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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Matthew Clarke

Immigration Authorities Seize Wrongfully Convicted Man After Release

by Matt Clarke

March 2018 should have been the happiest month of his life. After over two decades of wrongful imprisonment, the Cook County State’s Attorney agreed to drop murder charges against Illinois state prisoner Ricardo Rodriguez. He should have walked out of prison a free and exonerated man. Instead, on March 28, 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) took Rodriguez into custody for possible deportation proceedings.

“It would be a very big injustice for them to do that to not only my mother, but my family who have tried so hard to prove his innocence all these years,” said Maria Rodriguez-Lopez, Rodriguez’s sister.

Rodriguez was a lawful permanent resident when he was arrested for the 1995 murder. That status was revoked after he was convicted. He was brought into the country as a child, and his family still resides in the United States.

Rodriguez is one of at least 160 people who have been exonerated and freed from prison after having been convicted of a felony in Cook County. That number is higher than the number of exonerations for most states.

It is the tenth exoneration case since 2016 that is related to former retired Chicago police detective ...

New Jersey Supreme Court: Substantive Error to Amend Indictment to Change Degree of Felony on Eve of Trial

by Matt Clarke

On April 25, 2018, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that a trial court erred when, on the eve of trial, it permitted the State to amend the indictment to increase a charge from a third-degree to a second-degree felony.

Following surveillance on a suspected drug dealer, police pulled over Todd Dorn’s vehicle and told him they were in the process of obtaining a search warrant for the vehicle and his home. He consented to a search of both locations. Thirty-five glassine bags containing heroin and 2.65 ounces of marijuana were found in his home.

Dorn was indicted on multiple counts, including second-degree possession of heroin with intent to distribute within 500 feet of public housing, a public park, or public building in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C35-7.1 (count one) and third-degree possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute within 500 feet of public housing, a public park, or public building in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C35-7.1 (count two).

Dorn rejected a pre-trial plea bargain offer of five years imprisonment with two-and-a-half years parole ineligibility. The day before the trial, the prosecutor moved to amend the indictment to ...

Powerful District Attorney Lobbies Improperly Influence Law Making

by Matt Clarke

Around the nation, powerful lobbying groups composed of associations of prosecutors are influencing state legislatures to reject certain laws, regardless of how popular the proposed laws are with the electorate.

In his January 2018 State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for justice reform legislation that would limit civil-asset forfeiture, revamp discovery, reduce trial delays, and significantly lessen the use of cash bail. To underscore his commitment, he told the story of Kalief Browder who, at age 16, was jailed for allegedly stealing a backpack.

Browder, who maintained his innocence, was unable to post the $3,000 cash bond, so he spent three years in New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail awaiting trial. There, he was abused by other prisoners and staff and was frequently placed in solitary confinement. The charges were dropped, but the trauma remained. Two years after he was freed, Browder took his own life.

During the address, Cuomo told Browder’s brother, who was an invited guest, “I want you to know that your brother did not die in vain. Sometimes, the Lord works in strange ways—but he opened our eyes to the urgent need for real reform.... We ...

Idaho Supreme Court Orders Acquittal for Insufficient Identification of Drug

by Matt Clarke

On March 2, 2018, the Supreme Court of Idaho vacated a prisoner’s conviction and sentence for possession of a controlled substance and ordered an acquittal because the substance she possessed had not been adequately identified as a controlled substance beyond a reasonable doubt.

Gracie Jean Tryon, an Idaho state prisoner, appealed her conviction for possession of methamphetamine. She had been a passenger in her boyfriend’s truck when it was stopped by a detective for a traffic violation. The detective allegedly smelled the faint odor of marijuana and used that as justification to search the vehicle. He found stems and black residue in a small purse, two hypodermic syringes, two glass pipes, and a Baggie with a white crystalline substance in a large purse. He arrested Tryon and her boyfriend.

At her trial for possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, the detective testified that the white substance looked like methamphetamine, that he usually found pipes or syringes when he found methamphetamine, and that they were next to each other in the purse. He also said when he asked the boyfriend, who was not available to testify at the trial, whose methamphetamine was it, the ...

Junk Science Puts Innocent People in Prison and Keeps Them There

by Matt Clarke

It has been years since the National Academy of Sciences and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology published studies casting serious doubt on courtroom claims of practitioners of “pattern matching” forensics, a broad field that includes comparative analyses of such items as hairs, fibers ...

Third Circuit Reverses Occupational Restriction in Excess of Statutory Maximum for Supervised Release

by Matt Clarke

On September 14, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the portion of the sentence that restricted a former Realtor who had pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud from working in real estate for five years following his release from prison. It held the maximum restriction possible for that offense was three years. The Court upheld his 70-month prison term followed by three years of supervised release.

