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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Man Is Born; Poem by Rosh Holmes

This poem is dedicated to Efren Paredes, Jr. I wish him all the very best as he earnestly works to effectuate justice in the face of strong opposition. Please stand by Efren, his family and supporters, and voice strong opposition against the terrible injustice that has robbed him of freedom for more than half of his life. —Rosh Holmes

A Man Is Born
by Rosh Holmes

A man is born when a child is faced,
With grave and frightful scares.
When a child is placed within such states,
As waste and sheer despair.

A man is born when a son's bright glow,
Is hidden by the clouds.
When earthquakes shake,
Through thunder's hate,
And the son is left to fate.

A man is born in adolescent years,
When betrayal dries his tears.
When a boy is cast amongst the wolves,
And raised by scorn and jeers.

I'll tell you when a man is born,
Grant me an open ear.
When a child is left to strange device,
Abandoned by his peers.

A man is born from juveniles,
Thrown in the depths of hell.
Systems devoid compassion's touch,
And dank, walled prison cells.

Some men are born before their time,
Conceived by blinding pain.
Still some are born when left to drown,
In pools of the insane.

Some men are born by a kiss of rage,
When tossed into a cage.
Others are born through fog and haze,
Brought on by Prison Daze.

I'll tell you when some men are born,
Grant me another ear.
A man is born from cries for right,
Made where none are to hear.

I bless you with these truthful verse,
These words we all should mourn,
When a son's bright light is stifled and,
A man is born.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mario Rocha -- Another Case of Wrongly Convicted Juvenile

When Mario Rocha was only 16, he was tried as an adult and sentenced to two consecutive life terms for murder. Mario spent the ensuing decade of his life incarcerated in California, all the while professing his innocence. Despite being beaten down both physically and emotionally while in prison, Mario and his team of dedicated advocates, including his family, his legal team, and members of the religious community, never gave up hope that one day justice would prevail against all odds.

Mario's Story is a new documentary following Mario's case over the course of the past 10 years. It details the faulty investigation and ineffective counsel that led to Mario's wrongful conviction, as well as the tireless efforts of Mario's attorneys that eventually resulted in the vacating of his conviction. The film also chronicles Mario's remarkable efforts to help others while in prison; a gifted and prolific writer, Mario penned poems, songs and plays about his experience which were shared with local at-risk youth.

Above all else, the film is a testament to the voracity of Mario's spirit, which, even during his darkest times, never ceased to fight against injustice and look towards a future of freedom. Mario's Story is a must-see for anyone concerned about the causes and consequences of wrongful convictions and the inner workings of our broken justice system.

Directed by award-winning filmmakers Susan Koch and Jeff Werner, Mario's Story premiered in June at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature, and is now being screened in film festivals across the US and to an enthusiastic audience response. More information about the film can be found at


* * *

Mario Rocha, a young Latino kid from East LA, was convicted of murder and attempted murder on the basis of one eyewitness identification and no physical evidence. He was 16 years old at the time of his arrest, yet tried as an adult and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. While in Juvenile Hall waiting two years for his trial, Mario discovered his talent for writing.

Mario's chances of regaining his freedom are less than 1 percent. Once found guilty by a jury, it is almost impossible to overturn the conviction. This film interweaves Mario's story and writings as an inmate in one of California's toughest prisons, with the efforts of an unexpected group of people who have come together to win his freedom. They include Sister Janet Harris, the feisty and unstoppable former chaplain at Juvenile Hall; Mario's pro-bono attorneys at Latham and Watkins, one of the nation's most prestigious law firms; and a private detective/screenwriter.

For over 7 years, the filmmakers were given unprecedented access to film inside Calipatria State Prison as well as the behind-the-scenes legal efforts. While the film raises serious questions about our criminal justice system as it follows the often discouraging but determined efforts to win Mario's freedom, it is also a hopeful and inspiring story. Mario's own personal growth in prison reveals how even under the worst conditions, the human spirit can rise and reach out to others.

Mario's Story is a "deeply moving film and a nail-biting thriller."

