Pubdate: Mon, 9 Jun 2003
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2003, New Haven Register
Contact:  http://www.newhavenregister.com
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/292
Author: Angela Carter

ACTIVISTS TARGET WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

NEW HAVEN - Criminal justice reform advocates are gearing up to challenge 
wrongful convictions in the state, taking inspiration from the exoneration 
of more than 100 death-row inmates nationwide who have been cleared by DNA 
evidence.

At a conference Saturday, about 60 people gathered at St. Paul & St. James 
Episcopal Church to discuss ways to tackle police and prosecutorial 
misconduct, eyewitness misidentification of suspects and prosecuting those 
with mental illness.

The event was sponsored by People Against Injustice, the Green Party of New 
Haven County, Efficacy, A Better Way Foundation, Connecticut Network to 
Abolish the Death Penalty and Interfaith Cooperative Ministries.

Wrongful convictions are far more frequent than the criminal justice system 
confesses, than the media reports or the public knows, said 
journalist/author Donald Connery, one of four panelists.

"We are living in a revolution that was spurned by DNA," Connery said. 
"It's no longer possible for the system to pretend there are only a few 
miscarriages of justice."

Branford-based criminal lawyer Richard Emanuel heralded the advances of 
science, but said DNA testing is relevant to only about 20 percent of all 
criminal cases. More widely used to secure convictions is eyewitness 
identification, which Emanuel said is "unreliable" but has a powerful 
effect on juries.

Karen Goodrow, a public defender, spoke of a black male she represents who 
was convicted largely on the presence of three pubic hairs found in the 
clothing of a rape victim. After an appeal was denied, scientific evidence 
proved the hairs were not from her client.

Goodrow said a new trial was granted but not yet scheduled and prosecutors 
maintain their confidence in the victim's identification of her client. She 
said it saddens her that he does not expect justice.

"When I see him, he is not ever surprised that he was wrongfully convicted 
 that his appeal was denied," she said.

Local defense attorney Michael Jefferson said racism, "America's ancient 
sin," plays a corrupting role in the criminal justice system but is avoided 
under the guise of classism. "It has to be dealt with," he said.

Keynote speaker Jack Cole maintains that what was dubbed the 'War on Drugs' 
is a misnomer. "It's a war on people," he contends.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks make up 12.7 
percent of the national population and 15 percent of illegal drug users. 
Yet, they comprise 36.8 percent of those arrested for drug charges and 48.2 
percent of adults in prison.

Cole retired as a detective lieutenant after 26 years with the New Jersey 
State Police. He spent 12 of those years as an undercover narcotics officer 
and now is executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Cole believes the drug war is "steeped in racism," destroys the lives of 
young people and corrupts police. He offered this advice for effecting 
change: "If you don't like what's going on in the police department, join 
it and change it from the inside."

After the close of four simultaneous workshops, each group offered 
suggestions for ongoing activism that included future conferences focusing 
on issues of mental illness in the criminal justice system and teaching 
citizens what their rights are while interacting with police.

Other ideas were to enlist law students at area universities in research 
and advocacy; offer better training for prosecutors; and ask police 
departments to assign officers to conduct suspect lineups who are not 
investigating the case connected to the lineup.

"Miscarriages of justice will continue unless people take a stand," said 
Barbara Fair, a member of People Against Injustice.
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