October 25, 2009

Prosecutors want to challenge the trustworthiness of information turned up by the Innocence Project, but what information about students and classes should it be able to look at?

Cook County prosecutors have "subpoenaed the grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages of ... journalism students" who have worked on the Medill Innocence Project. Over the past 3 years, the students have worked on the case of Anthony McKinney, who was convicted of a murder that took place in 1978. The idea is to find out if the "students believed they would receive better grades if witnesses they interviewed provided evidence to exonerate Mr. McKinney." 
“We’re not trying to delve into areas of privacy or grades,” Ms. Daly said. “Our position is that they’ve engaged in an investigative process, and without any hostility, we’re seeking to get all of the information they’ve developed, just as detectives and investigators turn over.”...

But if the school gives in to such a demand, say advocates of the Medill Innocence Project and more than 50 similar projects (most involving law schools and legal clinics), the stakes could be still higher, discouraging students from taking part or forcing groups to devote time and money to legal assistance....

25 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Waterboard them all. Finally drown them like kittens in a bag. Just kidding. I was trying for a better grade from the Law and Order lovers. Seriously, never give the prosecutors anything. Force them to make up the evidence, which is their preferred method of operation anyway.

Lance said...

The Innocence Project should subpoena Prosecuting Attorney office records, to ensure that no prosecutors were hired, promoted, or received raises based on how they interview witnesses.

Maguro said...

I would assume it's a given that the students were motivated to dig up exonerating evidence. The thing is called "The Innocence Project", after all.

Why not just leave it at that? These people have an axe to grind, just like the defense and prosecution lawyers do, so let the evidence they produce be viewed in that light. These subpoenaes sound like typical Chicago-style intimidation tactics.

Cedarford said...

Maguro said...
I would assume it's a given that the students were motivated to dig up exonerating evidence. The thing is called "The Innocence Project", after all.

Why not just leave it at that? These people have an axe to grind, just like the defense and prosecution lawyers do, so let the evidence they produce be viewed in that light.


Except it is NOT a given that the volunteers at the Innocence Project
are biased towards getting convicted criminals off the hook despite the evidence....they pose as objective seekers of "The Truth".
Despite evidence they will drop a witness that said the crook did it quickly unless their Innocence Project "persuasion gambit" works..

That ---the person doesn't want to be known as a snitch these days...and the only reason they saw Du-Ron shoot the store clerk was white cops pressuring him...Right? People in the 'hood will support any recantation he can make to spring poor Du-Ron from the pen..So why not say it?

I think the prosecutors are doing a very good check on these people. Society should know if the Innocence Project volunteers are impartial or not...or count any freed convict, regardless of innocence or guilt, as a success story.
Many aren't even concerned with innocence or guilt, but process.

Look, the guy may have been stopped and a dead strangled whore found in his trunk..but was he properly stopped? Or, a victim of profiling? What we are interviewing for is to understand the process of stopping so many innocent young black men...and if the evidence is therefore tainted and should be thrown out..

Cedarford said...

How many times has the "Innocence Project" announced that they looked at a convicted murderer or rapist case - interviewed witnesses - and said they appear guilty as hell?

Balfegor said...

The idea is to find out if the "students believed they would receive better grades if witnesses they interviewed provided evidence to exonerate Mr. McKinney."

Wait, though, they're the Innocence project -- and it's an adversarial process, isn't it? Even if they did think they would get better grades if the witnesses they interviewed provided exonerating evidence, ow is that a problem? The interview evidence wouldn't be admissible directly in court, would it? It's hearsay or something like that. You'd have to get the witnesses to testify directly, under cross-examination, wouldn't you?

Actually I have no idea how these things work, but I would assume no one just relies on some stuff a bunch of students threw together for a class.

Balfegor said...

they pose as objective seekers of "The Truth".

Well, yeah, but everyone involved in the criminal justice system does that. I think that counts as mere puffery, not to be taken seriously.

buster said...