Source: Los Angeles Film Festival

Sunday, January 21, 2007

New Senate Bills Introduced Regarding Juveniles Sentenced to Life in Prison

January 10, 2007 Senator Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) introduced two new senate bills, and co-sponsored the introduction of two additional senate bills with Senators Switalski and Scott, aimed at ending sentences of imprisonment for life without parole eligibility for juveniles convicted of crimes.

Senate Bill No. 6 calls for an amendment to 1927 PA 175, entitled "The code of criminal procedure," by amending sections 1 and 1b of chapter IX (MCL 769.1 and 769.1b), section 1 as amended by 1999 PA 87 and section 1b as amended by 1998 PA 520.

The bill would change the way juveniles are sentenced in Michigan courts. The relevant changes would require the following:

"The court shall not sentence an individual who was less than 18 years of age when the crime was committed to imprisonment for life without parole eligibility." (Sec. 1, §15, p. 9, lines 17-19)

"The court shall not sentence an individual who was less than 18 years of age when the crime was committed to imprisonment for life without parole eligibility." (Sec. 1b, §8, p. 12, lines 21-23)

Senate Bill No. 9 calls for an amendment to A bill to amend 1953 PA 232, entitled "Corrections code of 1953," by amending section 34 (MCL 791.234), as amended by 2006 PA 167.

This bill would change the way prisoners serving life sentences are reviewed by the parole board who were sentenced before the age of 18. The relevant changes would require the following:

"Notwithstanding anything else to the contrary in this Section, an individual who was less than 18 years of age when he or she committed a crime for which he or she was sentenced to serve a minimum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more, or who was sentenced to imprisonment for life, including imprisonment for life without parole eligibility, who has served 10 years of his or her sentence is subject to the jurisdiction of the parole board and may be released on parole by the parole board. In determining whether to release an individual on parole under this subsection, the parole board shall consider all of the following:

(A) The individual's age and level of maturity at the time of the offense.
(B) The individual's degree of participation in the offense.
(C) The nature of the offense.
(D) The severity of the offense.
(E) The individual's prior juvenile or criminal history.
(F) The individual's likelihood to commit further offenses.
(G) Any other information considered relevant by the parole board."

(Sec. 34, §16(a-g), p. 9, lines 6-24)

Senate Bill No. 28, introduced, by Senators Switalski and Liz Brater, calls for an amendment to 1939 PA 288, entitled "Probate code of 1939," by amending sections 2d and 18 of chapter XIIA (MCL 712A.2d and 712A.18), section 2d as amended by 1998 PA 478 and section 18 as amended by 2004 PA 475.

The bill would change the words "Family Independence Agency" to "Department of Human Services" throughout the public act and would desist the imposition of sentences of imprisonment for life without parole eligibility. The relevant changes would require courts to impose sentences as follows:

"[I]mpose any sentence upon the juvenile that could be imposed upon an adult convicted of the offense for which the juvenile was convicted, other than imprisonment for life without parole eligibility." (Sec. 18, §1(m), p. 12, lines 8-11)

The only relevant change being that sentences of imprisonment for life without parole eligibility could no longer be imposed.

Senate Bill No. 40 calls for an amendment to 1931 PA 328, entitled "The Michigan penal code," (MCL 750.1 to 750.568) by adding section 506b.

The bill would change the way juveniles are sentenced in Michigan courts. The relevant changes would require the following:

"Notwithstanding anything else to the contrary in this Act, an individual who was less than 18 years of age at the time he or she committed a crime shall not be sentenced to imprisonment for life without parole eligibility for that crime." (Sec. 506B, p. 1, lines 1-4)

These bills would directly affect Efren Paredes, Jr. if passed. People are encouraged to contact their state senators and encourage passage of the bills. Contact can be made via e-mail or U.S. Mail. If you do not know who your senator is you can find out by visiting the Michigan Senate web site at

Please note that all four bills must pass to end the imposition of imprisonment for life without parole eligibility on juveniles convicted of crimes they were convicted of committing before age 18.

All the following bills are available for review on our web site at under the "Michigan Juvenile Lifer Legislation" tab.

