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Last week oral arguments were held in front of the MT Supreme Court in the case of one of MTIP's clients. This marked the first time a case undertaken by MTIP has gone to the State Supreme Court and much preparation was done on our part to get ready for the questions by the Justices. The case being argued could set precedent for many of our cases in the future and we patiently await the Court's decision.
The case was argued for us by pro bono attorney, Colin Stephens and one of MTIP's very own student volunteers, Lars Phillips. Both gave cogent arguments for a complicated area of the law and answered each question posed with confidence and demonstrated legal knowledge. While we won't know the outcome for some time, we are so pleased with a job very well done by both Colin and Lars. We are especially pleased to say Lars even received accolades from a Justice once arguments were complete! Education is such an important part of our mission and we are so thrilled to be able to see one of our students have this real-world experience and truly incredible opportunity and do so well.
We will keep you updated with the outcome of the arguments when we receive word from the court.
Pictured above: University of Montana Law Student, Lars Phillips & MTIP Pro Bono Attorney Colin Stephens speak before MT Supreme Court Justices enter the room to hear oral arguments on behalf of a MTIP client
MTIP Law Clerk, Toby Cook & MTIP Legal Director, Larry Mansch attend oral arguments for MTIP client before the MT Supreme Court
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On April 8th at 6:00 PM, MTIP will host a screening of the film After Innocence at The Roxy Theater in Missoula. After the film, a panel discussion will be held with Larry Mansch (Legal Director), Colin Stephens (Attorney), and Jeff Patterson (Private Investigator).This event is free to the general public. Attorneys attending the event will earn 2.0 CLE Ethics credits; $40 donation is suggested for attorneys. See you there!
Read below for more about this powerful film.
AFTER INNOCENCE tells the dramatic and compelling story of the exonerated - innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades and then released after DNA evidence proved their innocence. The film focuses on the gripping story of seven men and their emotional journey back into society and efforts to rebuild their lives. Included are a police officer, an army sergeant and a young father sent to prison and even death row for decades for crimes they did not commit.
The men are thrust back into society with little or no support from the system that put them behind bars. While the public views exonerations as success stories - wrongs that have been righted - AFTER INNOCENCE shows that the human toll of wrongful imprisonment can last far longer than the sentences served.
The film raises basic questions about human rights and society's moral obligation to the innocent and places a spotlight on the flaws in our criminal justice system that lead to wrongful conviction of the innocent. The film features exonerees Dennis Maher of Lowell, MA; Calvin Willis of Shreveport, LA; Scott Hornoff of Providence, RI; Wilton Dedge of Cocoa Beach, FL.; Vincent Moto of Philadelphia, PA; Nick Yarris of Philadelphia, PA; and Herman Atkins of Los Angeles, CA.
It also features Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, founders of the Innocent Project which has helped to exonerate the more than 325 people freed through the use of DNA testing in the last decade; and highlights the work of human rights activist Dr. Lola Vollen, co-founder of the Life After Exoneration Program.
AFTER INNOCENCE is directed by Jessica Sanders, an Academy-Award nominated filmmaker (“Sing!”), and is produced and written by Jessica Sanders and Marc Simon in association with The American Film Foundation, an Academy® and Emmy®-award winning production company.
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We are THRILLED to announce we've made our very own Larry Mansch, Legal Director here at the Montana Innocence Project! Larry has been with the project in some capacity since its inception and we are so happy to now have him as our leader on all things legal. Take some time and learn a little more about the man who will continue to spend his days fighting for the innocent and helping to prevent wrongful convictions across the state of Montana.
Larry got his undergraduate dregree in 1980 with a B.A. in Political Science from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. He was quite the athlete earning six Varsity letters between baseball and basketball. After his time at Hamline, Larry moved to Omaha, NE and attended Creighton University's School of Law graduating in 1983.
In 1985, Larry moved to Missoula and was one of the original Public Defenders in the county which had the first full-time PD office in the state. He continued with the Public Defender's office for 13 years and then was in private practice for seven more years - he always remained focused on criminal defense.
Larry also used his legal experience while in the Montana National Guard serving 20 years as Judge Advocate General. He served as the Regional Defense Services Coordinator, representing soldiers who were in trouble and needed legal counsel. He retired as Lt. Colonel.
Larry's wife Kim is Executive Director of Partnership Health Center in Missoula and together they have four accomplished children - all have gone to college and all were athletes while studying at their respective universities. The Manschs like to travel and they've made it a goal as a family to visit as many National Parks as they can. In his own spare time, Larry enjoys writing and is currently working on his fifth book.
