Darrell Siggers is the First Exoneree to Receive PI Assistance Upon Release

siggersportraitToday, upon hearing of the release of Darrell Siggers last Friday, Proving Innocence quickly made contact. Two hours later, Darrell was handed $800 for his immediate living expenses. It was an awesome feeling to sit across from a man who had spent 35 years in prison, and be able to hand him, not $20, but money that can really make a difference and help him get established in the days ahead. I was very moved and proud of the work of PI.

Dr. Marvin Zalman, a PI adviser, was able to drive over and join me for when Darrell and his son, Darrell, Jr., rang the doorbell. The conversation flowed for nearly an hour. Darrell is articulate about everything from technical points of the law to his feelings of being overwhelmed by all the new things he must learn. When Darrell was in prison, he wasn't one to play a lot of games or just watch TV. He spent his time in the law library, studying so he could prove his innocence. Now that he is out, like any good student, he is excited at the anticipation of what he will learn about life. Darrell is also eager to help others who continue to experience the ravages of wrongful convictions.

Darrell informed us that he had to leave and get to the Secretary of State. About half an hour after they left, I thought about the two Darrells, father and son, waiting to get the father his driver license. There are a lot of things for which Darrell will need to depend upon from others to get re-established, but I couldn't help but think what a difference it will make in their day and how different they feel about things, knowing that Darrell can pay for his own driver license, rather than to rely on others for every basic need.

darrellsiggersreceivesfundscropped Marvin Zalman, Derrell Siggers, Jr., Darrel, and Bill Branham

MI Attorney General Tricks those Fighting for Exoneree Rights

wica signing2It took over eight years in the MI legislature for the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA) to eventually pass. The WICA was to provide some measure of financial compensation to those whose lives were unjustly ripped away from them by the State. When listening to the newscast from WoodTV, below, or reading the article on their website, you will learn that MI Attorney Bill Schuette is using some other state law which says that the filings must be made within 6 months from the time the WICA became law, even though the Act itself explicitly says 18 months!! Pathetically, the courts have agreed with him.

For argument sake only, that might have made sense, if it were not for one thing: the Attorney General's Office had a lot of influence on the formation of the WICA!

Read more: MI Attorney General Tricks those Fighting for Exoneree Rights

The Best System in the world! Really???

justice weeps4It's not perfect, but the US has the best criminal justice system in the world! Really???

I used to hear that phrase thrown around all the time. Perhaps it still is, but not in my circles. It was used as a preface before making a criticism. People want to improve the system, but not appear to be unpatriotic or unappreciative for what we have. I also have learned that it is a statement made by people who have no personal experience with our criminal justice system. 

Corruption can be from the top down when there is wrongdoing by the authorities. It can also permeate as a more insipid systemic cancer, where those with money or influence are given preferential treatment. From traffic tickets up through murder, a lot more poor people and people of color are convicted and wrongfully convicted. You might call it a legalized corruption.

Case in point: I've just watched a 50-minute video of a case that has been with Proving Innocence from our beginning: Fred Freeman (Temujin Kensu). Not only is it depressing as to what happened to an innocent person, but to hear the details of the things that were done by the authorities would shock and disillusion any law-abiding citizen.

Click here for the rest of the articleThe Best System in the world! Really???

Why I Believe in the Reality of False Confessions - Part 1

“You’ve got to be kidding me! Why would anyone confess to something they didn’t do? I can’t believe that.” If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it one hundred times. When I first got involved with wrongful convictions, I had no problem believing false confessions occur. For me, they were commonplace. That’s right. Commonplace. So common that it took me a while to understand why other people have such a difficult time accepting that it really happens and it can destroy someone's life. Let me explain.

My Experience as a child
I always thought my two sisters and I were fairly “normal” growing up. Later, I found that in order to dispel such a myth, all I had to do was to get married. A spouse, coming from an entirely different family system, will be very quick to point out your idiosyncrasies and the weird ways of your family! So, it’s important to understand how different “normal” may be from family to family.

Read more: Why I Believe in the Reality of False Confessions - Part 1

Going Beyond Swain - actual innocence in procedural matters

At the very end of the hearing, there was an important exchange that might have gone unnoticed by a person focusing only on Lorinda's future, but which represents a titanic shift in how Michigan law might some day be interpreted. Justice Markman asked Moran a broader question about the argument of innocence being in the background of these hypothetical and theoretic discussions about 'what is a Brady violation?' and 'does this meet the Cress standard?'. In an informed, articulate and confident tone, Moran states,

I certainly accept and promote the idea that there is a background principle that actual innocence matters. And that actual innocence should inform the way this court interprets these various provisions, just as the Federal Courts do, in the habeas analogy, that actual innocence gets you past procedural problems of all sorts, the statute of limitations, procedural default, that you otherwise could not get through without a strong showing of actual innocence.

What the average person on the street thinks every time they hear about such a case is this: "If the person is truly innocence, why should procedure get in the way? If a person is truly innocent, is justice done when the person is kept in prison for the rest of their life? Yes, we need the law, but whatever happened to justice, mercy and Truth?"

Reflecting on Temujin's lawsuit against the MDOC

Far too often with terrible consistency, I have witnessed how little justice there is in our penal system. Though there are policies in place that are supposed to protect prisoners from abuse, when a guard or staff takes a disliking toward a prisoner, they can make that prisoner's life a living hell. They will not be called on the carpet by their superiors; often they are encouraged.

Michigan Dept of Corrections LogoTemujin is a solitary prisoner fighting against the Michigan Department of Corrections, usually without a ghost of a chance to prevail. But this was a civil case; not criminal. It was before a group of 8 jurists from all walks of life; not before a panel of judges. Temujin has suffered greatly in his incarceration. One of the reasons he suffers so much is that he has learned to stand up for what he believes is right, and doesn't back down. (His fight has not been just for himself, but also for many fellow prisoners he and his late wife, Amiko, have helped in the past, helping them to file legal papers and give them some sense of hope.) This time Temujin was able to bring the issue out into the open before people who have not experienced what he has, but who know what is right and what isn't; most of all, people from outside the system.

Temujin, as usual, was armed with notebook after notebook of facts at his disposal.

More about Temujin's CaseReflecting on Temujin's lawsuit against the MDOC

2015: Year of the Video Recordings

Download this file (Exonerations_in_2015.pdf)Exonerations in 2015

2015 saw the greatest increase in general awareness of wrongful convictions in recent memory. You can read the attached article by the National Registry of Exonerations for how this furthers our understanding of the changing landscape.

But I think 2015 is the year of something much bigger. 2015 was the year of the body and dash cams. Add to that the steady proliferation of videocams now in everyone's phones. Together they may do more to prevent wrongful convictions than we will ever know. We won't be able to count the times a prosecutor, who may have pursued a case otherwise, chooses not to because she\he can see what actually happened and who actually did the crime.

Having said that, there will still be those prosecutors with a "win at all cost" mentality, who will continue to unscrupulously find ways to explain away the evidence. A common tactic today is one is that when DNA is analysed and does not belong to the convicted person, prosecutors create wild scenarios introducing the idea of there being two perpetrators. Never mind that it is an entirely different scenario than the one they presented to convict the person! These prosecutors present this without embarrassment, without any sign of having reevaluated their original conclusions because the DNA excludes the person. It is hard to believe how they can explain away a video recording, but I'm sure they will come up with something.