You can copy and paste the text below into an e-mail to send your senator. If you would like to locate your senator's e-mail address you can do so by visiting

Sample Letter


The Honorable (full name of Senator)
State Senator
State Capitol
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536

Dear Senator (full name):

I urge you to support legislation introduced by Michigan Senator Liz Brater, and Senators Scott and Switalski. They are working with their colleagues in the legislature to try to amend the laws governing the mandatory sentencing of young people who are convicted of certain crimes. It is essential that we address this unforgiving sentence of juveniles in our criminal justice system. Key provisions of this legislation include:

• Prohibit the sentencing of children who are 17 and under to a sentence of life without parole in adult prisons;
• Allow courts discretion to impose any sentence upon a juvenile that is consistent with public safety and proportionate punishment;
• Allow an individual who was 17 or under when he or she committed a crime to be eligible for parole consideration after having served a minimum of 10 years.

No prisoners will be released as a consequence of the passage of these bills. Prisoners who have received sentences of parolable life or life without the possibility of parole eligibility would simply become eligible to be reviewed by the Michigan Parole Board.

The imposition of life without parole on minor children is a particularly cruel and disproportionate punishment that is explicitly prohibited by the International Convention On the Rights of the Child, and is widely considered a violation of international law and fundamental human rights. Despite this, Michigan is one of thirteen states that have no lower age limit for life sentences without possibility of parole and has made this punishment mandatory.

Please sign on as a co-sponsor to Senate Bills 6, 9, 28 and 40.

Very truly,

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Perils of a Rush to Judgement

Dear Editor:

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong's current dilemma is a reminder to all of us that public pressure to reach a speedy conviction can push a prosecutor to jump to a conclusion of guilt without checking first on the reliability of his witnesses.

At Duke University, my younger son's Alma Mater, it has led to complete disruption in the lives of the three lacrosse team members who were accused of rape despite their insistence on their innocence. Charges against the team members still exist despite objections from many legal professionals who believe the many differing accounts given by the victim — and the DNA evidence which excluded the members of the Duke lacrosse team and showed DNA from outsiders on the victim's clothing — has undermined the entire case.

How hard it is for a prosecutor to retreat from the many claims of guilt he hastily leveled at these tormented students and bring about a just closure for them. Demands are now being made for Nifong's resignation.

This is all too similar to what happened to Efren Paredes, Jr., a Lakeshore High School 15-year-old Latino honor student who was charged for the March 8, 1989 robbery of Vineland Foods and murder of Rick Tetzlaff. Efren was arrested, tried and convicted within a three month period amid intense television, print, and radio media coverage.

The crime understandably alarmed and enraged those in the community, and when the prosecutor of Efren's case was offered what seemed a quick and easy solution to the crime, he jumped at it after offering immunity to a drug dealer and police informant, Steve Miller, who was never prosecuted for his admitted role in the crime's conspiracy.

According to FBI agent Robert Allen Jones, who investigated Miller in a 2000 federal drug case, Miller admitted to dealing drugs with a Chicago gang leader beginning in 1987, two years previous to the Vineland robbery and Tetzlaff murder. Miller and his father were subsequently convicted for the drug-related charges and sentenced to long prison terms.

Readers are encouraged to read an alarming research paper on wrongful convictions titled, "Convicting the Innocent: Aberration or Systemic Problem," by Rodney Uphoff, Professor of Law, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, available at Another tragic case of injustice can be read in John Grisham's latest best-selling book, "The Innocent Man."

The Duke University athletes may be completely exonerated, and district attorney Nifong may face charges of professional misconduct and criminal charges for his illegal actions in the case, but Efren remains in prison sentenced to life without parole.

No one can afford to allow a system that wrongly condemns people to life imprisonment or the death penalty to function recklessly and with willful disregard for the truth. Our community is responsible for Efren's nearly 18 years of wrongful incarceration. It is long overdue for the silence to be broken and undo the injustice he has suffered.