Contra Cedarford, the students are not trying to get convicts released on process grounds ("technicalities"), but rather on evidence that the convict is factually innocent of the crime.

blake said...

I don't get why it would matter what "side" they were on.

I don't think our courts assume no one ever has any ulterior motives.

blake said...

And, of course, they should have access to NONE of this information.

Balfegor said...

And, of course, they should have access to NONE of this information.

Well, if they think evidence has been falsified or perjury suborned by the Innocence Project, I think they should have access to information that could allow them to prove it, both motive information (e.g. grading criteria and course syllabi) and evidence of the acts themselves (e.g. the email correspondence). I don't know how involved counsel were here -- perhaps everything was at direction of counsel -- but if it's just college students doing work for a college class, I don't think there's a plausible claim of privilege.

On the other hand, if this is just a fishing expedition, then no, they shouldn't.

jaed said...

How many times has the "Innocence Project" announced that they looked at a convicted murderer or rapist case - interviewed witnesses - and said they appear guilty as hell?

Cedarford, they're the Innocence Project, not the Guilt Project. If they think someone is guilty they'll drop that case, not announce it.

I mean, how often do you announce that you've found a Jew who has done something good for the world?

MadisonMan said...

What a relief! All crimes have been prosecuted in Cook Co and there is plenty of time and money to spend going after the Innocence Project syllabi!

Balfegor said...

In reading the article, what struck me is that journalists have somehow contrived to get special protection under Illinois law. I don't see any justification for special treatment of journalists versus students versus any old person on the street. It's ridiculous that they can claim special immunity from court processes in a way that ordinary citizens cannot.

The demands for witness interview notes and memoranda and so on seem to me perfectly reasonable. There's no privilege there, nor should there be, and it all seems as though it would be discoverable in the ordinary course of business. Where they cross the line -- in the absence of any concern re perjury or falsification of evidence -- is the grade information and the stuff about the course.

AJ Lynch said...

Jead:

I think the point is the Innocence Project does not publish its innocent vs. guilty stats. Which could be very interesting btw. And lend them more credibility.

So I wonder why don't they publish that stat?

former law student said...

if the "students believed they would receive better grades if witnesses they interviewed provided evidence to exonerate

Do state's attorneys get raises and promotions based on the amount of exculpatory evidence they find?

I don't see any justification for special treatment of journalists versus students versus any old person on the street

Public policy: protect professionals in exchange for their benefit to society by rooting out corruption.

The Chicago Tribune ran this credo every day:

"A newspaper is an institution created by modern civilization which relates the news of the day, leads and informs public opinion, fosters commerce and industry, and creates a check upon government that no constitution has ever been able to provide."

Is there a blogger's credo? Are there mechanisms to enforce it?

kentuckyliz said...

Educational records, under FERPA, are protected information...

...unless subpoenaed.

If you want absolute unsubpoenability, conduct your business in a Catholic confessional.

Pogo said...

Does anything good come out of Chicago anymore?

Jason (the commenter) said...

If you are going to give evidence in a court of law I suppose you have to expect to answer all sorts of questions about yourself. If they want to make anonymous comments they can get a blog.

Balfegor said...

re: FLS:

The Chicago Tribune ran this credo every day:

"A newspaper is an institution created by modern civilization which relates the news of the day, leads and informs public opinion, fosters commerce and industry, and creates a check upon government that no constitution has ever been able to provide.
"

That's some lovely aspirational language there, but we're talking about The Chicago Tribune, for heaven's sake.

Even leaving aside the history of America's journalistic institutions, which have never lived up to their professed high ideals, there's no reason in the present to give journalists that privilege. They're not professionals, in the way that doctors and lawyers and even accountants are. They're just writers who happened to get hired by a newspaper. The privileges that are recognised in other contexts have to do with the trust and confidence that the one party must place in the other -- the patient in his physician, a litigant in his lawyer, the confessor in his cleric, etc. There's no similarly direct and personal relationship between a journalist and the people who feed him information -- those relationships aren't fiduciary, merely opportunistic.

