In 1974, a 9-year-old Polk County boy was taken from his bedroom and raped in a field. The boy's uncle, a high school assistant principal, said the description of the attacker sounded like a student, Jimmy Bain.
Police went to Bain's home that evening and arrested him. The 19-year-old was sentenced to life in prison despite the fact that he had an alibi and his blood type didn't match the semen sample.
For 35 years, James Bain sat in prison as letter after letter asking for DNA testing was rejected.
Finally, in December 2009, the Innocence Project of Florida requested a DNA test that proved Bain didn't rape the boy. According to the Innocence Project of Florida, he has served the longest sentence of any DNA exoneree in the country.
The following year, the Florida Supreme Court created the 25-person Florida Innocence Commission with a mandate to report back on the flaws in the state's legal system that conspire to leave innocent men and women behind bars.
Just before being defunded by current governor Rick Scott, the group released their report in June, identifying among other problems these 6 ways Florida is keeping the wrongfully convicted in prison:
According to the commission, 75 percent of those exonerated by DNA evidence were convicted because of an eyewitnesses. "Eyewitness identification is powerful because a witness is often completely convinced that he or she is correct about identifying a perpetrator," according to the study. People can point the finger at the wrong person for a number of reasons, including the stress of a dangerous weapon, cross-racial identification, and police lineups. For the latter, the commission suggests switching over to showing witnesses a lineup of photographs, one at a time, by someone who does not know who the criminal is.
"Research into the cases and psychological studies have shown that people are more apt to confess to a crime when subjected to certain interrogation techniques, and that some categories of people, such as juveniles and mentally incapacitated individuals, are especially susceptible to making a false confession," according to the report. In cases where one was found to be wrongfully convicted, 25 percent were a result of false confessions. Of the 11 people exonerated in Florida, three were because of false confessions. The commission suggested that recording interviews be mandatory so they can be reviewed later, if necessary.
Of those exonerated from death row, 49.5 percent were put there because of false informant testimony. Also, 15 percent of wrongful convictions that were overturned by DNA evidence were a result of wrongful informants. The commission suggests that testimony be paired with independent evidence, caution jurors, reliability hearings, and require that the informant's history be shared.
According to research by the Innocence Project, 54 percent of the first 255 DNA exonerees said they felt they had bad counsel. The Justice Project found that misconduct by prosecutors has led to dismissed charges, reversed convictions, or reduced sentences in more than 2,000 cases since 1970. Of these, 32 people were found to be wrongfully convicted.
Of 228 exonerations studied, 116 were due to improper scientific evidence. The commission suggested purchasing updating equipment and hiring more staff: - 50 rapid identification devices for $198,450. - 21,184 DNA kits for $593,152. - 13 AB 3500 Genetic Analyzers and software for $3,120,000. - Six crime lab analysts to handle CODIS for $470,547. - 10 new crime lab analysts for $784,245
"The Commission believes that the current funding process for private court-appointed counsel under section 27.5304(1), Florida Statutes, invites ineffective assistance of counsel and wrongful convictions," according to the report. On average, each assistant state attorney handled 368 felony, 2,185 misdemeanor, and 798 juvenile case referrals in 2011. Rather than a "flat fee" for private court-appointment counsel, the commission recommend that the pay be based on the level of the felony involved. (Wikimedia photo by selbstfotografiert.)
(Flickr photo by Peter Pawlowski.)