To learn more about this injustice you are encouraged to visit and To sign an on-line petition calling for justice in Efren's case please visit

Joyce Gouwens

This above letter to the editor appeared in The Herald-Palladium on Thursday, January 11, 2006. Below is a brief history of what lead to the wrongful accusations lodged against the Duke University lacrosse players —The Injustice Must End (TIME)

Defense attorneys called Friday, December 29, 2006 for all charges to be dismissed against three Duke University lacrosse players after prosecutors dropped rape charges against them.

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong said he didn't have enough evidence to proceed with a rape case but said he plans to take the players to trial on kidnapping and sexual offense charges.

Reade Seligmann, 20, Collin Finnerty, 20, and David Evans, 23, were indicted last spring after a North Carolina Central University student told police she was beaten and raped by three lacrosse players while performing as a stripper at a March 13 team party.

The players have denied any wrongdoing in the case, which has split the Durham community in recent months.

The dismissal follows a Thursday, December 28, 2006 meeting between Nifong's investigator and the woman. She told the investigator that she couldn't testify "with certainty" that she was raped, according to the dismissal motions.

"Since there is no scientific or other evidence independent of the victim's testimony that would corroborate specifically (a rape charge), the state is unable to meet its burden of proof with respect to this offense," the motions said.

In recent weeks defense attorneys disclosed that a report issued in the case initially didn't disclose that the woman had DNA on her from several men, none of which was a member of the lacrosse team.

Nifong has never talked to the woman about the details of the incident, although investigators from his office and the Durham Police Department have interviewed her repeatedly over the past nine months.

In addition to questioning the woman's varying statements, defense attorneys have repeatedly hammered other elements of the prosecution's case, including the DNA report and the photo line-up the woman used to identify the three players.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wrongful Convictions 101

It is often difficult to find the words to explain to people the anatomy of a wrongful conviction. The reason for this is that society is generally conditioned to believe the system works, which is reinforced through television, media and the educational system. Thus, it is difficult to change their tunnel vision.

Part of the work we are doing to help overturn Efren's wrongful conviction entails educating the public about injustice in the criminal justice system at large. To help accomplish this we will begin regularly posting information about research studies which can be used to educate committee members and others about the myriad factors that result in wrongful convictions.

Knowledge is power. The more knowledgeable we become about the issues we advance, the greater impact we can have when conveying our mission.

Please take the opportunity to review these documents and links when time permits. Let us all be reminded that justice delayed is justice denied.

The following research studies are available to be reviewed or downloaded at no charge from The Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection. You can perform a search for author names or titles of the research papers to locate them. Their web site is

"Convicting the Innocent: Aberration or Systemic Problem" by Rodney Uphoff, Elwood L. Thomas Missouri Endowed Professor of Law, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law

"Up the River Without a Procedure: Innocent Prisoners and Newly Discovered Non-DNA Evidence in State Courts" by Daniel S. Medwed, Associate Professor of Law, University of Utah—S.J. Quinney College of Law

"Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction: Theoretical Implications and Practical Solutions" by Daniel S. Medwed, Associate Professor of Law, University of Utah—S.J. Quinney College of Law

"Convictions of Innocent Persons in Massachusetts: An Overview" by Stanley Z. Fisher, Professor of Law, Boston University School of Law

"California Dreaming? The Golden State's Restless Approach to Newly Discovered Evidence of Innocence" by Daniel S. Medwed, Associate Professor of Law, University of Utah—S.J. Quinney College of Law

"The Multiple Dimensions of Tunnel Vision in Criminal Cases" by Keith A. Findley, Clinical Professor, University of Wisconsin Law School; Co-Director, Wisconsin Innocence Project; and Michael S. Scott, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin Law School; Director, Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

"The Relationship Between Prosecutorial Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions: Shaping Remedies for a Broken System" by Peter A. Joy, Professor of Law and Director of the Criminal Justice Clinic, Washington University School of Law in St. Louis

"Beyond Unreliable: How Snitches Contribute to Wrongful Convictions" by Alexandra Natapoff, Associate Professor, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

