Opinion

Opinion

Injustice continues after prison

April 21, 2011

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The DNA says he didn’t do it. The prosecutor and victim still say he did, but DNA is definitive and tests found none of Derrick Williams’ on the shirt the victim says her rapist wore when she was attacked in 1992.

Williams, of Palmetto, Fla., has always maintained his innocence; witnesses placed him at a family barbecue at the time of the assault and he offered blood and saliva samples to prove he was not the culprit, but the rapist had left no sperm samples they could be tested against and no means then existed to extract DNA from clothing.

So the case largely came down to the victim’s word against his. On that basis, Williams spent 18 years in prison. He was freed this month, his conviction overturned thanks to a DNA test paid for by the Innocence Project of Florida.

And maybe you think this is the part of the story where Williams, 48, gets his life back, maybe with some financial compensation from the state that wronged him. You would be mistaken.

Williams is legally barred from even applying. Under a 2008 Florida law, no one who seeks compensation for wrongful incarceration can have prior felony convictions on his record. Williams has several nonviolent felonies, including larceny. So the state takes 18 years of his life, says in effect, “Oops, my bad” and that’s supposed to be the end of it? Incredibly, yes.

The worst part is not that the law is absurdly mean-spirited and punitive. No, the worst part is that it is also absurdly short-sighted.

It has that in common with laws and policies all over the country that impinge upon a former felon’s re-entry into the mainstream. In some states, an ex-felon loses the right to vote for life. Ex-felons can also be denied work, housing, loans, the right to serve on a jury.

But here’s the thing: If you pinch off every avenue by which a former offender seeks to better him- or herself, what route do you leave open? Only the one that leads back to prison.

Politicians love to posture about being “tough on crime.” They compete to see who can impose the more Draconian punishment — from candidate Bill Clinton executing a retarded man to Sheriff Joe Arpaio serving prisoners green bologna and moldy bread. It’s good politics to do so, and politics, make no mistake, is what this is all about. So we toss aside the old ideal that once a convict paid his or her “debt to society,” he or she was entitled to a second chance. Granted, not every offender would take that chance. But to remove the chance from the equation altogether is to ensure that no one can. It is to put a thumb on the scales of rehabilitation.

If that makes life hard for the ex-con trying to straighten out his life, it’s also no picnic for the citizen who gets mugged when the con decides it’s impossible.

Note that when a reporter from the Bradenton Herald tried to reach Derrick Williams for an interview recently, his sister said he was out looking for a job. The economy being what it is, his resume being what it is, and the political climate being what it is, how would you assess his chances? They are poor at best. But we should never be so “tough on crime” as to make going straight impossible. At least, assuming our goal is to punish and rehabilitate.

Some days, it seems it’s just to punish — and then punish some more.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Comments

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Good points.

If we were really serious about reducing recidivism, and turning criminals into productive members of society (as much as possible), our system would be very different.

And, perhaps less expensive as well.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

I have a problem with Mr. Pitts' assertion that the state wrongfully took away 18 years of Mr. Williams' life. I'm not sure what it is that the state did wrong. There was an accuser who identified Mr. Williams in the attack. He was brought to trial and convicted. The fact that a jury made a mistake and that it took 18 years to correct that mistake is unfortunate. The article does not state how his innocence was discovered but what is clear from the article is that there is no assertion that the state behaved in any unethical manner in order to secure a conviction. They simply presented evidence to a jury. Mr. Pitts says that Mr. Williams is looking for a job but will have a tough time, considering his resume. The 18 years behind bars may hurt but if he were wrongfully convicted, someone might give him a chance. But prior to that Mr. Williams was less than an ideal citizen. He had "several" convictions. A resume containing those convictions would hurt his current job prospects. Should the state compensate Mr. Williams for his lost wages while behind bars, but then deduct from that the cost to society because of what he would have stolen, since he appeared well on his way to being a career criminal. Those lost years are the price we pay for a criminal justice system that is not perfect. If we want a perfect system, let's open the doors to every jail in the land and let everyone out, because a perfect system is impossible.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

"Those lost years are the price we pay for a criminal justice system that is not perfect."

Except that "we" didn't pay for it. In this case, Mr. Williams did, which appears to be hunky dory with you.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Evidence was presented to a jury that then convicted him. What would you suggest we do if not send him to prison. Remember, the article never suggested the state did anything improper. Yes, it's a risk we all take for having an imperfect judicial system. But a perfect judicial system does not exist. While I have some sympathy for Mr. Williams, I would have had more sympathy had he not had "several" previous convictions.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

So you're saying that once you've been convicted of a crime, you're forever a suspect, and deserve whatever miscarriage of justice that may come your way.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Now, now now, Don't put words in my mouth. I said if he had not been previously convicted of "several" crimes, I would have had more sympathy. But my sympathy, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with the fact that Mr. Williams was convicted of a crime.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

I didn't put words in your mouth. I merely paraphrased-- rather accurately, I might add.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

"Evidence was presented to a jury that then convicted him."

