New strategy in exoneration litigation: The Nullification of Innocence

Nothing is ever over in exoneration litigation, be it from exonerees’ difficulties in re-entering society, or when some DAs and police, with help from their lawyers, continue to chase after the men and women who have wrongfully endured imprisonment from acts of public officials.

This flies sideways to overoptimistic opinions that DAs are have a true bead on conviction integrity investigations and “more accepting” of exonerations these days.

There is a really odd tactic rising in recent headlines giving us examples of “innocence nullification” being posed in two separate venues of Justice in the state of Illinois.

One is in civil court.

The other is in criminal court.

One is in Lake County and the other in Cook County. (just a few miles apart).

Avoidance of the costs for wrongful convictions and loss of status certainly may be involved in both cases.


The first is under civil litigation in federal court against state authorities and their experts by exonoree Bennie Starks. Actions of the lawyers for these “authorities” ( Waukegan Ill. police and experts) are covered in this previous blog. are clearly suspect (pun not intended).   Now they have reissued their failed strategy used during their failed exoneration litigation.  Get ready for it: here it is:

Although their rape case had died on the steps of the courthouse because of DNA, they still have proof of an assault.  A doubtful bitemark supports this claim. Brilliant.

Therefore, these civil defendants want Starks’ exoneration voided  in order to extinguish his claim against them for compensation.

In the prior criminal litigation, the Lake County Illinois DA (called a State Attorney) eventually dropped this ploy and declined to retry Starks. Dead in the water with this claim of guilt, a full exoneration resulted. Now some of these same players have polished it up again for re-use. Brilliant


The second case is another SA (Anita Alvarez, the Cook SA chief) moving  to provide a judicial determined exoneration for one man in a case where previously, another man had been exonerated for the same crime by testifying against this “new” exoneree.

This is the same SA , who in other exoneration litigation, has said “DNA evidence is a red herring.” This approbation of fish is insulting.

This first man, through the efforts of the Medill Innocence Project’s then director David Protess, was the reason for the second man’s release. SA Alvarez, citing misconduct of the IP investigators has not recharged this first exonoree. Wonder what the evidence she has for this. It seems the ex-law prof, private investigator an a bunch of rag-tag law school school student have been Alvarez’ target for a number of years.

Here’s a quote on this:

At a news conference, Alvarez questioned the integrity of David Protess, then a Northwestern University journalism professor whose students initially investigated the murders. She also criticized the private investigator, Paul Ciolino, who obtained Simon’s videotaped confession using an actor to falsely implicate Simon, saying that his tactics were “coercive” and “unacceptable by law enforcement standards.” ‘

This is a reverse play of the much used “prosecutorial misconduct” arguments that usually have little effect in most convictions. Misconduct has to be “pervasive and egregious” in most cases asking for reversal.  The SA is now waving “exoneration investigation misconduct” in her own behalf.

At the end of this day, I can say none of this speaks well of the Lake County and Cook County progress towards a consistent public policy towards wrongful convictions.  No wonder Illinois has spent hundreds of millions over wrongful convictions.

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in AAFS, ABFO, Bitemarks, criminal justice, Exoneration costs, wrongful convictions and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to New strategy in exoneration litigation: The Nullification of Innocence

  1. csidds says:

    Reblogged this on FORENSICS in FOCUS @ CSIDDS | News and Trends and commented:

    The Ninth Circuit’ls recent affirmation may have a chilling epffect on DAs who use lies and lying witnesses to support their prosecutions. Ths is not limited to lawyers. Forensic science has its own history of liars and cheats. Some come with long pedigrees. Others just hide in plain sight. The criminal justice system pays dearly in the end with delayed scientific progress, damaged public safety and conviction of the innocent.

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