Frankly, I think there's a stronger argument in favour of putting a privilege on the students' work as students (for academic freedom reasons -- don't want to disclose because of chilling effect on politically unpopular academic work) than there is for putting a privilege on their work because they're journalists.

MadisonMan said...

Does anything good come out of Chicago anymore?

Frango Mints?

Come to think of it, though, I'm not sure where those are made anymore.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Barry Scheck (of the Inocence Project) got OJ off with some pretty extravagant statements. The Dallas Morning News has a front page article on the Williamson case today; Scheck has guaranteed his innocence. Extravagant you can count on; correct not so much. Another party in the innocence debates wants to cross examine them as it were.

paul a'barge said...

Cook County == Chicago == Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel and the rest of the current administration.

Gangsters.

Barack Obama is a gangster thug.

Tina Trent said...

The Innocence Project is an advocacy group that does good works while playing bad politics. Through ties with activist deans and professors in law schools, they fund their activism using vast amounts of public educational resources and tuition paid by all students -- including those who would not choose to subsidize them.

Whatever.

The real problem is the way the media swallows their invented "statistics" as facts, churning out thousands of articles regurgitating IP press releases, like: "wrongful confession are a major factor in wrongful convictions" -- when, in reality, the "causes of wrongful conviction" numbers they manufacture aren't real statistics at all: they never actually contextualize their numbers within the number of rightful convictions arising from confessions, for example, let alone the number of crimes committed that never reach prosecution, as would be appropriate.

Instead, they point to 25 or 50 cases, many of which actually have one primary but unacknowledged cause -- the convict's prior criminal acts, which almost always play the main role in bringing him to the attention of investigators -- and claim the singular "cause" they're currently promoting represent a trend within the literally millions of rape and murder investigations that have occurred during the time represented by the Project's statistics -- some 30 years, to be very generous.

None of the "causes" they are now turning into legislation, abetted by the media, are the least bit statistically significant within the context of real crime and prosecution statistics.

Yet the media swallows it. Utterly uncritically. If you were to consider crime rates and prosecution statistics over this time period, what the Innocence Project (with thousands of volunteer lawyers and law students scouring the records, and millions of dollars) has revealed is this: our justice system is astonishingly accurate, at least in terms of convictions -- the real failure is failing to bring more of the hundreds of thousands of thousands of un-prosecuted serious offenders to justice.

And this conviction accuracy is achieved on the backs of victims denied justice. As one of the literally hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of victims of a serious crime whose case falls into the "better to let 100 guilty men go free" category (which they did with my rapist, despite ample evidence, several times, with utterly horrifying consequences) -- I am disgusted at the media's complicity in allowing the Innocence Project to get away with making up claims about our justice system, claims that are tilting the playing field even more precipitously towards the point when virtually any prosecution will be impossible to achieve.

Here are the real causes for virtually all of the Innocence Project's clients' wrongful convictions: Being criminals with histories of similar crimes. Being caught committing a crime in the same area as a recent murder or rape. Being running buddies with, being related to, or committing crimes with other criminals, particularly the one who actually committed the crime. Of course, the leaders of the Innocence Project know this better than anyone, but they do not need to acknowledge it because they control a fawning press.

That doesn't make individual wrongful convictions any less tragic -- if they are actually innocent, which is questionable or simply untrue in several IP clients' cases.

In any case, despite the ways most of them contributed to their own wrongful convictions through other criminal acts, these 250-or-so men are certainly victims alongside the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of murders and rape who never saw justice served for their crimes.

Too bad we obsessively value the tiny number of former over the vast numbers of the latter. That's the real injustice.

former law student said...

Too bad we obsessively value the tiny number of former over the vast numbers of the latter.

It's called "a basic sense of fairness." Even a five year old knows it's wrong to punish someone for something they didn't do.