MoPo in the Media: Criminal (In)Justice Podcast, Poynter


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Photo of the interir of Alcatraz by Geof Wilson via Creative Commons/Flickr

Maurice recently was a guest on David A. Harris’ Criminal (In)Justice podcast, where he discussed his journalistic work around exonerations of the wrongfully convicted.

Harris says,

With hundreds of exonerations of the wrongfully convicted, it’s easy to think that the law and lawyers making use of DNA have made all the difference. But investigative journalists have made huge contributions: exposing shoddy forensics, showing the public how eyewitness testimony goes wrong and how false confessions get made, and confronting police wrongdoing and lack of accountability. Without the untiring efforts of reporters, much of the injustice in the criminal system would stay hidden.

Listen to the Episode 11 online HERE or via to the June 221, 2016 Episode via iTunes HERE.

Maurice received a nice shout out from Rick MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine, in a recent column by James Warren at the Poynter Institute.

In response to Warren’s question about the current state of criminal justice journalism, MacArthur said:

“It’s terrible now. It used to be very good when there were more newspapers. Two stars were Maury Possley (then at the Chicago Tribune, now the National Registry of Exonerations in California) and Jim Dwyer when he was at Newsday (now at The New York Times). But there were other people, too. All over the country, local papers were doing big investigative pieces on wrongful convictions and judicial malpractice. Now most of the reporters have been wiped out. So I would say the state of enterprise reporting on travesties of justice — the classic pieces — is very poor. And there’s no replacement.”

Read Warren’s column in its entirety HERE.





For 50 Years, You’ve Had “The Right to Remain Silent”


With my colleague Sam Gross, director of the National Registry of Exonerations, I recently published a piece on the 50th anniversary of the Miranda warnings and why so many suspects confess to crimes they haven’t committed, at The Marshall Project.

Here’s an excerpt:

“You have the right to remain silent.”
If you’ve ever watched any of the tens of thousands of hours of television devoted to crime dramas, you know the first warning given to suspects who are arrested and questioned. And the second: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” The Miranda warnings—named for Miranda v. Arizona, the 1966 Supreme Court decision that required them—celebrate their 50th anniversary on June 13. In that period, they have become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget their origin and purpose.

Miranda was the culmination of 30 years of Supreme Court cases that were designed to protect criminal suspects from abuse in police interrogations. The earliest of these decisions prohibited violence and torture. The first concern was to prevent confessions that are “unreliable”—that is, false.

In 1966, false confessions seemed like a rare problem. Fifty years later, we have seen hundreds of exonerations of innocent defendants who confessed to terrible crimes after they received Miranda warnings.

It’s a good time to take stock.

Do innocent people really confess without torture?Why would an innocent person ever confess to a murder or some other terrible violent crime?

Torture would explain it. That was the issue in Brown v. Mississippi in 1936, the first case in which the Supreme Court excluded a confession from a state court prosecution. Three suspects had been tortured for days. Asked how severely one defendant was whipped, the deputy in charge testified: “Not too much for a Negro; not as much as I would have done if it were left to me.”

Between 1936 and 1966 the use of torture to extract confessions declined greatly, a major accomplishment by American courts and criminal justice reformers. When Miranda was written, a shift was underway to more “modern” methods of interrogation: isolation, deception, manipulation and exhaustion rather than beating. Without torture or threats of death or violence, it seems implausible that an innocent suspect would confess to a serious crime. That is precisely why confessions are such powerful evidence of guilt. But we know it happens, time and again.

The National Registry of Exonerations has collected data on 1,810 exonerations in the United States since 1989 (as of June 7, 2016). They include 227 cases of innocent men and women who confessed, 13 percent of the total, all after receiving Miranda warnings (at least according to the police). Nearly three quarters of those false confessions were homicide cases.

But these exonerations deeply understate the extent of the problem.

Read the article in its entirety HERE.

From THE ATLANTIC: How Two Newspaper Reporters Helped Free an Innocent Man


Daniel Taylor didn’t commit murder — and the author, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, proved it in The Chicago Tribune. But it took the justice system more than a decade to catch up.

By Maurice Possley

Aug. 29, 2013

During nearly 25 years as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, I received hundreds of requests for help from convicted defendants. None was more compelling than the hand-printed letter from Daniel Taylor, a 25-year-old inmate at Stateville Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois. In neat block letters, Daniel explained that he was serving a life sentence without parole for a double murder in Chicago in 1992. Even though Daniel had given a court-reported confession, he said he was innocent and he had police records that proved it.

