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Articles by Matthew Clarke

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Georgia Supreme Court Vacates Convictions and Sentences Due to Merger Errors

by Matt Clarke

On December 11, 2017, the Supreme Court of Georgia vacated convictions and sentences for aggravated assault and firearms possession due to a merger error.

Thyrell Depree Donaldson, a Georgia state prisoner, appealed his convictions for felony murder, aggravated assault, and two counts of firearms possession, all in connection with the shooting death of Robert White Jr. The Supreme Court overruled the grounds Donaldson raised, but found two merger errors in his sentencing that he had not raised on appeal.

Donaldson was convicted of firing two shots at White, who was sitting atop the stairs outside Donaldson’s apartment. One bullet missed, but the other one struck White in the back, severing his spinal cord and perforating his aorta. As a result, he could not move his legs and died shortly thereafter due to blood loss.

Donaldson was indicted on six counts: malice murder (Count 1), felony murder predicated on aggravated assault (Count 2), aggravated assault for shooting White in the back (Count 3), aggravated assault for shooting at White and missing (Count 4), possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (murder) (Count 5), and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (aggravated ...

Rhode Island High Court Abolishes Shatney in Initial Application for Postconviction Relief by Prisoners Serving Life Without Parole

by Matt Clarke

On December 5, 2017, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island held that, “from this point forward, Shatney v. State, 755 A.2d 130 (R.I. 2000), shall be deemed abrogated and inapplicable in any case involving both an initial application for postconviction relief and an applicant who has been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.”

It further held that the Shatney hearing given to a prisoner sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) had not been sufficient to qualify as the evidentiary hearing the court had previously required for prisoners serving LWOP on first application for postconviction relief pursuant to Tassone v. State, 42 A.3d 1277 (R.I. 2012). That is, Tassone mandates that prisoners serving LWOP receive an evidentiary hearing on the merits with respect to the first application for postconviction relief.

Jeremy Motyka, a Rhode Island prisoner serving LWOP, filed his first application for postconviction relief, which was denied. He appealed, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s judgment after the State conceded that the hearing justice failed to follow the procedure set forth in Shatney for a hearing on withdrawal of court-appointed counsel.

On remand ...


Federal Prison Handbook


Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual


Federal Prison Handbook