Larry started his work with MTIP as a part-time attorney when the project was just getting underway. Larry says there is no question there are innocent people in prison and he sees how challenging the work is to try to exonerate these innocent people, but he is absolutely committed to doing just that. According to Larry, working with the law students who intern and volunteer with us is the most enjoyable part of his job. He finds their dedication to our cause and their attachment to the cases they work on with us incredibly inspiring.
In his own words....
Sometimes a quote is so perfect, it doesn't need tweaking - Larry has a knack for this so we're going to leave our readers with a quote from Larry about where he sees MTIP heading in the near future. We couldn't be happier to have him on board and we cannot wait to continue the fight to free the innocent having him behind the wheel.
"I hope that in the future MTIP will continue on its path of growth and dedication. We hope and believe that the citizens of our community and our state will acknowledge the important work that we are undertaking, and support us. We all look forward to the day when an innocent man or woman walks out of prison and returns to a life of freedom. That is the goal that we have set, and that is the vision that drives us. We will get it done. We believe that we are on the verge of great success. Freeing innocent people from prison - there can be no higher call for a lawyer."
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Our Executive Director will be testifying before the legislature tomorrow in support of House Joint Resolution No. 14 which proposes to adopt eyewitness reform universally among law enforcement agencies in Montana. Below you will find why reform in this area is crucial to helping prevent wrongful convictions in our state.
Mistaken Identifications Are the Leading Factor in Wrongful Convictions
Mistaken eyewitness identifications contributed to 72% of the 321 wrongful convictions in the United States overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence. In Montana, eyewitness misidentification contributed to 2 of 3 wrongful convictions proven by DNA evidence, including the case of Jimmy Ray Bromgard, who spent nearly 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Bromgard’s wrongful conviction settlement cost the state nearly $14 million, underscoring that prevention of witness misidentification serves not only the interest of justice, but also the financial interests of states and localities.
How to Improve the Accuracy of Eyewitness Identifications
Fortunately there are cost-neutral techniques that have been proven to reduce the risks of witness misidentifications. These practices have been endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, the nation’s premier independent scientific entity, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the American Bar Association, and many other organizations.
The “Double-blind” Procedure/ Use of a Blind Administrator: A “double-blind” lineup is one in which neither the administrator nor the eyewitness knows who the suspect is. This prevents the administrator of the lineup from providing inadvertent or intentional verbal or nonverbal cues to influence the eyewitness to pick the suspect. For agencies in which blind administration is impracticable, an alternative “blinded” option (ie: the folder shuffle method) can be used in which the administrator may know the suspect’s identity, but cannot see which photo a witness is viewing at a given time.
Instructions: Prior to the procedure, witnesses should be instructed that the perpetrator may or may not be in the photo array or lineup and that the criminal investigation will continue regardless of whether a witness makes an identification.
Proper Use of “Non-Suspect” Fillers: Non-suspect “fillers” used in the live or photo lineup should match the witness’s description of the perpetrator. There should be a consistent appearance between the suspect and fillers with respect to any unique or unusual feature (e.g., scars, tattoos).
Confidence Statements: Immediately following the lineup procedure, the eyewitness should provide a statement, in his own words, that articulates the level of confidence he has in the identification made.
Benefits of Eyewitness ID Best Practices
Innocent individuals are less likely to be misidentified by witnesses, which could result in a wrongful conviction.
Law enforcement investigations are enhanced when witness identifications are more accurate.
Communities are safer when the real criminal is identified instead of an innocent person. Real perpetrators have been identified in 90 (39%) of the nation’s wrongful convictions involving misidentification and were responsible for 98 additional violent crimes (63 rapes, 17 murders, and 18 other violent crimes).
The State of Eyewitness ID Policies in Montana
The Montana Law Enforcement Academy (MLEA), the state’s training entity for new recruits, developed an excellent eyewitness identification model policy in 2012 that includes all of the core best practices. However, MLEA does not have authority over policies at local agencies, so while new recruits are being trained in evidence-based eyewitness identification techniques veteran officers are likely still using outdated methods.
Uniform, statewide adoption of eyewitness identification best practices by local and state law enforcement agencies is critical to ensuring that justice is fairly administered throughout Montana.
National Movement In Adopting Best Practices
Ten states have adopted reforms: Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas Wisconsin, & Vermont. In addition, hundreds of jurisdictions have implemented best practices including large cities such as Denver, CO, Minneapolis, MN, and Santa Clara County, CA, and small towns such as Norfolk, MA.
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(Attorney Brendan McQuillan, Richard Raugust, Attorney Brett Schandelson)
As 2014 was coming to a close, we at MTIP experienced a terrific step in the right direction for our innocent client, Richard Raugust. On December 17th, we began a two-day new evidence hearing in Thompson Falls to present the evidence we've collected over the years that points to Richard's innocence.
