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Problems with Justice: How Far is Too Far for a Conviction?

Posted on October 3, 2009 at 6:06 PM

It made front page news in Ohio (2008) about how a prosecutor used tainted "eye-witness" testimony to get 15 men into prison - convicted of selling cocaine to the informant. This perjured testimony is what was used to convict the 1st defendant (Geneva France) to 10 years. The rest of the 14 fell into line afterward and took pleas. France protested her innocence and is "a mother of three with no record."


Combined, these defendants have now spent 30 years in prison based on testimony that was eventually recanted in 2007 by the informant. Some of these men had "no prior run-ins with the law" according to the article in the Plain Dealer on January 23, 2008.


Despite everything, prosecutors refuse to "characterize the men as innocent." Why? Their cases were largely based on the informant's testimony? This informant has admitted to lying.


Originally the grand jury indicted 26 people in this drug bust case. Now these defendants are going back in front of the judge to be set free; there is no evidence to convict them of selling cocaine to the informant if the informant says it was all a lie to begin with.


So how far is too far? We've all heard stories in recent years where a convicted rapist who protested his innocence the entire time spends 18+ years in prison for a crime he didn't commit - proven after DNA testing finally shows he was nowhere near the crime!


How bloodthirsty are we as a society that we need to have someone to blame for every crime? Are we so worried to have open cases that we're willing to convict the nearest scapegoat so that we can feel "safe" again? How much pressure do we put on prosecutors to win their cases? Is it so great that they're willing to do whatever it takes to make sure they win their case now-a-days? Or is it such a new thing after all? How long has this been going on - really?


Interesting to me is that this online version of the article is missing a few key sentences that were in the printed version, namely regarding how this particular prosecutor likes to win "big" cases and often has. What am I to take away from that? Why are those couple sentences missing now? What are we afraid of? The truth?


Our justice system has needed a rehaul since a long time. Otherwise, men on death row wouldn't be getting released based on the DNA evidence proving someone else committed the crime, of which they were tried and convicted. It's not escaping my notice that 14 out of 15 defendants too pleas and that's considered justice in this day and age either.


Does anyone get their right to a trial anymore? I understand our courts are jammed to the corners with paperwork filed and defendants to try. However, my question is if there was less corruption in the ranks maybe those defendants wouldn't be on trial in the first place. Why not do things right and get the conviction the old fashioned way? Why are so many people being denied their rights and bulllied and scared into taking pleas anymore?


I don't know if this is happening all over, but it's certainly a problem in Northeast Ohio the past decade or more. I saw it during jury duty when the defense attorney asked if they took fingerprints to prove the defendant was even at the man's home that night. The officer told him, "No. Usually when we have an eye witness..." I have to admit I was more than a little concerned at that point. So one white man points at a black man...and that's all that was needed to put this man in jail until his trial came up 1 year later? Unbelievable, but true.


Something needs to change. Our rights were quite clear in the Constitution: due process and all that.


Due process includes, but is not limited to things like:


* Right to a fair and public trial conducted in a competent manner

* Right to be present at the trial

* Right to an impartial jury

* Right to be heard in one's own defense


Now we all know that doesn't happen all the time. My question is when does it happen? I'm starting to see more and more of these articles where people are being released. The only surprising thing to me in this instance is that it was on the front page of the paper, not tucked away safely and quietly in the Metro section where all of the local news is usually printed.


Does this mean a new dawn for an age of honesty in court rooms? If we can't trust our police and district attorneys, who can we trust?


Link to the article is here:

"Americans should ask why the US locks up so many more of its citizens than do Canada, Britain, and other democratic countries. The US is even ahead of governments like China that use prisons as a political tool." ~ David Fathi, director, US Program of Human Rights Watch

Categories: Problems in Justice System

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Reply DJT
3:11 AM on November 23, 2009 
In many cases where a plea bargain agreement is struck, a trial may have already been on the docket, or in the planning stages. We don't know when the defendants in the above example took plea bargains. It could even have been during a trial, I think, at least before the verdict was read. It doesn't say one way or another. In a case I'm working on, the evidentiary 3.5 hearing had concluded and they were going to come back and seat a jury when he was threatened with a certain conviction (based on symptoms alone, with no evidence of criminal intent or who did what) and at least 40 years in prison unless he accepted a plea bargain for 12 years. At least he was allowed to sign an Alford plea in which the accused claims innocence but acknowledges that the evidence might lead to a conviction. Elwood wasn't given that kind of a break.
Reply Tonya
10:31 PM on November 22, 2009 
I'd like to point out that my husband was adament about wanting to go forward with trial until after some meetings with his lawyers Thursday evening and most importantly Friday morning before his plea sentencing, which included some comments by the prosecutor.

Thank you both for your comments.
Reply DJT
10:16 PM on November 22, 2009 
Francisco, I'm fairly familiar with this case, and it is very like the example in the article. As recent as last year, conviction was based on symptoms alone, and tragically, those symptoms have medical causes that doctors would eliminate through testing but fail to do so in almost all similar cases. That leaves defendants with no defense. We know what happens in these cases where people are wrongfully accused and falsely convicted. If they dare go to trial they have no chance and get long sentences because doctors and cops lie--I know because I have documentation of that on another case. But the threat of a long sentence with almost no possibility of getting a fair trial creates a system where the innocent would rather plead guilty, or they are pushed even to the point of coersion to do so, rather than get railroaded into spending decades in prison. Things are beginning to change now, finally, because there is enough supporting science to prove that the symptoms used to diagnose SBS aren't caused by SBS, and a few attorneys are wising up, asking the critical questions, "Where are the neck injuries? and "Did you eliminate medical causes before making an assumption of abuse?" Or, if the symptoms are injuries, "Could they have been caused by accidental means?"
Reply Tonya
8:05 PM on November 22, 2009 
My husband did not take a plea the day his trial was to begin. He was convinced to take a plea the Friday of the week prior to the Monday the trial was to begin (I was there that Friday morning and my family and friends were waiting for the trial to begin so that they could be called as witnesses). What made you think that he took a plea the date his trial began?
Reply francisco
9:24 AM on November 22, 2009 
But your husband pled guilty to murder on the day his trial was to start. This is not the same thing.