"Convicting the Innocent: An Empirically Justified Wrongful Conviction Rate" by D. Michael Risinger, Professor of Law, Seton Hall University School of Law

"How the Pretrial Process Contributes to Wrongful Convictions" by Andrew D. Leipold, Professor, University of Illinois College of Law

"Moving Down the Wedge of Injustice: A Proposal for a Third Generation of Wrongful Convictions Scholarship and Advocacy" by Andrew M. Siegel, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina School of Law

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Problems With Snitch Testimony

Bait and Snitch: The High Cost of Snitching for Law Enforcement
by Alexandra Natapoff

[Editor's Note: By "snitches" Ms. Natapoff means "criminals who provide information in exchange for lenience for their own crimes or other benefits." According to Ms. Natapoff, the term "informant" does not include law-abiding citizens who provide information to the police with no benefit to themselves.]

The T-shirts scream "Stop Snitchin'!" From Baltimore to Boston to New York; in Pittsburgh, Denver, and Milwaukee, kids are sporting the ominous fashion statement, prompting local fear, outrage, and fierce arguments over crime. Several trials have been disrupted by the t-shirts; some witnesses refuse to testify. Boston's Mayor Thomas M. Menino has declared a ban: "We're going into every retail store that sells them," he declared to the Boston Globe, "and we're going to take them off the shelves." With cameo appearances in the growing controversy by NBA star Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets and the rapper Li'l Kim, snitching is making urban culture headlines.

The "Stop Snitchin'" T-shirt drama looks, at first blush, like a dustup over a simple counterculture message launched by some urban criminal entrepreneurs: that friends don't snitch on friends. But it is, in fact, a symptom of a more insidious reality that has largely escaped public notice: For the last 20 years, state and federal governments have been creating criminal snitches and setting them loose in poor, high-crime communities. The backlash against snitches embodies a growing national recognition that snitching is dangerous public policy — producing bad information, endangering innocent people, letting dangerous criminals off the hook, compromising the integrity of police work, and inciting violence and distrust in socially vulnerable neighborhoods.

The heart of the snitching problem lies in the secret deals that police and prosecutors make with criminals. In investigating drug offenses, police and prosecutors rely heavily — and sometimes exclusively — on criminals willing to trade information about other criminals in exchange for leniency. Many snitches avoid arrest altogether, thus continuing to use and deal drugs and commit other crimes in their neighborhoods, while providing information to the police. As drug dockets swell and police and prosecutors become increasingly dependent on snitches, high-crime communities are filling up with these active criminals who will turn in friends, family, and neighbors in order to"work off" their own crimes.

Critics of the T-shirts tend to dismiss the "stop snitching" sentiment as pro-criminal and antisocial; a subcultural expression of misplaced loyalty. But the T-shirts should be heeded as evidence of a failed public policy. Snitching is an entrenched law-enforcement practice that has become pervasive due to its crucial role in the war on drugs. This practice is favored not only by police and prosecutors, but by legislatures: Mandatory minimum sentences and restrictions on judges make snitching one of the only means for defendants to negotiate in the face of rigid and drastic sentences. But the policy has turned out to be a double-edged sword. Nearly every drug offense involves a snitch, and snitching is increasingly displacing more traditional police work, such as undercover operations and independent investigation.

According to some agents and prosecutors, snitching is also slowly crippling law enforcement: "[I]nformers are running today's drug investigations, not the agents," says veteran DEA agent, Celerino Castillo. "Agents have become so dependent on informers that the agents are at their mercy." According to a study conducted by professor Ellen Yaroshefsky of Cardozo Law School, some prosecutors actually "fall in love with their rats." A prosecutor in the study describes the phenomenon: "You are not supposed to, of course. But you spend time with this guy, you get to know him and his family. You like him. [T]he reality is that the cooperator's information often becomes your mindset." In this view, criminal snitching is a sort of Frankenstein's monster that has turned on and begun to consume its law enforcement creator.