We were so happy to see Richard there in the courtroom with us, to be able hug his family who traveled to be there, to speak with the media about his case, but most importantly, to be given the opportunity to share Richard's full story. Our belief in his innocence is absolutely steadfast and we are honored to represent him and fight against the injustice he has suffered far too long.
Below you will find links to some of the stories that ran about the new evidence hearing. Many of them give a great overview of the case if you would like to know more about the background. We also wanted to include some photos we took while we were in Thompson Falls. Please keep Richard and his family in your thoughts. We will be updating our website as soon as we hear a ruling on whether Richard will be given a new trial based on the evidence we put forth at the hearing.
Read about and watch video coverage of the case:
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Mackenzie is our only volunteer in high school and we couldn't be happier to have her on our team! She is currently attending Hellgate High School and will be graduating this spring. She plans to attend MSU in fall 2015 where she is anticipating entering into a path of sociology or criminology.
Mackenzie is an outdoor enthusiast and particularly loves hiking, camping, skiing and everything under the sun. She abides by the old rule that an "apple a day keeps the doctor away", but that’s only because they’re her favorite food. She loves to travel and one day says she will see the world. She has one sister, two dogs and a love for gymnastics.
She came to MTIP as a volunteer in June and has been an absolute life saver when it comes to the administration and communication departments for the organization. Mackenzie feels that the mission of MTIP is important, because she is committed to justice for the innocent.
We adore having her here with us every week. She brings a young and active energy to our organization that we are extremely grateful for. Please join us in thanking Mackenzie for her selfless contribution to MTIP!
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At a recent event a supporter talked about why he contributes to the Montana Innocence Project, “When we fight the injustice of an innocent person in prison, we don’t just better their lives, we better ourselves as individuals and then ultimately, we become more elegant as a state and as a society," he said. We have been thinking about that quote a lot this week. Often we are so focused on our innocent clients and our fight for them, we forget to acknowledge the larger implications imprisoning innocent men and women has on us as a local, regional, national and global society.
Can we abide people losing their freedom over crimes they did not commit? Can we turn the other cheek knowing that the wrong person is in jail for serious crimes and the actual perpetrator of the crime remains free to do harm to another? Can we sit idly by as poor, minority, disabled and other underserved populations are disproportionately wrongfully convicted and imprisoned? Can we allow innocent people to spend day after day behind the cold metal bars of their cells?
We at the Montana Innocence Project ask ourselves these questions, but when we applied them to a larger societal scale, we came up with the same answer:
WE CAN’T ABIDE THIS.
If we want to be a society honoring the rights of every individual and we want to live in a world where freedom is one of the paramount rights, we can’t allow the innocent to have their freedom taken away. We simply can’t allow it.
Our supporter ended by saying, “There is no other group that dedicates their work and their lives to fight for justice for Montanans like the Montana Innocence Project”. We know all of our supporters stand with us in that fight for justice and we hope eventually every single Montanan will join us, because the fallout from the wrongfully convicted affects all of us. If every innocent human being is not given their right to freedom, we have gravely failed as a society.
We can't abide that, Montana.
Announcing the Outstanding Firm,
Champion of Innocence, and Freedom Fighter Awards!
Each year we honor extraordinary law firms and individuals by presenting them with awards. The Outstanding Firm Award recognizes a law firm that has provided support both through pro bono support and financially. The Champion of Innocence Award is given to an attorney who best advances MTIP’s mission through pro bono legal service. Finally, the Freedom Fighter Award is given to the student volunteer who exhibits tremendous dedication to MTIP’s work. This year we are honored to present the awards to: Axilon Law Group, Brett Schandelson, & Tobias Cook!
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Greetings, blog readers! This month we will explore the topic of Brady Evidence, its' prevalence in wrongful convictions, and methods in which Innocence Projects have used violation of this type of evidence in proving innocence for their clients.
To begin, please read this thorough blog post about Brady Evidence written by Board Member Parker Kelly and Clinic intern Kathryn Seaton, J.D. 2016. Stay tuned for more articles about this important contributor to wrongful convictions throughout the 4 weeks.
In light of the Montana Parole Board’s recent decision to deny clemency for Barry Beach, we want to highlight one of the greatest causes of wrongful convictions: false confessions.
In cases like Barry Beach, about 30% of wrongful convictions involving DNA evidence are caused by false confessions. Why would someone falsely confess? Below are two examples and the reasoning behind this unfortunate contributing cause of wrongful incarceration.