BTW, evidence was also provided that showed his innocence. Why did the prosecutor choose to disregard that evidence?

imastinker 3 years, 11 months ago

It's not the prosecutors job to consider evidence. It's the juries.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

Wrong. Prosecutors always evaluate evidence in determining whether or not to go to trial.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

So do judges. If there was not a reasonable amount of evidence against Mr. Williams, evidence that a reasonable jury might consider to be enough to convict, wasn't that the decision the judge should have made? And specifically because he/she did not make that ruling, can't we assume that there was in fact a reasonable amount of evidence to go forward with a trial?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

Like you said, our system is not perfect. And included in that imperfection is a very long track record of prosecutors, judges, juries and even defense attorneys making very unreasonable assessments and evaluations-- including assuming that someone with a prior record must be guilty of anything they may be charged with-- and even if they aren't, punishing an ex-convict for something they didn't do is perfectly acceptable.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Heck, I'm the one who said the system is not perfect. Mistakes will be made. What I'm saying again is that in this article, there is no assertion that anyone acted in any manner that was unethical or criminal. At best, it's human error. At worst, it's human error.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

He was found innocent by means of the lack of his DNA on her shirt - it says that in the column.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Lack of DNA does not prove innocence. There was an identification. Perhaps that identification was recanted or perhaps a higher court ruled that the identification without corroboration should have been insufficient to convict "beyond a reason". I'm just guessing. But just saying there was no DNA does not prove innocence.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

"Lack of DNA does not prove innocence."

Not always, but it can. At any rate, it's not up to a defendant to prove innocence. It's up to the prosecution to prove guilt. The absence of DNA shows that the prosecution failed to prove guilt.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

If the story involved activity that would have left DNA on her shirt, and none of his was found there, that would be pretty convincing to me.

And, as Bozo points out, it is the state's job to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, not the defendant's job to prove innocence.

And, the article states that this is how his innocence was "found".

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

I think the article said that no DNA was found. Not his and not someone else's. So either no DNA was left by the attacker, which does not prove guilt or innocence of anyone, or the attack never took place at all.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

If the attack never took place, then the defendant cannot be guilty of it.

If the fact that none of his DNA was found was insignificant, then it wouldn't have resulted in his conviction being overturned.

And, again, he does not have to prove his innocence.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

And, nope, it says none of his DNA was found, not that no DNA at all was found.

It's interesting that you have so many opinions about a column that you didn't read very carefully.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

It says "no means then existed to extract DNA from clothing". I'm looking at the version in the paper, paragraph two, last sentence. If they could not extract DNA at that time, it stands to reason that no DNA would be found of Mr. Williams nor of anyone else. Perhaps later technology made DNA testing possible. But again, paragraph three say he was freed because of a DNA test without saying what that test revealed. Did it simply exclude Mr. Williams suggesting another attacker or did it reveal no DNA suggesting no attack at all.
And for the umpteenth time, I'm not saying Mr. Williams raped that woman. I'm saying I don't see evidence of state misconduct.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Wow.

You really have a hard time reading this column.

The first paragraph clearly states that tests found none of his DNA on the shirt. It does not say no DNA at all was found.

That's now , of course, not back then when the technology didn't exist yet.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

We may be nit-picking here. No DNA was found when the rape happened because the technology did not exist to extract DNA. That's clear from paragraph two. Paragraph one say Mr. Williams' DNA was not found (presumably later, when technology did exist). The article is silent as to whether or not other DNA was found. We are free to speculate as to what that means; a different attacker, no attacker, etc. Presumably, prosecutors, defense lawyers, courts, maybe even Mr. Pitts, now know the answer. Does it make sense to assume that no DNA was found because the original prosecutor still believes the victim? It wouldn't make sense if other DNA was found, suggesting a different attacker. Just the shirt now suggests either that no DNA at all was left or that no attack took place. Are we in agreement?

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Although I'm not at all sure that simple lack of any DNA evidence would be sufficient for his conviction to be overturned, are you?

Also, did you notice the part where he originally offered blood and urine samples? Generally speaking, I wouldn't expect a guilty person to do that, would you?

And, let's not forget the main point of the column, which is that we do a very poor job of rehabilitating and helping folks re-enter society, after they've committed a crime.

Which means that we're losing out on some potentially very valuable resources (their contributions), and spending a lot more money than we might have to on police, courts, prisons, etc.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

You're right, it looks very much like from the beginning, he behaved very much like an innocent person. Then again, the victim's behavior and that of the original prosecutor are equally consistent the other way. Trying to project back in time, when DNA was not the tool it is today, it sounds very much like a he said, she said situation. A rape victim and the accused. That's got to be a nightmare from everyone's perspective.
We can hope that during the 18 years in jail, Mr. Williams availed himself of whatever educational and vocations programs they had. Do we need more programs to help those in jail who will eventually get out? Sure. Of course every state is having trouble balancing their budgets. But in theory yes. But I'm still skeptical of some sort of a lump sum payment if the state did not engage in misconduct.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

The problem of course would be proving that misconduct, given the greater power and resources the state has.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

I'll ask this question with a big smile on my face, but does the state enjoy a presumption of innocence?

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

That's funny.

Perhaps they do, if they're being accused of wrongdoing.

But, one of the reasons that some believe that those wrongly imprisoned shouldn't have to prove misconduct is the difficulty of doing so, given the above-mentioned facts.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

Good to see one of the local celebrants of Schadenfreude stop by.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Before we go too far with this, let's remember that there is a huge difference between innocent and not guilty. I read the article quickly, but did Mr. Pitts assert that a court ruled Mr. Williams innocent or was there just insufficient grounds to uphold a guilty conviction, at which point he would be considered not guilty? Lack of DNA does not prove innocence, though it might sway a jury towards a not guilty verdict. But that did not happen. What is not mentioned is whether a court of law actually found Mr. Williams factually innocent or whether the assertion of innocence is Mr. Pitts'.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

OK, we get it already. For you, presumption of innocence is the wrong basis for our criminal justice system, and you'd prefer that we change it to a presumption of guilt (clearly the de facto presumption all too often, anyway.)

