With Liberty And Justice For All
The United States has no law, no court forum, no Commission or Panel where prisoners who obtain evidence proving their innocence can present that evidence and obtain relief from their wrongful conviction. Proof of innocence is considered IRRELEVANT in proceedings governed by the Habeas Corpus statutes.
In the article False Justice, by Chip Rowe, published in the July, 2002 issue of Playboy, Mr. Rowe arrives at a figure of 100,000 innocent prisoners now incarcerated in the United states by extrapolating from the percentage of Death Row prisoners in Illinois who have now been exonerated by DA evidence.  That percentage is roughly 5%.

That makes sense when you think about it.  An automobile engine, even when finely tuned, only reaches an efficiency rate of energy to power of 35%.  The judicial system, involving human judgment, must have some error rate and cannot be 100% efficient, as the recent DNA exoneration have clearly shown.  If anything, claiming a 5% error rate may be overly generous.

Yet, the United States has no law, no court forum, no Commission or Panel where prisoners who obtain evidence of either a DNA or non-DNA nature proving their innocence, after trial, conviction and exhaustion of appeals, can present that evidence and obtain relief from their wrongful conviction.  Once the time limit for filing a Motion for New Trial expires, a time limit as short as ten day in some states, or as long as 120 days in others, there simply is no where to go with the evidence and have it heard as a matter of right.

In federal courts, as I was told when I presented my evidence proving I am innocent, proof of innocence is considered irrelevant in proceedings governed by the Habeas Corpus statutes.  The court refuses to expand the record with newly discovered evidence of innocence, or to even consider the question, unless, of course, the prisoner doesn't have any evidence proving innocence.  Then the court will comment on the fact that "petitioner has not provided any evidence he is innocent of the crimes charged." Todays courts seem to take the easiest road to affirming the conviction, even if it means ignoring the truth of the conviction.

Worse yet, prisoners hampered by a lack of financial resources, deprived of direct assess to the Internet and restricted to being able to purchase only a fixed number of envelopes in prison commissaries, are unable to mount an effective campaign informing the public and media of their evidence of innocence.  Any support they receive is uncoordinated and generally not readily available for concentration on sympathetic organizations.

The biggest problem most innocent prisoners face is the simple fact that proving innocence after conviction not only involves obtaining that evidence while incarcerated, with little or no help, but then being able to physically photocopy and mail not only the evidence obtained, but copies of the transcripts of the trial wherein the testimony refuted by the new evidence is available for comparison by interested parties or organizations.  Prisoners, faced with skepticism at every turn, are hampered by the physical logistics and financial cost of "marketing" their case to hundreds of attorneys and organizations, hoping one of them will have an opening and funds to take up the prisoner's cause.

But that may be changing with websites like PrisonerLife.com and IIAO.

In January 2000, Mr. Rod Kee of Olmsted Falls, Ohio, formed the Innocent Inmates Association of Ohio, Inc, (IIAO), a non-profit organization.  He had a brilliant idea that came to him after an old friend who had been convicted of a rape many years ago contacted him from prison asking for help.  The friend, and his new celly, both had proof obtained after their convictions showing they were innocent of the crimes charged.  They asked Mr. Kee to assist them in placing their proof on the Internet.  They wanted the public to see their proof and judge for themselves.  They hoped by placing the actual transcripts and proof on the Internet they could gain support and draw so much attention to their plight they would be able to win their freedom.

Mr. Kee responded that if they could convince him of their innocence he would create a website for them and publicize their case.  What he read concerning their cases appalled him.  He concluded the government was ignoring the truth and trying to ignore the evidence proving these two men were innocent.  Mr. Kee was outraged at the injustice evidenced before him in government documents, and the stone-walling of the cases by the judges and prosecutors involved when presented with the new evidence.

The IIAO asks of the prisoner only one thing --the prisoner must supply hard evidence and documents proving he or she is innocent.  If the prisoner can do that the IIAO will, at no cost, scan in and publish the actual documents and transcripts proving the prisoner's innocence, and write and publish a short description of the case, and why the evidence proves innocence, with links to the transcripts and evidence in the story.

It is important to note what the IIAO does, and what is does not do.  It does not find an attorney for prisoners.  It is, in fact, in serious need of donations to continue operations at its present level.  It does not actively advocate for the prisoner by contacting media, attorneys or organizations such as the ACLU.  What is does do is overcome the financial barrier of photocopy and mailing costs, and provide an organized presentation of the case and proof of innocence online at a website address which the prisoner can then refer attorneys and organizations when asking for their assistance by letter.

This is an idea whose time has come.  Every State in this nation should have an Innocent Inmates Association website where the 5% (100,000) innocent in the prisons of this nation can present their proof of innocence for the world to see and judge for themselves.  These men and women are the collateral damage of the War on Crime.  They are the cases that fell through the cracks in the system.

