The Justice Department and the FBI have launched a review of thousands of criminal cases to determine whether any defendants were wrongly convicted or deserve a new trial because of flawed forensic evidence, officials said Tuesday.
The undertaking is the largest post-conviction review ever done by the FBI. It will include cases conducted by all FBI Laboratory hair and fiber examiners since at least 1985 and may reach earlier if records are available, people familiar with the process said. Such FBI examinations have taken place in federal and local cases across the country, often in violent crimes, such as rape, murder and robbery.
The review comes after The Washington Post reported in April that Justice Department officials had known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people but had not performed a thorough review of the cases. In addition, prosecutors did not notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced that it will conduct the more expansive review.
“The Department and the FBI are in the process of identifying historical cases for review where a microscopic hair examination conducted by the FBI was among the evidence in a case that resulted in a conviction,” spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said in a statement. “We have dedicated considerable time and resources to addressing these issues, with the goal of reaching final determinations in the coming months.”
FBI spokeswoman Ann Todd deferred comment to the Justice Department.
In its April report, The Post identified two District men convicted largely on the testimony of FBI hair analysts who wrongly placed them at crime scenes. Santae A. Tribble, now 51, was convicted of killing a taxi driver in 1978, and Kirk L. Odom, now 49, was convicted of a sexual assault in 1981. Since the Post report, Tribble’s conviction was vacated, and on Tuesday, prosecutors moved to overturn Odom’s conviction and declare him innocent. The Justice Department had not previously reviewed their cases.
Chitre said the new review would include help from the Innocence Project, a New York-based advocacy group for people seeking exoneration through DNA testing. It also would include the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Steven D. Benjamin, a Richmond lawyer who is incoming president of the association, called the review “an important collaboration” and a departure from one-sided government reviews that left defendants in the dark.
“Mistakes were made. What is important now is our working together to correct those mistakes,” Benjamin said, adding that his organization will “fully assist in finding and notifying all those who may have been affected.”
The review comes as the National Academy of Sciences is urging the White House and Congress to remove crime labs from police and prosecutors’ control, or at least to strengthen the science and standards underpinning the nation’s forensic science system.
The last time the FBI abandoned a forensic practice was in 2005, when it ended efforts to trace bullets to a specific manufacturer’s batch through analyzing their chemical composition after its methodology was scientifically debunked. The bureau released files in an estimated 2,500 bullet-lead cases only after “60 Minutes” and The Post reported the problem in 2007.
Michael R. Bromwich, a former Justice Department official who investigated the FBI Laboratory in the mid-1990s as inspector general and, more recently, the city of Houston’s crime lab, said the review is important as the nation’s crime labs come under scrutiny.
“These recent developments remind us of the profound questions about the validity of many forensic techniques that have been used over the course of many decades and underscore the need for continuing attention at every level to ensuring the scientific validity and accuracy of the forensic science that is used every day in our criminal justice system,” Bromwich said.
The Post reported in April that hair and fiber analysis was subjective and lacked grounding in solid research and that the FBI lab lacked protocols to ensure that agent testimony was scientifically accurate. But bureau managers kept their reviews limited to one agent, even as they learned that many examiners’ “matches” were often wrong and that numerous examiners overstated the significance of matches, using bogus statistics or exaggerated claims.
Details of how the new FBI review will be conducted remain unclear. The exact number of cases that will be reviewed is unknown. The FBI is starting with more than 10,000 cases referred to all hair and fiber examiners. From those, the focus will be on a smaller number of hair examinations that resulted in positive findings and a conviction.
It also is unclear whether the review will focus only on exaggerated testimony by FBI examiners or also on scientifically unfounded statements made by others trained by the FBI, or made by prosecutors. Also unclear is at what point government officials will notify defense attorneys or the Innocence Project.
In past reviews, the department kept results secret and gave findings only to prosecutors, who then determined whether to turn them over to the defense.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Shapiro & Mack
PHONE: (410) 884-6100
SEPTEMBER 30, 2011
State of Maryland v. Wael G. Ali, District Court of Maryland for Howard County
On behalf of the family of Wael and Wasel Ali, it is with extreme sorrow that this message is delivered to the community – the community that the Ali family has been a part of, and loved, for well over 20 years. In 2007, Wasel Ali’s life was brutally ended at the hands of another. The loss of Wasel was, and still is, unbearable for the Ali family. Wael Ali, being the identical twin brother of and best friend to Wasel, took his brother’s death the hardest. As lifelong residents of Howard County, the familiar landscape of Columbia, Maryland was a constant reminder of times past and Wasel’s demise. After four years of unanswered questions, unanswered prayers, and unanswered pleas for help, Wael moved to Atlanta, Georgia, along with his mother, to attend college, start a family business, and begin anew.
