ILNews

Recent changes impact state justice system

Michael W. Hoskins
September 30, 2009
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Justice in Question

National and state advocates pushing for wrongful conviction reforms judged that Indiana was behind other jurisdictions in strengthening its justice system, but they emphasized that ongoing discussions were a good starting point for the Hoosier legal community.

But within a day in mid-September, advocates turned to a new train of thought as the state moved forward on a significant piece of reform while the prosecutor in Indiana's largest county showed the legal process can triumph over a public cry for justice.

With those two instances, experts noted that Indiana is no longer "slightly behind" but rather on pace with many jurisdictions putting reforms in place to prevent systematic criminal justice errors from happening.

"It's amazing what one vote by a court can do," said Stephen Saloom, attorney and policy director for the non-profit Innocence Project in New York. "What we've seen is an indication of how seriously Indiana takes the reforms that can increase the accuracy of the entire criminal (justice) process. This definitely changes how your state is viewed nationally."

A week earlier, Saloom and other state and national advocates described Indiana as being slightly behind for how, up to that point, it had adopted reforms for preventing wrongful convictions and improving the criminal justice system overall. Of the causes that most often contribute to wrongful convictions – eyewitness misidentifications, invalidated or improper forensic science, false confessions or admissions, and bad information from informants or snitches – Indiana had implemented only one of the five key reforms believed to help address those issues: an automatic DNA-testing statute, Indiana Code 35-38-7, which has been in effect since July 2001.

Nationally, most states had adopted those automatic DNA-testing laws while other reforms were happening sporadically; a handful had implemented DNA preservation statutes, recorded policeinterrogation rules, and eyewitnessidentification reform policies. Some have even established "innocence" commissions to study broad-based criminal justice reforms in these areas.

After about five months of consideration, the Indiana Supreme Court on Sept. 15 added a new Rule of Evidence requiring that statements obtained during police interrogations must be recorded before they can be entered into evidence in felony cases.

A three-justice majority agreed to add Indiana Rule 617, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2011. The lag time will allow Marion County's law enforcement agencies to buy necessary equipment, train officers, and implement the new policies.

Noting how electronically recorded interrogations assist courts and can be used as a potent law-enforcement tool for guilt or innocence, the new rule specifically mandates that an audio-video recording be made within a jail, law enforcement agency station house, or facility owned and operated by law enforcement.

Seven exemptions are included:

  • Statements made as part of routine processing or booking
  • Statements made when the suspect does not agree to be electronically recorded
  • When there is an equipment malfunction
  • When the interrogation takes place in another jurisdiction
  • When law enforcement officers reasonably believe the crime under investigation isn't a felony
  • The statement made is spontaneous and not in response to a question
  • Substantial exigent circumstances exist that prevent the recording

Approving justices expect the recordings will lead to fewer factual disputes in court and reduce the number of motions to suppress evidence, as well as possibly leading to more guilty pleas.

"With the foregoing considerations in mind, the Court finds that the interests of justice and sound judicial administration will be served by the adoption of a new Rule of Evidence."

Dissenting were Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Frank Sullivan, who highlighted the Indiana law enforcement community's integrity and existing practice as reasons not to amend the rule.

"There are states where bad conduct by police or prosecutors has led to repeated injustice in the criminal process," the chief justice wrote. "Indiana has not been such a place. My assessment of the honesty and professionalism of Indiana's public safety officers leads me to conclude that today's action is not warranted."

Justice Sullivan observed that many state police agencies have already taken this initiative on their own, so the rule isn't necessary.

Research cited by the majority noted that of more than 450 law enforcement agencies surveyed and currently recording interrogations, suspects' cooperation hasn't been impacted much with the recordings.

Stephen Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said the new rule will not save courts time but will simply shift arguments. Johnson said he's already received calls from prosecutors who plan to do their best in implementing the rule but see a variety of issues that will likely arise.

"No longer will the inquiry be whether a suspect was afforded his constitutional rights and gave a voluntary statement," he said. "It will be whether Rule 617 was complied with in every aspect in all felony cases."

More than 300 public comments came into the court's Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure during the March 30 to April 30 comment period. Of those, 89 comments came from law enforcement officers, 80 from the general public, 36 from prosecutors, 27 from public defenders, 61 from other attorneys, five from judges, and five from other judicial officers.

The court committee conducted several hearings on the topic and voted 5-1 not to recommend the new rule, but the divided court agreed the move was necessary.

"This is wonderful news," said attorney and law professor Fran Watson, who leads the wrongful conviction clinic at Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis. "It's good to see that Indiana is moving forward in favor of recording these police interrogations, and this is a step toward assuring justice in the system."

Indiana Public Defender Council director Larry Landis was also pleased with the court's decision, adding the new rule largely mirrors what had been proposed.

"There's nothing like seeing or hearing the questioning, rather than having a judge or jury listen to someone describe what was said at a later time," he said. "This increases the quality of evidence overall, and it's a very significant and important step in protecting our system."

