(801) 355-1888
contact@rminnocence.org

Causes of Wrongful Convictions

Congratulations to Jensie Anderson, Public Service Award Winner!

We are pleased to announce that RMIC’s Legal Director and Past President, Jensie L. Anderson is one of the Honorees of Utah Philanthropy Day on November 19, 2019. She will be recognized with the Lt. Governor’s Public Service Award. Ms. Anderson served as RMIC President from 2001-2011 and is currently our Legal Director. She litigates innocence and wrongful conviction claims throughout Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada. 

She also serves as director of the Innocence Clinic and administrative supervisor of the Criminal Clinic (both prosecutor and defender) at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at The University of Utah. Professor Anderson teaches legal methods, innocence investigation and post-conviction process, criminal process, lawyering skills, and introduction to law. Please help us in congratulating her for this great honor.

Read more

Three Strikes Law

 

What is 3 Strikes Law?

In many states, such as Utah, 3 strikes law increases the penalties enforced on an individual for a third time offense in certain cases. Three Strikes Law is meant to deter individuals who have been convicted of a crime from reoffending. 

 

Criticisms of 3 Strikes Law

There is little evidence that 3 strikes law is effective deterrent and instead has been linked to the growing prison populations. For individuals who have commited repeated offenses in charges relating to DUIs, theft, domestic violence, violent felonies, the penalties for their third crime can be more severe. For example, under Utah law, a person who commits a petty theft can be charged with a 3rd degree felony if in the last 10 years an individual has twice been convicted of theft: a sentence of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to 5,000 dollars. 

 

Read more

Shaken Baby Syndrome

What is shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a critical brain injury that occurs when an infant or toddler is shaken very roughly by a caregiver. This often occurs as a result of a caregiver’s frustration with the child. Babies and toddlers are at risk for this injury because their neck muscles have not developed the strength to support heavy heads. If the infant is shaken, it is not able to stabilize their head and their fragile brain moves within their skull. The shaking can cause the brain to bleed, swell, and bruise, which can cause irreversible brain damage. 

 

Diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome 

The 3 ‘tell-tale’ signs, or triad, of shaken baby syndrome are said to be; subdural hematoma, brain swelling, and bleeding behind the eyes. 

 

Wrongful Convictions due to Misdiagnosis of SBS

At the moment, many medical practitioners believe SBS can be diagnosed with the triad of symptoms. Norman Guthkelch was the first to hypothesize that whiplash causes the 3 indicator symptoms of SBS. The mistake made by lawmakers was conflating his Guthkelch’s hypothesis as categorical evidence for SBS when there had not been sufficient nor conclusive evidence that the triad is associated with SBS. The Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services has reviewed SBS literature and found insufficient evidence to use the triad to diagnose SBS. Specialists in the field are now saying that there are other factors which can cause these symptoms to appear. Accidental falls, previous injuries, infections, perinatal problems, and birth trauma can be misdiagnosed as SBS due to the brain damage they can cause. The lack of reliability of the triad for diagnosing shaken baby syndrome emphasizes the need to combine medical evidence with other evidence that proves abuse occurred. 






Read more

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

What is Ineffective Assistance of Counsel?

By law, an individual has a right to assistance from a counsel. It is the job of a lawyer to investigate alibis and witnesses, ask experts to analyze evidence, and be present at the trials. When lawyers are ineffective at trials, the innocent individual suffers. Their vulnerability as civilians to the specialized practice of law can render them defenseless even if they have compelling evidence to support their innocence. When a lawyer is not a good vector to communicate the innocence of an individual, the convicted person may file a habeas corpus claim to prove ineffective assistance of counsel.

What constitutes Ineffective Assistance of Counsel?

The supreme court case Strickland v. Washington established that prove ineffective assistance of counsel, and a violation of the 6th amendment, a defendant must demonstrate the following

  1. that their trial lawyer’s performance fell below an “objective standard of reasonableness”
  2. “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different”
Read more

Brady Material Law

What is Brady Material Law?

Brady Material Law is the requirement for the prosecution to disclose any information that could be helpful for the case of the defense and that could help reduce the sentence of the defendant. In many cases, prosecutors will discover Brady Material, evidence that could help the defense to prove the innocence of an individual, but suppress it to increase their chances of winning a trial. This doctrine arose from the Supreme Court case Brady vs. Maryland in 1963. Infringements of this requirement include not disclosing:

 

  1. Evidence implicating someone else as the perpetrator of a crime
  2. Inconsistencies in a witness’s previous statements (Giglio Material)
  3. Evidence that would suggest police or forensic technician misconduct
  4. Motive(s) for a witness to lie

 

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, Brady violations still occur. To correct these violations, an extensive post-conviction investigation is needed. The evidence may be so well suppressed that luck is involved in discovering it. In addition, it is extremely difficult to discipline prosecutors that violate the Brady Material Law through the State Bar Association or civil courts.



Read more