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Putting words in my mouth again, Bozo. I absolutely believe in the presumption of innocence. It is one of the foundations of our system and I believe in it very much. I also believe in the jury system. Am I to assume from your comments you don't believe in the jury system. No, I would be reading something into your statements that are not there. Please, don't do that to me. I believe in a presumption of innocence and I believe in a jury system. I realize that when humans are involved, mistakes will happen. We can try to minimize them and I think the judicial system tries to do that. But I also realize that a truly perfect system is probably not possible.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

"But I also realize that a truly perfect system is probably not possible."

But because the guy who spent 18 years in prison because of this imperfection had a prior record, you say it's OK that he gets no compensation for all those years in prison for something he didn't do.

Sounds like you certainly believe in allowing convicts to be convicted and punished multiple times for the same crime.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

He didn't spend 18 years in jail because of "this imperfection had a prior record". He spent 18 years in jail because a woman who was raped said it was him, still says it was him and because a jury believed that. I'm certain that prior criminal history os kept out of trials. Was she wrong? Is she still wrong? That possibility certainly exists. But his prior criminal history is not the reason he spent 18 years in jail.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Bozo, if you think he should be compensated for having been wrongfully convicted, would you say that the person doing the compensating should be the woman who not only wrongfully accused him 18 years ago, but she who continues to wrongfully accuse him? It's her wrongful claim that cost him 18 years and she continues this wrongful vendetta, tarnishing Mr. Williams' good name and reputation? Right, Bozo, it's she who should pay. It's statements like that, Bozo, where you put words into people's mouths, where you twist and turn things around, where up becomes down. No, I don't believe she should pay. No, I'm guessing you don't either. If Mr. Williams did not commit this crime, then she made and is continuing to make a mistake. But she has suffered enough. We should let it go. So should Mr. Williams.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

It is common for states, not individuals, to compensate those who have been wrongly convicted.

The reason in this case that it doesn't apply has to do with previous convictions.

Whether or not that should mean that the state doesn't compensate those wrongly convicted is the question.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

My understanding is that those wrongfully convicted can be compensated if the state did something wrong. Something illegal or unethical. Something like withholding evidence that would show a person innocent. Or if the police beat a confession out of an innocent person. Or knowingly putting on the stand a person they know will lie.
It varies, state to state. But in my original post, the thing that got everyone so mad about, is my assertion that I don't see where the state behaved in such a way as to warrant responsibility.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

I'm not at all sure that's the case.

I'd have to do some research.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

That's easy to say, since you haven't spent 18 years in jail, having been wrongfully convicted of a crime. I imagine, if you had, you would feel quite differently.

By the way, a quick google search reveals that of the 27 states that compensate those wrongly convicted, Florida is the only one that denies that compensation based on prior records.

Also, it appears that the sheriff's office may have destroyed evidence that might have exonerated him - there's your misconduct right there.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

And, of course, he may have grounds to file a civil suit for defamation against her.

You seem to miss the point that he has also suffered here - I wonder why that is.

I would have to guess that this story has some sort of personal significance for you - your reading comprehension and comments are not up to the level of your comments on other stories.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

First, I have no personal interest in this case. Sometimes bad things happen to people, even when no one is specifically at fault. It sounds very much like this is the case with Mr. Williams. If the state wants to compensate him for the bad things that have happened to him, fine. But I don't think the state is obligated to if they did not do anything wrong. The destruction of evidence is another matter. One in which was not mentioned in the article (if my reading has improved). How did that happen? Did they willfully destroy something they knew would help the defense, then yes, that sounds like misconduct. Did they simply lose something during the 18 years of incarceration? Was it destroyed in a fire or hurricane? Did they throw something away, not knowing that later advances in technology might make the sample useful? You're raising issues that would certainly make me reconsider my position if it were willful misconduct. Some of the other possibilities put things in a shade of grey.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

I didn't think you had a personal interest in this case.

But, the change in your abilities is noticeable - my guess is that you have had some sort of personal experience that colors your response to this one.

Of course, I could be wrong.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

"would you say that the person doing the compensating should be the woman who not only wrongfully accused him 18 years ago, but she who continues to wrongfully accuse him?"

She didn't convict or imprison him. The state convicted and then imprisoned him. So the state is the one who should be liable to provide compensation.

Now, if there is evidence that her testimony was perjury, she should be tried for it.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Should they compensate him even if they didn't do anything wrong?

Meaning they had sufficient evidence to go to trial, and there was no misconduct, and the jury found him guilty.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

First, bozo, I used that example to show how you twist things and I clearly said that I don't think she should be paying and I said I suspect you would agree with me. That said, it's the jury that convicted. And upon that conviction, a person loses his presumption of innocence and is presumed guilty. The state then locked up a guilty person. If we agree it's not her fault, is it the juries fault for convicting? I'm sorry, but at some point we're going to have to conclude that the fault lies with having an imperfect system.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Our system is based on protecting individuals from the power of the state.

Of course the fault is an imperfect system - all systems, composed of human beings, are imperfect.

But you seem remarkably ok with the idea that somebody is wrongly convicted and spends about 20 years of their life in jail, and expect them to just let it go.

