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! Many within the wrongful conviction movement in Michigan complained about how much influence he had. One exoneree said, "I thought the legislature was supposed to write the laws; not the Attorney General! Why does he have so much to say about it?". It doesn't make sense that Schuette's office would be so involved in negotiations to bring about a acceptable bill, and then for this surprise assault on the claims of court-determined exonerees. When PI asked Dave Moran, a key architect of WICA, he said,

I never spoke to Schuette personally about WICA. But we had many meetings with his representatives, including many discussions about the 18-month statute of limitations. They never gave any hint whatsoever that they would invoke this separate 6-month statute to try to defeat the claims. They silently waited 6 months to spring this on unsuspecting claimants. And that is despicable.

So, let's get this straight. Schuette's office gave feedback during the formation of the law about what was acceptable and what was not. His office had a role in drafting the law. Coming to the table requires a certain degree of trust by both sides. Now that exonerees have filed claims within the explicit time frame stated in the bill, Schuette is using some other law to throw out the claims, something conveniently left out of the negotiations? People can disagree about the law, but this was out and out deception. Shame on you, Bill Schuette.

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.

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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