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WRONGFUL: Will Arnold Do the Right Thing?

April 21st, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Herold HallTimothy AtkinsHerman Atkins

It would be nice to think that wrongful convictions
are once-in-a-blue-moon occurrences. But research in California and elsewhere suggests otherwise. It seems that three of the main reasons for wrongful convictions are: erroneous witness identification, false informants, false confessions.

A few random So Cal examples:


Los Angeles resident, Harold Hall, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. He spent 19 year in prison. He didn’t do it, although he confessed to the murder. What jurors didn’t know is that Hall was interrogated by four detectives of 17 hours straight while handcuffed to a chair, without food, water or bathroom breaks. Released in 2004, Hall now works for the Los Angeles County Bar, appointing attorneys to indigent defendants.


Timothy Atkins, another Los Angeles man, spent 20 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. His conviction based on a faulty witness ID and the false testimony by a jailhouse informant. He was released this past February.

Herman Atkins served 12 years for a rape he didn’t commit. He was convicted based on faulty and coerced witness ID and was released in 2000. He is now getting his master’s in psychology, and has set up a small foundation, LIFE, to assist other recent exonerees with the basic necessities. His lawsuit against the Riverside detective accused of fabricating witness testimony against him began last week in LA’s downtown criminal court.

I could go on.

A group of California lawmakers are working to address some of the root causes of these miscarriages of justice—that is if the governor doesn’t get in the way.

This past week, a panel of justice experts has recommended three bills to the California state legislature that are designed to cut down on wrongful convictions without hog-tying law enforcement. The bills would help prevent false eyewitness identifications and forced confessions, and would make it harder to rely on jailhouse informants who are notoriously unreliable.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed similar bills in the past. Let’s hope he’s smart enough to support these. Basically, Arnold has good instincts on criminal justice issues. Unfortunately, when it counts, he’s often been far to politicized, far too afraid of looking soft on crime, to follow them.

Arnold is in deep trouble with California prisons. He needs to make smart and bold moves to make sure that the folks we’ve got crowding our prisons are the bad guys—not the low level lawbreakers or, God forbid, the innocent

Or, if Arnold can’t make such bold moves, then get out of the damned way when others make them.

These bills are a step in that direction. They need to pass and to be signed into law.


Posted in crime and punishment, Police, prison policy | 4 Comments »

4 Responses

  1. richard locicero Says:

    Well one thing is sure. He can’t be any worse than Grey Davis who never met an inmate that he didn’t think should stay in the jug. Arnold might change his tune now that he realizes that his Republican friends nearly sent him over the cliff and now that he faces the prospect of a Federal Judge ordering him and the Dept of Corrections around. On the other hand maybe he’ll just let that happen knowing that he can blame the judge for releasing those prisoning while Arnold takes the credit for lowering the cost of prisons which has sakyrocketed over the past twenty years. Something about lemons and lomonade I think.

  2. pokey Says:

    The big problem also seems tobe the DA’s who value their carear above justice.

    It seems more of a game of wits, keeping out evidense that may hurt your case.

  3. Pokey Says:

    Justice statistics

    Conviction rates (same)
    Conviction rates for indigent defendants and those with their own lawyers were about the same in Federal and States courts. About 90% of the Federal defendants and 75% of the defendants in the most populous counties were found guilty regardless of the type of their attorneys.

    Jail Time (higher with PRIVATE Attorney)

    On average, sentence lengths for defendants sent to jail or prison were shorter for those with publicly-financed attorneys than those who hired counsel. In Federal district court those with publicly financed attorneys were given just under 5 years on average and those with private attorneys just over 5 years. In large State courts those with publicly financed attorneys were sentenced to an average of 2½ years and those with private attorneys to 3 years.

  4. Woody Says:

    Your link makes us sign in, which kills it for me. However, I’m suspicious of a “Panel of Justice Experts,” which means a room full of bed-wetting liberals.

    Unlike the Duke rape accused, at least these accused had a trial before being pronounced guilty. L.A.’s DA cannot be any worse than one in N.C. Fortunately for a lot of old rape cases, DNA is clearing some of those (when not concealed by the D.A.) Things would get better if phony testimony, accusations, and prosecutions were punished.

    There is always injustice. This one involves criminal laws. We often see injustices in everything from job promotion to selecting cheerleaders. We’re not living in a perfect world.

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