If it happened to you, would you do that so easily?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

I've made so many posts in this thread I had to go back a ways, but yesterday, my comment of 1:23 pm said that if the state wanted to compensate him that would be fine with me. But I don't think the state is obligated to pay him if there was no misconduct. We can help all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. But I don't think we are obligated to do so. But let's briefly look at this case. Let's suppose Florida gave Mr. Williams $100 per day x 365 days x 18 years = about $650,000. Where is Florida going to get that money from? Lay off a few of teachers, social workers, lower the wages for prison guards? The money has to come from somewhere. Again, if that's what they want to do, that's their business. If it were here in Kansas, I would be opposed. Now I'll add some personal opinions, insert my own personal values that anyone can disagree with, but I'm entitled to no matter how much anyone may disagree. Mr. Williams was convicted of "several" crimes. Several to me means three or more. The article is not clear as to the exact number of convictions or their exact nature but I do know the Mr. Williams has "several" more convictions than I have. I have none. If he had been a model citizen, 30 years old with a wife, family and a solid honest work history, would I have more sympathy? Yes, I would. But what I see is a man well on his way to becoming a career criminal, a person who did and will likely continue to victimize others. Because he was convicted of larceny in the past, we know we are dealing with a thief. There are things we will never know, but we are free to speculate using our own experience and common sense. Did Mr. Williams commit crimes that were never prosecuted? Would he have continued committing crimes? Were the crimes he was convicted of pled down from more serious crimes? That number, "several", is that 3 or is it 25? I don't know the answer to these questions, no one does. It's speculation. For me, personally, when I think about giving him money or giving a teacher a little bump in pay, I'll go the latter. If it were up to me, I'd give him some sympathy, but not money.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

That's all very interesting.

But, being convicted of a crime doesn't mean he was guilty - people are wrongly convicted all of the time, as we are finding out with DNA technology these days.

Your idea that he should just "let it go" that he has been deprived wrongly of 20 years of his life and freedom is quite strange.

Do you suggest to those who have had wrongs perpetrated on them in general to just "let it go"?

A friend who was a lawyer pointed out that people put a lot of stock in convictions - you seem to be doing just that.

Let's say you're right, and he actually committed several robberies in the past - so what? He served his time for them.

Why is that a reason that having the state wrongly lock him up for 20 years isn't an issue?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

His prior convictions should have had nothing to do with his conviction for rape. They should have been excluded from that trial and I can only assume that they were. I have no idea why Mr. Pitts included them in his article. I'm just commenting on them as it relates to my sympathy or lack thereof, which also had nothing to do with the rape conviction. Yes, I would have had more sympathy for a solid citizen having been wrongfully convicted than for a three time loser having been wrongfully convicted. I may feel it's more tragic for a child to be killed in a traffic accident than if a senior is killed in a traffic accident. Neither is good, but it's how I feel. I'm a firm believer in individual responsibility. I have no problem with a person becoming wealthy by working hard and making good decisions. I have no problem with allowing a person to suffer the consequences of making bad decisions. I can't live their lives and I won't even begin to try. But if Mr. Williams is innocent, a proposition I accept, then the accuser is wrong now and has been for 18 years. I said earlier that I think it is best for her to move on, despite the fact that she suffered a terrible injustice by being raped. I think it would be best for her own mental health. I think Mr. Williams should move on as well. As to your last sentence, again, prior acts should have been kept out of his trial. I don't think they had anything to do with his conviction. But I also do not hold the state responsible for his years in jail. He was not "wrongly" locked up since he was convicted by a jury. They made a mistake, as you correctly point out, it happens. If as little as one half of one percent of inmates are wrongfully convicted, then we currently have about 10,000 innocent people behind bars. I don't know how you define beyond reasonable doubt, but I know it's different than beyond absolute doubt.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

I meant that he may very well in fact have been innocent of the prior robberies as well.

The difference between the victim (possible) and Mr. Williams is that the victim had a trial, and the system locked somebody up for 20 years.

Your continued seemingly blithe acceptance of this problem really baffles me.

You don't even sort of say "Sorry for the mistake" - it's amazing.

Imagine if somebody you knew had this happen to them - you wouldn't expect something to make up for it at all?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

At some point, we have to trust the legal system. Rarely, mistakes are made that will cause an innocent person to go to jail. What is far more common is that the guilty will get away with crimes. Perhaps Mr. Williams' other convictions were incorrect. However, it's far more likely that he committed many crimes for which he was never caught or convicted. It's all speculation. I have to assume that his previous convictions were legitimate and I have to assume that he enjoys a presumption of innocence about other crimes. Anything else is only guesswork.
Make up for it, how? Only money, money that has to come from somewhere. Hell, I'd rather see someone from the state use their influence to get him a good job. I'd rather see Mr. Pitts call some newspaper in Florida and see if there is a job there appropriate to his skills. Pick up the phone and get Mr. Williams a job, sure. Take money out of the education budget and give it to a man who would probably not "legitimately earned" that money anyway. Sorry, no.
Say sorry? O.K. who? The woman who was raped but continues to insist it was Mr. Williams? The jurors, prosecutor, governor? Me? I don't know. Fine. But let's remember that Mr. Pitts' argument is that Mr. Williams is barred from getting money. He wasn't arguing that Mr. Williams should get an apology.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Why should we trust a clearly imperfect system?