Randy Poulson operated fraudulent real estate and investment schemes in New Jersey from 2006 through 2011, costing over 75 victims a total of $2,721,240.91. Using his company, Equity Capital Investments, LLC, he tricked people facing foreclosure on their properties to sign over their deeds to him in exchange for a false promise to pay off the outstanding mortgages. He then used Poulson Russo LLC, a real estate investment education company, to organize for-fee speeches, seminars, monthly dinners, and private tutorials during which he solicited attendees to invest in Equity Capital, falsely claiming their money would be used to purchase, maintain, and improve those residential properties.

He convinced over 25 people to deed him their properties and over 50 people to ...

Ohio Supreme Court: Prisoner Entitled to Results of Post-Conviction DNA Profile

by Matt Clarke

On March 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that the State must provide a prisoner the DNA profile created after his application for post-conviction DNA testing of crime-scene evidence was granted.

Tyrone Noling received the death penalty for the 1990 murder of an Ohio couple. In 2008, he filed an application for post-conviction DNA testing of a cigarette butt found on the driveway of the couple’s home. The court noted that the pre-trial DNA test on the cigarette butt excluded Noling as the source of the DNA and was definitive, so it denied his application.

In 2010, Noling filed a second application based on newly discovered evidence pointing to other suspects and that advances in DNA testing could provide a definitive identification of the DNA on the cigarette butt. His application was denied, and he appealed.

The Ohio Supreme Court held that a trial court must apply the statutory definition of “definitive DNA test” before dismissing a subsequent application for post-conviction DNA testing. It reversed and remanded, instructing the trial court to consider whether the newly discovered evidence regarding other suspects showed, by a preponderance of the evidence, a possibility of discovering new, previously undiscovered ...

No Increase in Murder Rate for Civilians or Police Following Abolition of Death Penalty

by Matt Clarke

The transcript of a panel discussion titled “Life After the Death Penalty: Implications for Retentionist States,” presented by the Committees on Capital Punishment of the American Bar Association Section of Civil Rights & Social Justice and the New York City Bar Association, which was posted on the latter’s website on January 26, 2018, revealed that there was no increase in the murder rate for civilians or police officers in states that abolished the death penalty.

A longstanding argument by death penalty proponents is that abolition would lead to a “parade of horribles,” including an increased overall murder rate and increased police officer murder rate. The topic of panelist Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, was statistical information about the effect of death penalty abolition in the modern era as shown by FBI crime statistics since 1987, the first year for which statistics on law enforcement officers feloniously killed in the line of duty are available. The Center does not take a position for or against the death penalty but is critical of how it is administered across the U.S.

Dunham first noted that currently 31 states and the federal government ...

New Mexico Supreme Court Holds SCOTUS Prohibition Against Warrantless Blood Tests in DWI Cases Applies Retroactively

by Matt Clarke

On October 5, 2017, the Supreme Court of New Mexico held that an impaired driver generally could not be subject to criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test for the presence of alcohol or drugs.

On April 23, 2011, Laressa Vargas encountered a DWI checkpoint in Albuquerque, New Mexico at 1 a.m. When she said, “good afternoon,” she and her car had a faint odor of alcohol, and her eyes were bloodshot. A deputy immediately suspected that she was driving under the influence of alcohol. She denied drinking alcohol.

The deputy asked her for a breath sample. She consented and registered 0.04. He requested another sample. She once again consented and registered 0.05. Interpreting the tests as inconsistent with his perception of her level of impairment, the deputy asked Vargas for a blood sample. She refused.

The deputy did not have a warrant for a blood test, nor could he have obtained one because state law required that such a warrant affidavit state a belief that Vargas had committed a felony or caused death or great bodily injury while driving under the influence of alcohol. NMSA 1978, § 66-8-111(A ...

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: Lawyer’s Failure to Advise Client of Opinion Making It Impossible for State to Meet Its Burden of Proof Constitutes Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

by Matt Clarke

On September 27, 2017, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas held that a guilty plea for obtaining a controlled substance “through the use of a fraudulent prescription form” was invalid because it was given as a result of deficient legal advice from defendant’s attorney who failed to inform defendant that the prosecution would not be able to meet its burden of proof in light of governing case law precedent.

The prosecution’s theory of the case was that Lewis had hand-written a false prescription on an otherwise legitimate preprinted prescription form bearing the name of a physician’s assistant. Darren Lewis pleaded guilty to using a fraudulent prescription form to obtain a controlled substance in violation of § 481.129(a)(5)(B), Texas Health & Safety Code Ann., and received a five-year plea-bargained prison sentence.

Once he was in prison, Lewis discovered that under Avery v. State, 359 S.W.3d 230 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012), the State would have been unable to meet its burden of proof to convict him of violating § 481.129(a)(5)(B). He filed a habeas-corpus application, arguing that his guilty plea was “involuntary due to the ineffective assistance of ...


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