Dreadfully, after Wasel’s case had gone cold for years, Wael was torn from his new community in Georgia and falsely accused of the most heinous crime imaginable. The Ali family firmly stands behind Wael. The Ali family believes in Wael’s innocence; they believe in the justice system; they believe in their community; and they believe that Wael, in due time, will be completely exonerated.
It is not indicative of guilt that Wael has been denied bond. In fact, the frequent denial of bond in cases involving serious allegations is common in the United States justice system. Wael Ali stands innocent of all charges. To that effect, the legal team of Jason A. Shapiro, Paul E. Mack, and David Zwanetz has been retained to fight for justice and the liberty of Wael Ali. Mr. Shapiro, Mr. Mack, and Mr. Zwanetz wholeheartedly believe in Wael’s innocence and intend to aggressively pursue his absolute vindication.
By nature, a parent should never outlive a child. The parents of Wael Ali were forced to endure the most unnatural of circumstances in 2007 with the tragic loss of their son, Wasel Ali. They will not tolerate the loss of Wael Ali, their other son, in 2011 on false accusations or baseless allegations.
During this difficult time for the Ali family, they sincerely request that their privacy be respected and they be given time to grieve. At this time, the family is not available for additional comments or interviews. The Ali’s have requested that all inquiries into this matter be directed to Jason A. Shapiro, Paul Mack, or David Zwanetz at the Law Firm of Shapiro & Mack.
An amended version of Maryland SB 308 has been approved by the state’s House and Senate and now goes to the desk of Governor O’Malley, whose aids have indicated he plans to sign the bill. While not as robust as the original, SB 308 still allows for qualified medical marijuana patients to present an “affirmative defense” if they are being prosecuted for possessing and consuming their medicine. Here is an excerpt from a Marijuana Policy Project email alert:
“With the passage of this bill, the General Assembly has let seriously ill patients know they are not criminals for seeking relief from their pain and suffering,” said Senator David Brinkley, the primary sponsor of the Senate bill.” It will also establish a framework to build on in moving forward with more comprehensive solutions so that some day soon patients will be able to obtain their medicine in dignity and not on street corners. I thank my colleagues in both chambers for today’s compassionate vote.”
In its current form, the bill, SB 308, allows individuals diagnosed with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis, to avoid conviction if charged with the non-public use or possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. An existing sentencing mitigation would remain part of the law, meaning patients who don’t qualify for the full affirmative defense would still have the opportunity to present evidence of medical necessity and have their sentence reduced to a $100 fine. In addition, a work group consisting of medical, legal, and law enforcement experts would be convened to recommend more comprehensive legislation next year. The bill represents a compromise after the Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene objected to a more robust proposal calling for state-regulated dispensaries due to the cost of implementation.
“Today’s vote is a move toward compassion for those who might benefit from this drug,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim, the bill’s House sponsor and the General Assembly’s only licensed physician. “A growing body of evidence suggests marijuana is helpful in treating certain conditions, and seriously ill people who use marijuana to treat such conditions on the advice of their physician should not be considered criminals.”
“Under current law, patients using medical marijuana in Maryland face criminal arrest, prosecution and conviction,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, one of the sponsors in the Senate. “Although judges can reduce the penalty to $100 in these cases, we heard testimony from patients who said they have lost their jobs and were haunted for life by being branded as criminals. This legislation declares that severely ill people using medical marijuana are not criminals and will have the opportunity to establish medical necessity as a defense to a possession charge. The removal of this threat and the creation of a work group to develop a Maryland model for a comprehensive medical marijuana regime moves us closer to the broader goal of giving patients in Maryland a legal way to obtain doctor-recommended medicine.”
Advocates appear to be encouraged by the compromise. “This isn’t a permanent solution, and it’s not everything that patients need, but it allows people suffering from debilitating conditions to sleep a little easier tonight while they wait for full protections,” said Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project.
Maryland could very well becomes the 16th state to remove criminal penalties for medical marijuana patients and next year maybe a full medical marijuana bill can be introduced and make its way through the legislature.
The legalization of medical marijuana is very interesting topic that most people have a strong opinion about. Those of us at Shapiro & Mack plan to stay on top of the news relating to this bill so that we can zealously defend our clients and pursue every conceivable defense. We would love to hear your comments on this topic.
A Howard County police officer was arrested early this morning in Southeast Baltimore after police say he punched a female officer in the head then yelled, “I’m a cop!” as officers placed him in handcuffs.
According to court records, officers were attempting to disperse a crowd at Canton Square in the 2900 block of ODonnell St. at 2 a.m. when someone yelled “[Expletive] the police,” who the officer believed to be Casey Robert Lechter. Another man, Kary Williams, said he was the person who made the statement, and the officer told him to leave the area, according to records.