The government's traditional justification for creating criminal snitches — "we-need-to-flip-little-fishes-to-get-to-the-Big-Fish" — is at best an ideal and mostly the remnant of one. Today, the government lets all sorts of criminals, both big and little, trade information to escape punishment for nearly every kind of crime, and often the snitches are more dangerous than the targets. As reported by Wall Street Journal reporter Laurie Cohen last year: "The big fish gets off and the little fish gets eaten. . . . [T]he procedure for deciding who gets [rewarded for cooperation] is often haphazard and tilted toward higher-ranking veteran criminals who can tell prosecutors what they want to know."

Snitching thus puts us right through the looking glass: Criminals direct police investigations while avoiding arrest and punishment. Nevertheless, snitching is ever more popular with law enforcement: it is easier to "flip" defendants and turn them into snitches than it is to fight over their cases. For a criminal system that has more cases than it can litigate, and more defendants than it can incarcerate, snitching has become a convenient case-management tool for an institution that has bitten off more than it can chew.

And while the government's snitching policy has gone mostly unchallenged, it is both damaging to the justice system and socially expensive. Snitches are famously unreliable: A 2004 study by the Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions reveals that 46 percent of wrongful death penalty convictions are due to snitch misinformation — making snitches the leading cause of wrongful conviction in capital cases. Jailhouse snitches routinely concoct information; the system gives them every incentive to do so. Los Angeles snitch Leslie White infamously avoided punishment for his crimes for years by fabricating confessions and attributing them to his cellmates.

Snitches also undermine law-enforcement legitimacy — police who rely on and protect their informants are often perceived as favoring criminals. In a growing number of public fiascos, snitches actually invent crimes and criminals in order to provide the government with the information it demands. In Dallas, for example, in the so-called "fake drug scandal," paid informants set up innocent Mexican immigrants with fake drugs (gypsum), while police falsified drug field tests in order to inflate their drug-bust statistics.

Finally, as the T-shirt controversy illustrates, snitching exacerbates crime, violence, and distrust in some of the nation's most socially vulnerable communities. In the poorest neighborhoods, vast numbers of young people are in contact with the criminal justice system. Nearly every family contains someone who is incarcerated, under supervision, or has a criminal record. In these communities, the law enforcement policy of pressuring everyone to snitch can have the devastating effect of tearing families and social networks apart. Ironically, these are the communities most in need of positive role models, strong social institutions, and good police-community relations. Snitching undermines these important goals by setting criminals loose, creating distrust, and compromising police integrity.

The "Stop Snitchin'" T-shirts have drawn local fire for their perceived threat to law-abiding citizens who call the police. But in the outrage over that perceived threat, the larger message of the shirts has been missed: Government policies that favor criminal snitching harm the communities most in need of law-enforcement protection. [Editor's Note: The purported concern over t-shirts ignores the far more pervasive form of witness intimidation and organized crime practiced by police officers and prison and jail guards alike with their infamous "wall of silence."]

While snitching will never be abolished, the practice could be substantially improved, mostly by lifting the veil of secrecy that shields law enforcement practices from public scrutiny. As things stand, police and prosecutors can cut a deal with a criminal; turn him into a snitch or cut him loose; forgive his crimes or resurrect them later, release him into the community; or decide to pick him up. They do all this at their discretion, without legal rules, in complete secrecy with no judicial or public accountability. As a result, we have no idea whether snitching even reduces crime or actually increases it, and we can only guess at the collateral harms it imposes on high-crime communities.

The government should reveal snitching's real costs, including data on how many snitches are released into high-crime neighborhoods and what sorts of snitch crimes are forgiven. The government should also be required to establish the concrete benefits of a policy that releases some criminals to catch others, by accounting for how much crime actually gets stopped or solved by snitch information. Only then can we rationally evaluate how much government-sponsored snitching makes sense. Until we can know the real value of snitching, the T-shirts remain an important reminder that this particular cure for crime may be as bad as the disease.

Alexandra Natapoff is an Associate Professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and the author of a University of Cincinnati Law Review article entitled, Snitching: The Institutional and Communal Consequences. This article originally appeared on

We invite your comments about this article which can be posted below by clicking on the words "Post a Comment." —The Injustice Must End (TIME)