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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Mark Wilson

First Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment on Guard’s Disparate Treatment Claim

by Mark Wilson

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that a lower court improperly granted Puerto Rican prison officials’ summary judgment on a female guard’s gender discrimination claim.

Vilmarie Caraballo-Caraballo was hired as a guard by the Corrections Department of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1994. She was assigned to the department’s Radio Communications Area in 2003 where she remained for six years.

Caraballo was responsible for inspecting and replacing radio equipment, ensuring compliance with FCC guidelines, logging inventory, transporting radio equipment, drafting documents, teaching cadets to use radio equipment, and making minor repairs of the department’s radio communications in the Northwest Region. Although Caraballo only had a high school education when she was assigned to the Radio Communications Area, she gained considerable experience while employed there for six years.

In January 2009, prison officials assigned male employee Danny Cordero-Vega to the Radio Communication Area. Two months later, Caraballo was reassigned to the Intake Center’s prisoner commissary.

Caraballo and her Radio Communication supervisor Melvin Sepúlveda-Vargas asked their superiors why she was transferred. Neither supervisor responded, and Sepúlveda was warned not to intervene on Caraballo’s behalf.

Prison officials then assigned a second male employee, Osvaldo ...

Witness Misidentification: Ohio Man’s 14 Convictions Vacated

by Mark Wilson

An Ohio man who was convicted of a violent home invasion robbery on the basis of faulty eyewitness identifications was exonerated just minutes before being sentenced to a lengthy prison term.

On February 5, 2017, a man armed with a handgun confronted a 32-year-old woman in the driveway of her Cleveland, Ohio home. The assailant and another man demanded money and forced the woman, her 28-year-old boyfriend, and her 9-year-old daughter into the basement. The men pistol-whipped the woman and tied up the three victims before fleeing with the victims’ wide-screen television, three iPhones, iPad, jewelry, and car keys.

The woman told her landlord about the attack and described the man who confronted her in the driveway as missing a tooth. The landlord believed the woman was describing 28-year-old Deontae Wilson, who lived in the neighborhood. The landlord showed the woman a picture of Wilson from his Facebook page. Both the woman and her boyfriend positively identified Wilson as one of the assailants and notified police.

Wilson was arrested and charged with numerous counts, including armed robbery, burglary, assault, aggravated menacing, and illegal use of a weapon. The case proceeded to a three-day bench trial before Common ...

New Jersey Customs Agents Indicted for "Rape Table"

by Mark Wilson

"Once the lights go out, they grab you like a gang, and they forcibly throw you on the table and one officer ended up mounting me and pretty much riding me like a horse," said Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer Vito Degironimo. "I'm grabbed by other officers against my will. I don't know how much more criminal you can get. Hazing wouldn't do this justice. This is complete assault. They take you in a room and your fellow officers are all watching as officers grab you."

Now those fellow officers are watching senior CBP officers Tito Catota, 38, Parmenio Perez, 40, and Michael Papagni, 32, face arrest and federal prosecution for forcible assault, and impeding, intimidating and interfering with two male customs officers while they were in duty. Eleven other officers have also been suspended, pending the outcome of the federal investigation.

Degironimo was apparently just one of many victims of a bizarre hazing ritual employed by senior CBP officers assigned to an elite passenger screening team called the Passenger Enforcement Rover Team (PERT) at the Newark Liberty International Airport, in Newark, New Jersey.

"The defendants, who were members of a unit responsible ...

Florida Sheriff: Sex Offenders, People with Warrants Not Welcome at Hurricane Shelters

"If you go to a shelter for #Irma and you have a warrant, we'll gladly escort you to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County jail," warned Florida's Polk County Sheriff's Department Twitter Account as Category 5 Hurricane Irma made landfall on September 6, 2017. Minutes earlier, the sheriff's office tweeted that officers would be stationed at every shelter and that "sex offenders/predators" would not be given shelter during the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.

These two stunning law enforcement warnings divided the community between people who are worthy of saving and those who are not. Rather than "protecting and serving," the sheriff's department put thousands of lives in danger.

In 2011, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had more than 100,000 active warrants for felony offenses, according to the Miami Herald. Florida's largest counties had significant backlogs of outstanding warrants. Palm Beach County, for example, had 58,000 outstanding warrants, while another 219,000 were outstanding in Broward County. Although some of those warrants were for serious offenses, the overwhelming majority were for misdemeanors, traffic offenses, failing to appear in court, and unpaid court fees.

"If you ...

Texas Cops Shoot Fleeing, Unarmed Traffic Violators

by Mark Wilson

A Bellaire, Texas woman was nearly killed in the privacy of her own home, by indiscriminate police gunfire. The officers were placed on paid administrative leave as three unarmed women were hospitalized for gunshot wounds.

Houston Police Department officers attempted to pull over a Cadillac SUV after they saw it make an "illegal U-turn." Rather than pull over, however, the driver sped up in an attempt to elude police.

As the officers gave chase, they saw what they believed to be bags of marijuana being thrown out the window. The officers pursued the SUV into a residential neighborhood where the driver lost control and crashed into a tree and a fire hydrant.

Police then opened fire on the two unarmed women in the SUV, claiming that they attempted to assault the officers by backing their vehicle into the patrol vehicles. Police bullets ultimately hit the driver and passenger of the SUV, and an innocent woman minding her own business in the privacy of her home near the crash site.