He refused, and the officer told him he was under arrest, officers wrote. While she was placing handcuffs on him, she said Lechter punched her in the head from behind and pushed her away. Police records say a private citizen grabbed Lechter and pinned him against a parked vehicle as additional officers arrived at the scene to help.
Police say Lechter yelled, “I’m a cop” but continued to resist arrest. Williams, meanwhile, suffered a cut to his head and was bleeding heavily, “covering both police officers in his blood,” officers wrote in court documents. Medics were called, and Willliams “continued to flail and spray his blood in the area,” records show.
Electronic court records indicate neither Lechter nor Williams had not been charged as 2 p.m. Sunday, though the police report said both were taken to a hospital and would be charged after they were released.
According to the Howard County police web site, Lechter served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and was deployed for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. His unit recovered thousands of pounds of heroin, and days later some of the unit’s soldiers were injured or killed in a bombing.
Sunday morning’s fight, which officials say happened outside Coburn’s Tavern, was originally put out by the city firefighters union over Twitter as a stabbing, due to the large amount of blood from Williams. Police say no one was stabbed during the altercation.
This news update is brought to you by the Howard County’s Premier Boutique Criminal Defense & Personal Injury firm SHAPIRO & MACK
WASHINGTON (WUSA) — The four Metropolitan Police Department officers charged with corruption last weekend may never be able to testify in cases they have prepared against other suspected criminals, potentially allowing those criminal defendants to go free.
“Obviously, every case involving these officers will be looked at, and ate those cases in jeopardy? They absolutely are,” said Chief Cathy Lanier.
“How many?” asked reporters.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Prosecutors will not be able to call these officers as witnesses in each case where these officers charged anybody,” predicted veteran Maryland defense attorney Paul Mack.
“These officers’ credibility is an issue in every case,” Mack told 9 NEWS NOW.
“I would think they are going to have to throw out a fair amount of cases, probably most cases that these officers were involved with,” Mack said.
The police officers, all assigned to the department’s Fourth Police District, were each targeted in an Internal Affairs sting. Three believed they were, while on duty, buying stolen electronic equipment. A fourth believed she was receiving cash from a residential burglary.
The four officers face a misdemeanor charge, the maximum penalty for which is a thousand dollar fine and six months behind bars.
This breaking news is brought to you my Maryland’s Premier Criminal Defense Firm, Shapiro & Mack. “fighting hard in all arenas!”
The California Supreme Court made a controversial 5-2 ruling yesterday allowing police to search arrestees’ cell phones without a warrant. This finding is said to be in line with decisions made in the 1970s that items on an arrestee’s person during an arrest, such as cigarettes or a wallet, can be seized and later examined without a warrant.
The two dissenting judges argue that smart phones are uncharted territory, as they contain information that isn’t exactly part of the arrestee’s person. The judges also bring up the point that the seized property could easily be searched after obtaining a warrant. Additionally, this ruling likely violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
Back in 2007, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of San Francisco ruled that police had violated drug defendants’ rights by searching their cell phones after their arrests. The Ohio Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion in December 2009. This will hopefully prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the matter.
This 4th Amendment Update is brought to you by Shapiro & Mack. Maryland’s premier Criminal Defense & Personal Injury boutique law firm.
An uproar over a cell phone video that shows a Seattle police officer punching a 17-year-old girl after his attempt to cite her for jaywalking is just one of several recent incidents where low-quality video footage shot by members of the public has incriminated public officials.
The video, which you can watch here (warning: disturbing content), shows a young woman resisting Officer Ian P. Walsh, who was citing the woman and a friend Monday for jaywalking. Her friend attempts to intervene, inserting herself between the officer and her friend and grabbing the officer’s arm. That’s the moment when the officer punches her in the face.
Seattle community leaders are in an uproar, saying the use of force was excessive. Officials with the Seattle Police Department say they have “questions” about the officer’s tactics and are investigating the incident. But Seattle Police Officers Guild President Rich O’Neil says the officer’s use of force was appropriate. The Seattle department announced Wednesday that Walsh has been reassigned pending further inquiries.
The Walsh footage is the latest in a series of incidents catching public figures in questionable — and at times legally suspect — conduct. In one of the more formal such encounters this week, Democratic Rep. Bob Etheridge apologized after video surfaced of the North Carolina lawmaker reacting angrily to questions from two young men holding a camera. He hit the camera down, roughly grabbed one of the men by the arm and neck, and demanded again and again to know his questioner’s name.
WOW! I HAVE NOW SEEN IT ALL!