Just as important is a decision also made Sept. 15 by Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, who announced that the man accused of killing seven people in the 2006 Hamilton Avenue slayings – the city's worst mass killing in history – wouldn't face the death penalty. Brizzi said he made the decision to pursue life imprisonment without parole in part because of concerns about evidence that prosecutors have against the accused killer, Desmond Turner.

"I think this is the right decision, given the evidence that would be admissible at trial," Brizzi told media outside the court. "Our ultimate goal is to see that Mr. Turner spends the rest of his life in prison and is never free to hurt anyone else again. I think this decision will achieve that goal."

The bench trial before Marion Superior Judge Robert Altice is set to begin Oct. 12.

Hearing that news, combined with the Indiana Supreme Court's rule on recorded interrogations, gave wrongful conviction advocates positive notes to talk about.

"This is a brave decision that will not be popular with many people, but it tells of how prosecutors are being a lot more courageous and honest about the limitations that are out there," McAuliffe said. "That balances safety versus trying to prove something with a death sentence, despite the evidence. It hasn't happened as much as it should, but it did (now), and that's what we're seeing more of. We're admitting as a system that we've got some problems, but there's a way to go about justice honestly and efficiently."

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  1. Call it unauthorized law if you must, a regulatory wrong, but it was fraud and theft well beyond that, a seeming crime! "In three specific cases, the hearing officer found that Westerfield did little to no work for her clients but only issued a partial refund or no refund at all." That is theft by deception, folks. "In its decision to suspend Westerfield, the Supreme Court noted that she already had a long disciplinary history dating back to 1996 and had previously been suspended in 2004 and indefinitely suspended in 2005. She was reinstated in 2009 after finally giving the commission a response to the grievance for which she was suspended in 2004." WOW -- was the Indiana Supreme Court complicit in her fraud? Talk about being on notice of a real bad actor .... "Further, the justices noted that during her testimony, Westerfield was “disingenuous and evasive” about her relationship with Tope and attempted to distance herself from him. They also wrote that other aggravating factors existed in Westerfield’s case, such as her lack of remorse." WOW, and yet she only got 18 months on the bench, and if she shows up and cries for them in a year and a half, and pays money to JLAP for group therapy ... back in to ride roughshod over hapless clients (or are they "marks") once again! Aint Hoosier lawyering a great money making adventure!!! Just live for the bucks, even if filthy lucre, and come out a-ok. ME on the other hand??? Lifetime banishment for blowing the whistle on unconstitutional governance. Yes, had I ripped off clients or had ANY disciplinary history for doing that I would have fared better, most likely, as that it would have revealed me motivated by Mammon and not Faith. Check it out if you doubt my reading of this, compare and contrast the above 18 months with my lifetime banishment from court, see appendix for Bar Examiners report which the ISC adopted without substantive review: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS

  2. Wow, over a quarter million dollars? That is a a lot of commissary money! Over what time frame? Years I would guess. Anyone ever try to blow the whistle? Probably not, since most Hoosiers who take notice of such things realize that Hoosier whistleblowers are almost always pilloried. If someone did blow the whistle, they were likely fired. The persecution of whistleblowers is a sure sign of far too much government corruption. Details of my own personal experience at the top of Hoosier governance available upon request ... maybe a "fake news" media outlet will have the courage to tell the stories of Hoosier whistleblowers that the "real" Hoosier media (cough) will not deign to touch. (They are part of the problem.)

  3. So if I am reading it right, only if and when African American college students agree to receive checks labeling them as "Negroes" do they receive aid from the UNCF or the Quaker's Educational Fund? In other words, to borrow from the Indiana Appellate Court, "the [nonprofit] supposed to be [their] advocate, refers to [students] in a racially offensive manner. While there is no evidence that [the nonprofits] intended harm to [African American students], the harm was nonetheless inflicted. [Black students are] presented to [academia and future employers] in a racially offensive manner. For these reasons, [such] performance [is] deficient and also prejudice[ial]." Maybe even DEPLORABLE???

  4. I'm the poor soul who spent over 10 years in prison with many many other prisoners trying to kill me for being charged with a sex offense THAT I DID NOT COMMIT i was in jail for a battery charge for helping a friend leave a boyfriend who beat her I've been saying for over 28 years that i did not and would never hurt a child like that mine or anybody's child but NOBODY wants to believe that i might not be guilty of this horrible crime or think that when i say that ALL the paperwork concerning my conviction has strangely DISAPPEARED or even when the long beach judge re-sentenced me over 14 months on a already filed plea bargain out of another districts court then had it filed under a fake name so i could not find while trying to fight my conviction on appeal in a nut shell people are ALWAYS quick to believe the worst about some one well I DID NOT HURT ANY CHILD EVER IN MY LIFE AND HAVE SAID THIS FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS please if anybody can me get some kind of justice it would be greatly appreciated respectfully written wrongly accused Brian Valenti

  5. A high ranking Indiana supreme Court operative caught red handed leading a group using the uber offensive N word! She must denounce or be denounced! (Or not since she is an insider ... rules do not apply to them). Evidence here: http://m.indianacompanies.us/friends-educational-fund-for-negroes.364110.company.v2#top_info

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