And, I'd love to see some statistics that bolster your claim that it's rare for innocent people to be wrongly convicted, etc.

Given this conviction was incorrect, why do you assume previous ones were correct?

You make a lot of assumptions, it seems to me, many of which are not based on anything factual.

Compensating folks who have been incorrectly incarcerated is the state's way of apologizing for the mistake, don't you think?

Again, your attitude is astonishing - imagine a friend of yours is wrongly imprisoned for 20 years, and then released - would you really tell them they should just "let it go", and "mistakes happen"?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

So what's your solution. Knowing the system is imperfect and knowing that wrongful convictions happen, would you just throw open the doors to all the prisons? Would let let everyone out? We have a standard of proof that is very high. Would you raise the bar even higher? To what standard? Beyond reasonable doubt is pretty high, would you raise it to beyond absolute doubt? That would have the effect of letting everyone out except those that confess. But wait, we know that sometimes people confess to crimes they did not commit. So we have to let all of them out too. Let's use some common sense here. The state must overcome some pretty high standards. But once they do, and once a jury has convicted, there is a presumption of guilt. I don't see any other way. If you have specific ideas as to how to improve the system, I'm all ears.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

I would stop letting police officers lie and threaten suspects in interrogations.

I would make some effort to ensure that jurors are sufficiently intelligent, well educated, and able to take some time off from work in order to make a good decision.

I would try to establish some national standards, so that individual states didn't differ so widely on things like sentencing.

I would end the practice of letting real litigants hide their true identities - eg. insurance companies in civil suits.

That's just off the top of my head.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

"letting police lie and threaten suspects" - fine, those things are illegal. If you think they are happening, should they be tried and if convicted, sent to jail. But wait, you said that system is imperfect, maybe the conviction was wrong, so we let them out??? Very circular, if you ask me. It's illegal and if convicted, yes, punish them appropriately. Eliminate dumb people from juries sounds good. I assume that's done by both sides during jury selection. Pay them well, it's a civic duty. Like voting. People shouldn't need to be coaxed into doing their duty, but if you want to pay them more, fine. Where's that money coming from? National standards - The philosophy of our founding fathers was to avoid a strong central government. That's why we have 50 state depts. of education, transportation, agriculture, etc. National standards sounds good except it goes against the grain of thought that has guided this country since it's inception.
Civil suits - I'm nowhere near as well versed in their rules as I am in criminal court, and that is limited to my being a well read high school dropout. I would change one rule in civil court, that being where the losing side pays the costs of the winner. I think that would lessen the number of frivolous lawsuits, which would streamline the process and give legitimate cases the chance to be heard in a reasonable amount of time.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

It is in fact legal for police to lie and threaten in many places - I would change that, and make it illegal for them to do so.

That assumes that both sides want intelligent jurors, which is not at all necessarily true.

Well, there are many possibilities - I would legalize all drugs/prostitution, and stop incarcerating people for non-violent crimes, for one.

I understand that, but it leads to some obviously problematic things, like people getting inordinately long sentences in some places.

In a case that I sat on a jury to decide, the litigants were in fact insurance companies on both sides, but they were portrayed as an individual and the estate of a dead man. This was used by at least one of the lawyers - "If you're going to sue the estate of a dead man,..." to stir up emotion and sympathy. That's because insurance companies have lobbied the government to make it ok for them to hide the true litigants.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

I recall when living in California, my car was broken into about once per year. Times 20 years. One time, the person was caught. I took the time to go to court to give a victim statement. He was given probation even though he was already on probation. (you would not lock up non-violent people). He was ordered to pay restitution. The probation dept. laughed when I asked about that. They said it wouldn't happen and it didn't. In court the defendant could not speak English. When I told the judge I would like to see him deported, the judge suggested I was racist. The defendant and my wife are of the same ethnicity.
I've said before, I believe in individual responsibility. Do the crime, do the time. I don't know what you would do with a serial thief?

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

I would order and enforce restitution rather than imprisonment, on the basis that it in fact is more of a way to make victims "whole".

And, I would structure our system so as to rehabilitate all those who can be, so as to turn them from criminals into productive members of society.

I would reserve incarceration as a way to protect society from violent people who can't be rehabilitated.

ifuonlyknew 3 years, 11 months ago

Would YOU be able to let it go after 18 years??? I don't think it's just THAT easy.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

It is the state's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, not the defendant's burden to prove their innocence.

The column says the conviction was overturned.

But, you know, it might be a good idea to read a column yourself a bit more carefully before commenting on it.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Again, overturning a conviction is far different than a finding of factual innocence. A conviction might be overturned for some procedural reason having nothing to do with guilt or innocence. In this case it "appears" that a court ruled that there insufficient evidence due to a lack of DNA. Perhaps that is a ruling the presiding judge should have made. That may be the human error that was made. I'm not sure since the article is less than clear about this.
Now I'm making some guesses here, and you all can chime in if you want, but wouldn't have a defense attorney pointed out the lack of DNA. If not, maybe the defense attorney was the source of the human error.
Please remember, I've never said Mr. Williams committed this rape. And if he did not, then certainly the accuser is continuing to make a mistake. There is a source of human error. All I'm saying is that there is no evidence that the state acted in an unethical or criminal manner.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

I believe that tomato grower is correct.

It's not insufficient evidence, it's actual evidence that somebody else committed the crime.

Defendants are presumed innocent, and as tg says, he had an alibi, and there is no physical evidence that he did it.

Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable.

But, it's amazing that you keep commenting without even looking back at the column - do you have some sort of personal experience that is behind all of this?

tomatogrower 3 years, 11 months ago

DNA was found on the shirt, but at the time of the crime it was impossible to extract DNA from clothing. They now have DNA of someone who probably attcked the girl, but it was not this man. He should be presumed innocent, since he had an alibi and physical evidence says he wasn't there. The DNA probably doesn't match yours, but how do we know you didn't do it?

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

There are no "factual findings of innocence" in our system.

There are verdicts of guilty or not guilty, based on whether or not the state is determined to have met it's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt or not.

Innocent people are wrongly convicted and guilty people are wrongly acquitted.

Juries are made of people, with all of their biases and preconceptions, with a wide range of intelligence, tolerance for ambiguity, pressures that make them want to finish quickly, etc.

They consider the "facts" presented in the case, and make their determination.

That's all.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

I believe there is a manner in which a person can get a finding of being factually innocent, but it's not at trial. After conviction, say someone else admits to the crime and there is compelling evidence that the wrongfully convicted should not only have been found not guilty at trial but that it is impossible for him to have committed the crime, an appeals court may find the person factually innocent. Mr. Pitts assets his innocence and a court has overturned the conviction. I accept those facts What I've said throughout this thread is that I disagree with Mr. Pitts' assertion that the state acted improperly. There is a wide range of possibilities as to where this case went wrong with human error being the most likely. All I'm saying is that I've seen nothing to assert the state acted unethically or criminally.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

You seem to be correct.

I've never heard of that before - it's good to learn something new.

It's apparently quite difficult to be judged "factually innocent".

yourworstnightmare 3 years, 11 months ago

By the way, has Shewmon been banned? I haven't seen any of his broken-record, parrot-the-line posts recently.

Surely he would be commenting on this Pitts editorial.

sun45kiss 3 years, 11 months ago

As a society we have to open doors for felon's to gain employment and voting rights. Once you do your time--it's done. It should not continue to hinder you in trying to restore yourself. As much as I do not like Rev. Wright; Obama's ex-preacher he did have a good point in regard to felons not being able to start over. But, yet immigrants can come here with priors and get a fresh start....hummmm how unfair that is to our fellow Americans born and breed here.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Not having their prior mistakes stop them from obtaining employment, housing, etc. isn't "special consideration" - it's removing "special barriers".

Also, if we don't do more to help reduce recidivism, we pay in the form of lost contributions to society, and higher costs for law enforcement, courts, and prisons. I'd rather pay a little bit for rehabilitation personally.

It's hard to say exactly, but I imagine that it's actually cheaper to help folks get rehabilitated than it is to keep arresting and jailing them over and over again.

With the caveat that not all can be rehabilitated, and we need a good way to assess that.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

What about them?

I believe that it is legal for people to not hire folks based on past criminal history, and legal to not rent to them as well.

What exactly do we think will happen to folks when they get out of prison if they can't get a job or a place to live?

Obviously, many of them commit more crimes and wind up back in prison.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Again, I never advocated for "special" anything - I merely suggested that we remove the barriers.

I think anybody who is looking for work and wants to work is "deserving" of a job, even if they have made mistakes in the past.

It's interesting how much people are willing to just write off those who have done so.

Do you not see the associated costs of doing that, in the form of higher costs of police, courts, prisons, stress, etc.?

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 11 months ago

For the most part, I agree with Pitts.

18 years in Hell and all we can do is throw him out on the street.

That's just not right.

Anyway you spin it he was an innocent man.

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 11 months ago

I am so disgusted with politics.

I am not sure from one week to the next which party is more worthless.

Here's a case where the political leaders need to get off the sidelines and try to help this guy. Even if it puts them at risk politically.

If we turn everything over to lawyers and politicians guess what we will end up with?

What we have today. A 14 trillion dollar debt and a bunch of lawyers pointing fingers.

Does that make any sense?

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

We'd need to know a little more about the details, but apparently the courts disagree with you on that one, and Florida is pretty conservative.

If you search online, you'll find that the prosecution destroyed evidence that might have cleared him as well - if they did that at the time, it would be misconduct - they're supposed to turn over any exculpatory evidence to the defense.

At the time, there was no DNA testing technology available.

He had an alibi, offered blood and urine samples, and I believe there was no physical evidence that he had done it. Sounds like reasonable doubt to me, but people are different.

If I accuse you of committing a crime against me, would you be ok with being convicted solely on my accusation, if you had an alibi and there was no physical evidence supporting my accusation?

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Are you serious?

What a weird question.

Rape is never "excusable" to me.

But, the state has a burden to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and the lack of physical evidence creates doubt, does it not?

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

I'd be interested to know where you found that.

But, again, you seem to be missing the point - trials don't determine innocence, and that's not the standard that juries are supposed to use.

The state has the burden to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt - if they don't do that, the correct outcome is an acquittal.

It doesn't mean the defendant is innocent, any more than a conviction means they're guilty - we're finding out how many people are wrongfully convicted with DNA technology.

The idea was that the state has so much power and so many resources that they should be held to a fairly high standard in criminal cases - otherwise the possibility for abuse by the state is too big.

And, even with this burden, there are plenty of cases of abuse by the state - police can lie and threaten in interrogations, line-ups can be poorly put together, etc.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

I also looked it up.

The hair that was found was conclusively determined to NOT have belonged to Williams in 1993.