The letter was addressed to Steve Mills, my reporting partner on numerous stories about wrongful conviction. When Steve brought it to my desk, I was as intrigued—and skeptical—as he was. Why had this man confessed? How had he been convicted? Was he delusional about what the police records really showed?

But Daniel’s timing was fortuitous. It was the summer of 2001, and Steve and I, along with fellow reporter Ken Armstrong, were deep into an investigation of false and coerced confessions in the city of Chicago. Perhaps, we thought, Daniel’s case would provide a window into a world we suspected—and later proved—existed: a world where defendants were said to have confessed to crimes they did not commit.

And so, in December 2001, the Tribune published our five-part series, “Cops and Confessions,” Daniel’s case was the subject of an entire installment. We had uncovered strong evidence of Daniel’s innocence—evidence that he was actually in jail at the time of the crime and that his confession was false.

I had never been so confident of a convicted defendant’s innocence. And I never imagined nearly 12 years would pass before Cook County prosecutors would admit the truth and dismiss his conviction. But it finally happened. On June 28, 2013, Daniel, who was arrested at age 17, was released at age 38, having spent more than 20 years behind bars.





California Voters Get a New Reason to Abolish the Death Penalty

MoPo’s latest, published this week in the New Republic.

With 726 inmates sentenced to die, California has the largest death row in America. The state has executed just thirteen death row inmates since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977, and none since 2006. The path from conviction to lethal injection for those who were executed has taken as long as twenty-five years.

In May, the National Registry released a report describing the first 873 exonerations it identified – including seventy-nine state exonerations and one federal exoneration in California. The Report emphasized that the 873 were only a beginning—that the true number of exonerations still is unknown because there is no formal system for recording such cases as they occur.

Since then, the number of exonerations on the National Registry has grown to 996 and will soon top 1,000, according to Samuel Gross, Law Professor at the University of Michigan and editor of the Registry.


The National Registry of Exonerations Is Up

A few of the 891 exonerees included in the new Registry.

After several years of painstaking work, the National Registry of Exonerations is a reality.

A joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, the Registry is the largest collection of exonerations in the United States with nearly 900 individual cases since 1989, the year of the first DNA exoneration in America.

The Registry issued a report analyzing these cases as well as the exonerations of more than 1,100 defendants following convictions stemming from 13 separate police corruption scandals (such as the drug task force scandal in Tulia, Texas, and the Rampart scandal in Los Angeles).

The Registry is the brainchild of Michigan Law professor Samuel Gross and Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

In December 2011, I began to work on the Registry, researching and writing cases.

The total number of defendants exonerated during the 23-year period totals roughly 2,000an average of about one a week.

The cases in the Registry offer important insights into the false conviction phenomenon — insights that hopefully will foster criminal justice reforms designed to improve the accuracy and fairness of the criminal justice system.

To contact the Registry, click HERE.

And here’s some what USA Today has to say about the Registry Sunday evening (even if they jumped the embargo a little):

Perjury, faulty eyewitness identification and prosecutorial misconduct are the leading reasons for wrongful convictions, according to the first national registry of exonerations compiled by university researchers.

The database, assembled in a collaboration by the University of Michigan and Northwestern University, has identified 873 faulty convictions in the past 23 years that have been recognized by prosecutors, judges or governors.

The registry’s founders say the numbers, which do not include many cases in which innocent suspects plead guilty to avoid the risk of more serious punishments or cases that have been dismissed because of legal error without new evidence of innocence, represent only a fraction of the problem in the nation’s criminal justice system.

“What this shows is that the criminal justice system makes mistakes, and they are more common than people think,” said University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, the registry’s editor. “It is not the rule, but we won’t learn to get better unless we pay attention to these cases.”

Despite the data, the registry concluded that the “overwhelming majority of convicted defendants are guilty.”

“Most never dispute their guilt and few ever present substantial post-conviction evidence of innocence,” the registry found. “When that does happen, however, it should be taken seriously. …We cannot prevent all false convictions, but we must not compound these tragedies by stubbornness or arrogance or, worst of all, indifference.”

Read USAToday’s complete coverage HERE.

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