Today, on John Walsh's show, I heard both Mr. Walsh and a prosecutor from New York, in mocking tones comment on "all the people in prison who claim to be innocent."  I've heard this sound-bite propaganda cliche said so many times, in so many different ways, by so many prosecutors, judges and victims rights advocates, it turns my stomach.  93% of all prisoners enter a plea of guilty in open court, and as a jailhouse lawyer with thirteen years of experience, and winning three aggravated murder reversals for inmates I represented since 1995, I can tell you very few prisoners claim innocence in a serious conversation.  Mr. Walsh, and others like him, create a "boy who cried wolf" mentality in the public at large.  The other cliche, which I also hear back-to-back with the first cliche, is, "all prisoners lie."  Few in this nation are incarcerated for perjury.  The simple truth of the civil complaints filed by prisoners, and reported each month in Prison Legal News (PLN) shows "all" prisoners do not lie. (PLN, published in Seattle, WA.)

For that 5% (and more) there is no "equal justice under the law."  There is not even a law that contemplates justice for the wrongfully convicted.  They, and I, have no place to go to obtain justice.  The court doors are shut to us, worse than shut, nailed closed with hoards of prosecutors, police and judges leaning against the inside of the door, shouting, "GO AWAY!"

This article is written for the non-incarcerated readers.  If you are interested in stgaring a chapter of the Innocent Inmates Association web site in your State, or donating to this very worthy cause and landmark innovative idea and organization, contact Mr. Rod Kee at his web site at http://www.innocentinmates.org/.

I was the 27th prisoner for which Mr. Kee created a web site after reviewing hundreds of cases for Ohio prisoners over the past two years.  In one cell block in my prison alone, he has rejected five cases because the men could not satisfy the organization's standard of proof of innocence.  He has worked diligently on nothing but this organization for two years.  Mr. Kee, and the organization he has founded, is deserving of the utmost respect and support from all of us working to improve the system of justice in the United States.

Until prisoners are freed from the financial cost of merely seeking assistance from wrongful convictions they are unable to tell their story to the world.  To an innocent prisoner who has documentary proof of innocence, there is no greater barrier than being unable to pay the cost of photocopies and postage needed to present the case and evidence to attorneys and civil rights organizations, especially when the prosecutor can simply issue a press release ridiculing the claims of innocence to dissuade public interest.

Think about this.  In two years, working alone and with a few volunteers, Mr. Kee has uncovered 27 cases in Ohio where prisoners have hard, convincing proof of their innocence, enough so to convince him to spend thousands of hours building websites and scanning transcripts and documents for those web sites.  If you multiply that same effort by establishing an Innocent Inmates Association in each State, in two years time there would be 1500 websites showing incontrovertible proof of the wrongful convictions now just beginning to be evidenced by DNA exoneration nationwide.  In four years, there would be 3000 websites . . .

At some point in time Congress, and the State Legislatures, would have to take notice and pass laws providing a court forum for these cases to be heard.  It would just be too much like "what is right" for this not to happen eventually when faced with thousands of prisoners holding out their proof of innocence, and asking only to be heard, and the growing public awareness that innocent people do get convicted, and do get their appeals denied.

I entitled this article, "With Liberty and Justice For All."  I must tell you why, although I must also admit to some shame in the reason.

I am a Vietnam Veteran.  I served with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam in 1970-1971.  A few months ago I joined the Vietnam Veterans Group at my prison.  At the first meeting I went to, during opening ceremonies, we stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  When we came to the final phrase of the Pledge, "with liberty and justice for all," I almost choked on it.  The ruling  by the federal court, telling me that proof I was innocent was IRRELEVANT, danced before my eyes.  The thousands of pages of research I had done on prisoners claiming they had proof of their innocence, who were rebuffed by the courts telling them a free-standing claim of actual innocence was "not a constitutional claim," as stated by Justice Rehnquist in Herrera v. Collins, flashed through my mind.  At that moment, I seriously considered quitting the Vietnam Veterans of America, just so I did not have to say those words. But I realized it wasn't the promise of those words which was wrong, it was the people running the government who were wrong.

At that moment I made a commitment to myself, and to my country.  I will not walk away from this.  For me, for the 100,000 other innocent prisoners sitting in a cell tonight just as I am, and simply because it is the right thing to do.  I am going to force the government to recognize the problem of wrongful convictions, and force the government to open doors of the courts of this nation to those prisoners, and I don't care if it is 20 years after their convictions, who obtain evidence proving themselves innocent.

No government has a legitimate interest in maintaining a false conviction.  No government has a legitimate interest in the "finality" of the conviction and imprisonment of an innocent citizen.  No government has a legitimate interest in hiding the truth from it's people.

For fifteen years prosecutors and judges have tried to sabotage DNA claims of innocence by prisoners, fighting them at every turn.  Just last week I saw the latest tactic used in Virginia. A prisoner was denied access to the evidence to get DNA tests ran on it, and the Federal Court upheld that denial.  I know my last appeals have been denied.  I know causing the laws of this nation to change to recognize claims and evidence proving innocence after conviction will not be done overnight.  I know it may not be done in my lifetime. 

But I promise you this.  If I die before the laws are changed, they'll have to bury me with my ink pen in my hand because they won't be able to pry it from my cold dead fingers.  You have my word on that.

Until next time, this is Jim Love reporting from the Front Line.

E-Mail Jim

©2002-2004 James Love. All Rights Reserved.
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