The sheriff's office destroyed a lot of evidence that could have provided exculpatory evidence - and, they stored evidence in conditions that were likely to damage it, even thought they'd been warned that might happen.

There was DNA from several people on the shirt that was tested, but none of Williams' DNA.

Florida seems to often wrongly convict people based on flawed eyewitness testimony.

Why on earth are you so sure he's guilty?

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

That's exactly the point - apparently, from what I've read, there was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime.

The hair was shown to NOT be his.

The DNA evidence is the recently discovered evidence, which shows DNA from several people, but none of his.

Again, you seem to miss the point here - it looks from what I've read as if the only reason he was convicted was her accusation and identification.

Does that meet the state's burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt?

If it were you, and you were accused, and identified, but had an alibi, and there was no physical evidence connecting you to the crime, what would you think?

I don't know what happened.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

You're not listening.

So I'll stop trying to have this discussion with you.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Cute.

Of course, when I've said the same thing over and over again, and you don't get it, what's the point exactly?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

For several days I, along with several other posters have gone back and forth with this case. I'd like to summarize some problems I have with this case.
Much of the information we've been relying on is given to us by Mr. Pitts, a reporter. He is generally considered an opinion writer, not an investigative writer. I think the distinction is important because he is trying to lead us from point A to point B, not by giving us all the facts, just giving us facts that will likely prove his point. He said he could not get in touch with Mr. Williams because he was out looking for a job. Can't you just feel yourself being led somewhere with that statement. He never mentions whether or not he tried to get in touch with the victim or prosecutor, both of whom maintain Mr. Williams' guilt. Maybe that is because they will give another scenario, one that will lead us away from the he said/she said that Mr. Pitts suggests. I'm troubled by their silence. Mr. Williams gave an alibi, was it believable? Why don't we ask a juror. There were 12 of them, surely Mr. Pitts could have found one. Their silence troubles me also.
How do we compare the demeanor of accuser vs. accused? Again, the silence troubles me. A jury got to see things we can only speculate upon. Why did Mr. Pitts not get in touch with any of them? Are we being led, again? Why was Mr. Williams not tried again? If his conviction was overturned because of a technicality, the state has the option of retrying him. I'm speculating, but if his original sentence was say 20 years, the state may simply choose not to do so because he already spent 18 years in jail. I would really like to hear the opinion of the prosecutor about this. But again, Mr. Pitts is silent. Mr. Pitts has led us all along a path of his choosing. He then asks us all to come up with the obvious conclusion, a conclusion of his choosing. And we may not ask any questions along the way.
I, for one, will reserve judgement until more facts are presented. Until I hear the voices of the accuser, prosecutor, and at least a couple of jurors, I reserve judgement. Until a more complete reasoning of the appellate court's decision's decision is presented, I'll reserve judgement.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Do some research and you'll find more facts from other sources.

According to what I've found:

There was a shirt at the time which had a hair on it, which was shown to have conclusively NOT been that of the defendant.

There is no other mention of physical evidence tying the defendant to the crime.

The DNA testing done recently found DNA of several people, and none of the defendant.

Prosecutors very rarely admit mistakes, I would imagine, and are more likely to defend their choice to prosecute somebody.

From what I've read, I would say that the state failed to meet the burden of proof in the initial case - if I accused you of a crime, without any physical evidence, and you had an alibi, and offered blood and urine samples, would that be enough to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, do you think?

I would like to know more details as well, for example details about the mug shots and line-up - depending on how those are conducted, they can be more or less valid, as I'm sure you know.

By the way, jurors have all sorts of personal biases which come into play when deciding cases.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

You've answered none of my concerns. You've speculated as to the motives of both the prosecutor and jury members. But you've given no real answers to my questions. Let me speculate a bit, suppose all twelve jurors came up and said something like "man, you should have seen what we saw, you should have heard what we heard. You would have convicted in a minute and you would still think that bastard should be in jail and he should rot in hell, based on our experience". What then? The problem is their silence. Surely Mr. Pitts could have found one to speak to. I feel like he's leading us down a path of his choosing. Why would the victim not recant, based on the physical evidence, or lack thereof. Is she ashamed to admit her mistake. Or is it because there were other valid reasons to convict. Her silence troubles me. And again, I feel Mr. Pitts is leading us somewhere. Maybe the prosecutor doesn't want to admit a mistake. Or perhaps he has a thousand valid reasons to believe the conviction was appropriate. Why did Mr. Pitts not interview him? I get the feeling I'm being led down a path of Mr. Pitts' choosing. With the information limited to that of Mr. Pitts' choosing, he's asking us to substitute our judgement for that of a jury. I'm not comfortable doing that. I've said all along, I accept the fact that the appeals court has overturned the conviction. (Did they order a new trial or did they make a finding of factual innocence?). Did they decline to retry because the 18 years already spent is what he would get even if convicted?
There are too many questions in my mind and while you're suspicious of the motives of the prosecutor, victim, jury, etc., I'm suspicious of the motives of Mr. Pitts. He had the choice to present a more complete picture. He chose not to do this. Why?

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Why don't you do a little research of your own?

Pitts is a columnist with a point of view, absolutely, and he presents his column in order to make a point.

It's not his job to give you all of the facts you desire, without any point of view - you can easily get them yourself.

