There are situations where convictions are overturned, and nobody should ever be wrongfully imprisoned. Recently, an article was featured in Desert News. Written by Jensie Anderson, the legal director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project (RMIC), the article shines a light on the dangers of wrongful convictions. According to thearticle, “2,872imprisonedmen and women have been proven innocent nationwide. One hundred eighty-six of the people exonerated had been sentenced to death.”
Many people believe that this is a problem of the past, thinking that DNA is the answer to all crimes; however, it is only available in fewer than 10 percent of all cases. Therefore, DNA alone cannot determine someone’s guilt or innocence, particularly when it is not always available.
While nobody on death row in Utah has been proven innocent after being executed, this might happen in the future. For this reason, it might be time to get rid of the death penalty before this tragedy takes place.
October 2, 2021 is the Eighth Annual International Wrongful Conviction Day, a day to raise awareness about the causes and remedies of wrongful conviction and to recognize the tremendous personal, social, and emotional costs of wrongful conviction for directly impacted people and their families. It began in 2013 as an initiative of the Innocence Network, a coalition of 68 organizations around the world dedicated to providing pro-bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted; working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions; and supporting the exonerated after they are freed.
Wrongful Conviction Day 2021
This Wrongful Conviction Day, we consider the many fights that are ongoing despite the many victories that we celebrate. More than 2,800 people have been exonerated in the US since 1989, but the fight continues for the thousands who remain wrongfully incarcerated. It takes years and, in many cases, decades to achieve an exoneration. Here at the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, we have exonerated 7 people and we are currently working with 60 clients in Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming. These wins are especially meaningful knowing how difficult the fight for freedom is, but we must remember that our fight continues on behalf of our clients who are still inside.
The long term impact of a wrongful conviction
The fight also continues for freed and exonerated people who face new battles upon their release. For many, getting out of prison is only the beginning. Among other things, freed clients face challenges securing housing and employment, building economic security, and reestablishing relationships. They also face the stigma of incarceration and mental and physical health impacts sustained from living in carceral settings. Reentering society can be a long-term process, and there is no perfect template. On Wrongful Conviction Day, it is vital that we acknowledge this fight too.
Wrongful Conviction Legislation and Awareness
Lastly, the fight continues for all of us who work to prevent the multitude of injustices that lead to wrongful convictions in the first place. We have seen considerable progress in the last year. Although RMIC’s primary mission is to bring the innocent home from prison, we are also deeply involved in educating policymakers on criminal justice reform. Read more about our accomplishments here. Yet, there is so much more work to do.
We are grateful for your support and honored to fight alongside you.
Blair Hodson, Executive Director
Rocky Mountain Innocence Center
WCD2021: The Fight Continues
In honor of Wrongful Conviction Day, all donations to RMIC will be matched up to $100,000, thanks to the generosity of the Florence J Gillmor Foundation.
Only a few Utah counties have set up review boards to help free the wrongfully convicted, Michael Locklear of KUTV reports. As featured on KJZZ.com, Tuesday, August 26: This article includes:
Conviction integrity units
4 Utah counties have created them
A call for more counties to set up the units
Jensie Anderson’s response to Tuesday’s announcement
Excerpt:SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center is calling for more counties in Utah to set up conviction integrity units, which are essentially review boards that work to free people who’ve been wrongfully convicted.
Jensie Anderson, legal director for the Center, said Utah is “a little behind the curve.” She said her nonprofit is willing to help smaller counties establish units.
“I think all of the counties ultimately should probably have one,” she said.
Beyond thrilled to share this great news: DeMarlo Berry was awarded $14.5M payout last week as a results of his wrongful conviction of which he served over 22 years. DeMarlo was sentenced to life in prison plus a consecutive 25 years in 1995. The conviction was vacated after Berry secured assistance years earlier from the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center and following a reopened investigation by the district attorney’s newly formed conviction review unit.
Check out our legal director Jensie Anderson as she discusses how concealing officer misconduct has impacted wrongful convictions withKJZZ. You can read the article that details all of Utah’s previous legal proceedings to combat this issue.
During the COVID-19 crisis, our mail output has been bigger than ever. Normally we are able to visit our clients, and we make every effort to do so at least once a year. With the health of our clients and other incarcerated individuals on the line, we’ve chosen to halt all prison visits until it is safe. This means an influx of mail. Our clients need to know we’re still out here, fighting for them, even if we can’t see them face-to-face.⠀
Every dollar you send us goes towards the extensive work we put into each case. With 60+ open cases, we work hard to give each case the attention and devotion it deserves. Please go to our website to read about our clients that we have helped exonerate, the legislative work we have done in Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming, or to donate to our cause today.
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.
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.
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.