliefs past and present, he denied being “an authority on the validity of claims” that he had laid out with such credulity in “Nursery Crimes.”
Jan. 29, 2016
“The release last month of ‘Making a Murderer’ capped a year in which popular culture’s portrayal of the criminal justice system seems to have shifted. Out with the old tropes about truth-seeking investigators and tidy resolutions; in with the disquieting, dysfunctional reality of many courtrooms and police stations….
“Yes, post-conviction DNA testing and the work of Innocence Projects around the country have exonerated more than 1,700 defendants. Those cases heighten awareness of potential errors and demonstrate that wrongful convictions happen. But Americans shouldn’t expect certainty about innocence. Sometimes the focus on finding new evidence to exonerate distracts from the question of whether the old evidence proved guilt….
“Fewer than 70,000 federal felonies are prosecuted each year, while roughly 2.5 million felonies proceed through the state courts. Many state cases involve near-simultaneous investigation and prosecution. One rarely finds out ‘what really happened.’
“The prosecutor in Avery’s trial argued in his closing statement that ‘reasonable doubts are for innocent people.’ They are not. And procedural protections like access to defense counsel and freedom from coerced interrogations extend to both the innocent and the guilty. The real contribution of these documentaries is not to ask ‘whodunit’ but to reveal what was done to defendants….
“The United States criminal justice system needs fewer guilt-assuming interrogation tactics, more disclosure of potentially exculpatory information to the defense, expanded oversight units within prosecutors’ offices to investigate potential miscarriages of justice and fuller appellate scrutiny of convictions.
“The moment is ripe for reform, culturally and politically….”
Will this heightened skepticism about the nation’s justice system ever trickle down to exonerate the Edenton Seven and free Junior Chandler?
Jan. 20, 2016
“The Jan. 15 editorial ‘The limits of zeal’ contrasted the penalty given Christine Mumma with the absence of rebuke to prosecutors for the ‘massive failure’ that kept her client wrongfully imprisoned for more than 36 years.
“It is not enough simply to point out this shameful disparity. The public embarrassment resulting from the hearing should move the North Carolina State Bar to empower a separate disciplinary panel to deal only with prosecutorial excesses. Such a panel would not lack for business.”
Jan. 16, 2016
“Joseph Sledge spent 37 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. At his trial, the state paid a lying snitch to testify against him. While he was in prison, [Jon David, the latest Bladen County district attorney] opposed the DNA testing that would eventually prove Sledge’s innocence. And when the long-delayed tests showed Sledge wasn’t the culprit, the state waited another two years to release him from prison.
“Now that Sledge is finally free, the only person being punished is the lawyer who fought to prove his innocence, Chris Mumma. On Thursday, the State Bar found that Mumma violated professional ethics by testing a water bottle for DNA without permission from its owner – all in an attempt to gain an innocent man his freedom against long odds. (The test of the water bottle was inconclusive and had no impact on the final outcome.)….
“In all the cases where Mumma has freed innocent people, no prosecutor has ever faced charges….Instead, the State Bar sent a message that lawyers who expose the system’s misdeeds could be subject to retribution….”
– From “Let’s punish lawyers who put innocent people in prison, instead of those who free them” by Kristin Collins at NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (Jan. 15)
Three years ago I took DA David at his word when he promised:
“I really see us as sharing the goal of making sure [Sledge’s] conviction rests on credible and substantial evidence. I’m going to go where the truth leads in this matter.”
I was naïve. As it turned out, David’s true passion wasn’t for exonerating an innocent man but for punishing his lawyer.
Jan. 14, 2016
“Researchers announced this week they have confirmed the plot [in Salem, Mass.] where 19 people accused of witchcraft were hanged in a wave of hysteria that swept this seaside city in 1692.
“Salem plans to mark the ignominious spot, Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said: ‘This is part of our history, and this is an opportunity for us to be honest about what took place.’
“Neither of two previous plans for a memorial there [in 1892 and 1936] went anywhere. Emerson ‘Tad’ Baker, a Salem State University professor who helped pinpoint the location, said the desire by some to forget the witch trials was probably to blame.
– From “Researchers pinpoint site of Salem witch hangings” by Laura Crimaldi in the Boston Globe (Jan. 13)
In Edenton, the “desire by some to forget” still dominates, but should it ever weaken…..