Man Acquitted by Jury, Still Sentenced to 15 Years

The South Florida Sun Sentinel is reporting that a man acquitted in two separate jury trials of fondling pre-teen girls has been sentenced to fifteen years in prison based upon the same evidence which amounted to a violation of his probation. The case underscores the very real possibility of being sentenced on a probation violation despite being found not guilty of the same conduct by a jury. The legal basis for such an outcome lies in the different standards of proof applied to jury trials versus that applied to hearings on violations of probation. While the standard of proof in a jury trial is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” in order to be found in violation of probation, in Florida, as in California, the prosecution bears the much lower standard of proof known as “preponderance of the evidence.” Additionally, whereas convictions on new law violations generally are determined by a jury, violations of probation (even if based upon the same evidence) are decided by a judge.  In essence, while a jury may acquit a defendant based upon a failure of the prosecution to meet the higher standard of proof, a judge considering the same evidence may still nonetheless conclude that the lower standard of proof has been met and thus sentence a defendant based upon a violation of his pre-existing probation.

Jailers More Likely to Use Force on Mentally Ill Inmates

The LA Times is reporting that deputies in LA County jails are more likely to use force on mentally ill inmates than other prisoners. According to a report by the Sheriff’s Department, although inmates classified as mentally ill make up only 15% of the inmate population, approximately one-third of deputy use-of-force cases involved those inmates.

Although mental illness issues often lead to violent outbursts necessitating use of force, the report highlights the need for better training for law enforcement when it comes to identifying and dealing with mental health issues in detainees. As stated by Peter Eliasburg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, “You have to be on guard that some of them behave differently and they often do things that if they didn’t have mental illness, it would be a real true sign of aggression … . But if you’re sensitive that this is an inmate with mental illness, you realize it’s not a deliberate attempt to incite.”

Study Shows Wrongful Conviction Rate of Up To Six Percent

As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a comprehensive study by the Urban Institute has found that wrongful conviction rates in violent felony cases is as high as six percent. Samuel R. Gross, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a former criminal-defense lawyer, attended the presentation made by the Urban Institute in November and said that “this is a very big surprise. I would have guessed an error rate of 1 or 2 percent. Six percent is surprisingly high.”

Given the fact that the study focused on only violent felony cases, and that those are the types of cases that the most prosecutorial resources are devoted to, it is likely that the rate is even higher for cases that don’t rise to the level of “violent felonies.”

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Arson Investigation Burn Pattern Theory Debunked

A November 2011 study by The Arson Project has confirmed the hypothesis that ‘the presence or absence of an ignitable liquid in a post-flashover setting cannot be determined through visual examination of the resulting burn patterns. Any attempt to do so is no more reliable than a flip of a coin.”

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Novel Conservative Approach to Death Penalty Debate

As more and more Republicans are taking the “Right on Crime” (as opposed to “Tough on Crime”) approach, the Concord Monitor is reporting that Republican State Representative Phil Greazzo has come out in favor of abolishing his state’s death penalty statute. What makes his position noteworthy is not only the fact that he is a conservative, but also that Rep. Greazzo has a history of favoring the expansion of crimes to which the death penalty could apply. Despite generally seeking to broaden the use of the death penalty, Rep. Greazzo said he sees such inconsistency in the current law that he would sooner have lawmakers eliminate the death penalty altogether than maintain the status quo.

While Rep. Greazzo’s position is a far cry from seeking to abolish the death penalty altogether, it is refreshing to see another conservative join the ranks of those who recognize that the current system is broken.