The officers, who claimed that they fired in self-defense, were placed on paid administrative leave pending completion of an investigation into the matter. Body cam and dashboard video ...

Few Indigent Defendants Have Lawyer at Arraignment

by Mark Wilson

"Giving defendants a lawyer, treating them with respect, and honoring the Constitution give them more confidence in what we’re trying to do,” observes Michigan District Court Judge Tom Boyd. “That starts with giving them the respect they deserve the minute they walk in the door.”

Sadly, that “respect” is rarely granted until after a criminal defendant’s first court appearance, which is too late for many defendants who plead guilty simply because they don’t know any better, or languish for months in jail because they cannot afford to post bail.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to counsel. As a result of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), and Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1971), it is well-established that defendants in criminal proceedings who are at-risk of imprisonment if convicted have a constitutional right to legal representation. However, the Supreme Court never definitively determined exactly when that right is triggered prior to trial. As a result, states decide whether or not to provide a lawyer at the first court appearance for those defendants who cannot afford to hire one.

According to a 2009 survey ...

DNA Evidence: New Jersey Court Vacates Two 1996 Murder Convictions

by Mark Wilson

After spending 24 years behind bars for murder, Eric Kelley and Ralph Lee walked out of a New Jersey prison in November 2017. Weeks earlier, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Michael Portelli had vacated their convictions for the 1993 murder of a store clerk after new DNA evidence cleared them. The newly discovered DNA belongs to Eric Dixon, a convicted felon who had been released from imprisonment for a similar crime three months before the murder. Dixon matched witnesses’ description of the person seen inside the store about the time of the murder.

“With such compelling DNA evidence demonstrating Mr. Kelley and Mr. Lee’s innocence and pointing to the true assailant, most prosecutors would have moved to overturn these convictions long ago,” said Vanessa Potkin, Post-Conviction Litigation Director at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “We are grateful for the court’s decision, which came after a year of hearing new evidence and argument and careful deliberation.”

Tito Merino was stabbed to death during a 1993 robbery of a video store where he worked. A green and purple plaid baseball cap was recovered near Merino’s body. It did not belong to ...

Oregon Appeals Court: Defense Counsel Constitutionally Inadequate in Sexual Abuse Case

by Mark Wilson

The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld a post-conviction court’s judgment that a criminal defendant was denied effective assistance of trial counsel when his lawyer failed to object to an expert witness vouching for the credibility of the alleged victim’s sexual abuse claim. As such, the lower court set aside defendant’s convictions for sodomy, unlawful sexual penetration, and sexual abuse. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Alan Alne was charged with sexually abusing a five-year-old girl after she told her father that Alne had touched her vagina with his fingers and mouth while babysitting her. The child was taken to CARES child abuse assessment center, where she was evaluated by a doctor and interviewed by Thomas Findlay, a CARES social worker.

The case proceeded to trial, and Findlay testified about his interview of the child. Upon questioning by the prosecutor, Findlay testified that given the child’s age, she likely would not have a basis to allege the conduct unless she had experienced it. The prosecutor asked Findlay whether the child’s allegations, given her age, are something that she would come up with herself had she not been abused. Findlay responded that in light of his training and experience her ...

Overworked Missouri Public Defenders Fear Suspensions and Firing

by Mark Wilson

"They just demonstrated they’re going to prosecute us, and the Supreme Court just demonstrated that they’re going to punish us,” said Michael Barrett, director of the Missouri public defender system, in response to the suspension of an overworked lawyer.

Karl William Hinkebein is a 21-year veteran of the Missouri State Public Defender System, assigned to the appellate post-conviction relief division. Rejecting his claim that he had a large workload and felt he could not turn down cases, the Missouri Supreme Court suspended his law license indefinitely on September 12, 2017 for failing to communicate with six clients; failing to keep them apprised of the status of their case; and failing to file amended motions for post-conviction relief on their behalf between 2011 and 2013.

Disciplinary counsel had asked the Court to suspend Hinkebein for one year. In a 23-page Supreme Court brief, Hinkebein admitted to the violations. He requested that the Court impose only a reprimand, claiming that his workload and chronic and severe health problems detrimentally affected his performance.

The Court stayed Hinkebein’s suspension, placed him on probation for one year, and ordered him to pay a $1,500 fine. He was also required to ...

Prosecutor’s “Animosity” Toward Defense Leads Oregon Appeals Court to Vacate Convictions

by Mark Wilson

The Oregon Court of Appeals concluded that a prosecutor’s criticism of defense counsel during closing argument “crossed the boundary of permissible argument and prejudiced defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

Doug Brunnemer was tried on several Oregon domestic violence offenses. The State’s case was based largely on the testimony of Brunnemer’s wife. While cross-examining the victim, defense counsel highlighted inconsistencies in her testimony. Counsel questioned her about conflicts between her trial testimony and statement to police.

The trial court prohibited defense counsel from saying “supposedly” during cross-examination, finding that the word was argumentative. The court directed counsel to use “allegedly,” instead. The court said counsel could use both terms during closing statements.

Defense counsel again highlighted the inconsistencies in the victim’s testimony during closing argument. The lawyer also used the word “supposedly” multiple times and emphasized that Brunnemer had no obligation to present any evidence to dispute his wife’s version of events, noting that the burden was not his.

During the State’s rebuttal closing argument, the prosecutor criticized defense counsel, accusing her of “mocking” the victim and portraying her as a “moron,” “mistaken,” and “confused.” The prosecutor also said there was no ...


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