Do you trust acquittals as much as you do convictions? In other words, if somebody is acquitted, do you assume they're innocent?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Let me put it this way, suppose there was a trial and the defense got to give it's side of the case and the prosecution was barred from entering the room. Or the reverse, suppose the defense was not allowed to enter the room to present it's case. The fact is that Mr. Pitts has made himself the de facto advocate for the defense and has not permitted the prosecution to present it's side of the question. That's fine as long as we recognize exactly what's going on here. I guess I could do a lot of research on this case. Or I can simply reject the entire notion he's proposing, that of his argument being a reasonable one. He wants me to believe he's presenting a well thought out reasonable argument for why Mr. Williams should be financially reimbursed for his 18 years in jail. I reject that precisely because his arguments leaves so many questions unanswered that I cannot believe what he is saying. Do I trust acquittals as much as I trust convictions? Certainly not. Remember, if a juror thinks the defendant is probably guilty, they must acquit because that does not meet the "beyond reasonable doubt" standard. The two sides do not enter the courtroom on level terms. With that high standard and a presumption of innocence, it is far, far more likely that a guilty person will be found not guilty than it is for an innocent to be convicted. It's the price we pay and I accept that cost. But I'm not going to put all common sense aside just because and incredibly high standard was not met.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

So you dismiss it because Pitts has a point of view.

Well, you'd have to dismiss all columns then, in my view, since they all have exactly that.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Right, he has a point of view. Just like anybody. What he lacks is any legitimate claim to the truth. And with that he loses moral clarity. Mr. Williams deserves this and the state is responsible for that. Because he chose a path of being an advocate for one side, and left us all to wonder about the arguments of the other side, that's all he has, an opinion. Does Mr. Williams deserve to compensated to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars (my estimate) just because Mr. Pitts thinks they should? In the end, that's all that's left, in my opinion.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

You seem to lack interest in finding "the truth" of the matter, when you refuse to do your own research.

So, it seems to me that you're just interested in dismissing the column.

I hope you do the same with all columns that have a point of view, and don't present balanced information from all sides of an argument.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

How much research would I need to do before I find the truth? I would certainly need the notes and reports of the arresting police officers. I would need to interview the alibi witnesses. I would need to interview the rape victim and the prosecutor. If she received medical attention, I will need to see those records. I would need to get a copy of the trial transcript with all the rulings the judge made. I would need to interview all the available jurors and if any have died I would need to interview those close to them to see if they spoke of the trial. I would need all briefs made on appeal. I would need the appeals court's findings. Of course, I would need to interview Mr. Williams. I might even want to interview Mr. Williams' cellmates to see if he spoke about the case. Give me more time and I can think of some more. I will need these things at a minimum to find the "truth". To do less than these things would be an insult to the "truth". I'm certainly not saying I know the truth. All I'm saying is that Mr. Pitts presented his opinion and suggested it was the truth. He failed to persuade me.

jafs 3 years, 11 months ago

Does the fact that people are being released from death row due to DNA evidence mean anything to you?

Those folks have been tried, convicted, and lost numerous appeals in order to get to death row, and yet they seem to be finding that a number of them are, in fact, innocent.

Are you pro-death penalty?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

The fact that some people are being exonerated now because of advances in DNA does bother me. What I have to realize and I hope you realize is that mistakes have always happened and will always happen. We can do our best to minimize wrongful convictions but we never eliminate them completely. That just won't happen. Never. There's an old saying to the effect that it better that a hundred guilty go free rather than one innocent goes to jail. That sounds about right to me. If the mistake ratio is half that and there are 2 million incarcerated in the U.S. that equals 10,000 wrongfully convicted in jail at any given time. We could raise raise the ratio from 1:200 to 1:1 million. Then we would have a prison population in the U.S. of 2. At some point we must accept the fact that it will happen, an innocent person will be imprisoned. Am I in favor of the death penalty? Good question. Not as it is currently administered. The overwhelming number of death row inmates die of natural causes. They waste enormous resources on appeals and if there is a deterrent factor, it's lost in the decades of appeals. I was living in California a few years ago and there was a case there of a person who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. While there, he ordered a hit on witnesses who testified against him. The hit was carried out, therefore he was guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. What sentence do you give a person already sentenced to life in prison? I believe that the death penalty should be reserved for the worst of the worst. But for it to have any meaning at all, it needs to be carried out. For those, the standard should be even higher. Multiple killings with enhancements. So, yes I believe in capital punishment but not as it is now administered.

bliddel 3 years, 11 months ago

People who claim to know everything often do not. People who claim to know more about other people's motives and beliefs often do not. People who think police can do no wrong are wrong themselves. It might be true that 95% of police are pretty good people, but 5% can really mess things up for those unfortunate enough to have a run-in with them.

Nothing I say here will change anyone's mind. Nobody likes to be proven wrong. Time and time again, prosecutors have steadfastly sworn that everyone they tried was guilty, without exception. The prisons may be full of people all of whom insist they are innocent, and that does not mean that all of them are innocent, nor does it mean that all of them are lying about their innocence. My problem with some prosecutors is that they fight tooth and nail to prevent DNA studies which might result in convictions being overturned, as though their career is about wins and losses, and not about justice. Oops, that 's exactly the problem. To these people, it is not about justice - it is about winning.

People not only have to be civil (and they have been civil on this thread - thank you all), but they have to have an open mind. That's very difficult for some people.

The justice system needs to improve. The court's erosion of basic civil liberties (in the name of national security or being tough on crime) does not help matters any.

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