OVC Provider Forum Transcript

Postconviction Exonerations and Victim Assistance
Katie Monroe, Karin Ho  -  2015/3/25
https://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
I am teaching a wrongful convictions course for honors students at UCM! I have utilized the Innocence Project website for amazing information and resources, but do you have recommendations for additional sites, assignments or books that would be great to use? Thank you both for all the hard work you do!
 
1.  Ashley Wellman
 Thank you so much! What a great resource. I actually use Picking Cotton as the book in my course instead of a text, because it shows so many facets of a wrongful convictions (survivor, defendant, court, police, etc.). I can't wait to listen to the podcast!
 
2.  Katie Monroe
 In addition, the national Innocence Network has a committee that is currently creating a “tool kit” of resources to help innocence organizations better understand the experiences and interests of crime survivors in these cases and be more sensitive to their needs. That set of resources should be available this spring.
 
3.  Katie Monroe
 I would also recommend an online podcast by the COPS office, in which former OVC attorney-advisor Meg Morrow and crime survivor Jennifer Thompson discuss the needs of survivors and victims of crime in cases of wrongful conviction. The podcast can be heard at: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/html/podcasts/the_beat/09-2014/TheBeat-092014_ThompsonMorrow.mp3. A transcript can be read at: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/html/podcasts/the_beat/09-2014/TheBeat-092014_ThompsonMorrow.txt.
 
4.  Katie Monroe
 Thank you for your question and work. For additional background and details about this particular topic, I would recommend an NIJ report, “Study of Victim Experiences of Wrongful Conviction,” which can be found at: http://nij.gov/journals/274/pages/victim-impact-wrongful-convictions.aspx.
 
 
Are there any specific resources that you utilize to assist victims and their survivors in coping with that person being back on the streets following the exoneration or early release of defendant. I guess I am looking for any specific tips.
 
1.  Karin Ho
 This will give you a foundation for how wrongful convictions can impact victims' and their families. From there, you can build the most effective services around what each many individually need on a case by case basis. Some of this will depend on the point victims become aware of the wrongful conviction. You may be the first person to reach out to notify them of an actual wrongful conviction or they may have been informed of the petitioning of DNA testing, during the initial investigative process and have been involved all along. Depending when they became involved, they may have very different needs.
 
2.  Karin Ho
 Thank you so much for your question! One of the best starting points is to familiarize yourself with an NIJ Report: “Study of Victim Experiences of Wrongful Conviction,” which can be found at: http://nij.gov/journals/274/pages/victim-impact-wrongful-convictions.aspx.
 
3.  Karin Ho
 First and foremost, it is critical to address any safety needs (both physical and/or psychological) that they may have. They may have a variety of reactions to hearing that the person who had been convicted originally is now not the offender, as they had thought, in their case. They may have immediate physical safety concerns, questioning where or who the actual offender is. Also, they may be focusing on the fact that they participated in a process that has somehow resulted in a wrongful conviction. So, both psychological support as well as safety planning can be a critical part of the process. I will add some links to possible resources in the next few moments, as I can.
 
 
What specific support do you recommend for victims who incorrectly identified their attacker or attackers?
 
1.  Katie Monroe
 Absolutely, and Jennifer Thompson is available to provide peer support directly.
 
2.  Karin Ho
 In addition to peer support that Katie mentioned, training and understanding of the possible impact of wrongful convictions is very important for any professionals who may be working in this area.
 
3.  Katie Monroe
 Peer support has been very helpful to some, and there is a growing support network nationwide. If you know of a survivor(s) who would like to be connected with others to whom this has happened, we can help make those connections. It also often helps for the survivor to understand how easily misidentification can occur and how often it occurs and to know that she or he did nothing wrong and is not responsible for the conviction. Innocence organizations and law enforcement agencies are working together across the country to improve identification procedures to help reduce the chance of misidentification and thereby prevent wrongful convictions and the harm they cause both to crime survivors and to the innocent.
 
4.  Kimberly Cook
 Reading the book "Picking Cotton" might be helpful for that person as a start. Knowing that she/he is not the only person in this situation might help. Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton have done terrific work on shedding light on these issues.
 
 
Is there a list of programs in the USA that provide direct services to victims/survivors in cases of wrongful convictions? if so, would it be possible for me to get that list with the contact details for those programs?
 
1.  Karin Ho
 One of the best resources currently available nationally would be to connect them with the victim advocates who work within corrections within each state. Their expertise is in the area of post conviction issues and can be very effective at helping families navigate through the system, in addition to addressing the many other needs they may have. For more information about how to find these resources, you can start with www.navspic.org, which is the National Association of Victim Service Professionals In Corrections.
 
 
What is the best way to approach a victim about a post conviction exoneration?
 
1.  Karin Ho
 There are so many possible reactions, as with much of the judicial process, it is vital that the victim advocate an/or person approaching a victim in a wrongful conviction case, have a working knowledge and understanding of how the process works to best be able to support a family through it. Training is a must, if they don't already have experience in this area. Being able to pass on the correct information to a victim will help them not only prepare for the next steps, but will also give them a sense of security in that they will understand why or how it is all happening.
 
2.  Carrie Jo Carma
 This is something that I have wondered, as we may be dealing with it soon.
 
 
How frequently do these cases occur?
 
1.  Katie Monroe
 In approximately half of the cases in which people seek post-conviction DNA testing, the test results do not lead to exoneration. However, it may also be helpful to know that most cases of innocence cannot be rectified through DNA testing, as DNA evidence is only available in fewer than 10% of post-conviction cases, either because no DNA was left by the perpetrator or because the DNA evidence was not collected or preserved. In addition, innocence organizations have strict criteria that screen out most requests for help, both because resources are severely limited and laws that allow post-conviction innocence cases to be heard are extremely restrictive. Thus, many if not most cases involving innocent people in prison will not result in exoneration.
 
2.  Ronelle Shankle
 Counter to this, do we know how many cases have been brought forward where there was NOT an exoneration? It is helpful to know a percentage because anecdotally it feels like we only hear about the high profile big "innocence" cases won and not about all the rest where the offender is still guilty.
 
3.  Katie Monroe
 There have also been exonerations in cases involving other, non-DNA evidence. A list and description of many of those cases can be found at: https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/about.aspx.
 
4.  Katie Monroe
 There have been 325 post-conviction exonerations based on DNA evidence. In just under half of those cases, the DNA evidence that confirmed the innocence of the person in prison also identified the true perpetrator, many of whom had gone on to commit more crimes. A list and description of the DNA-based exonerations can be found at: http://innocenceproject.org/cases-false-imprisonment.
 
 
Based on past cases, and with the DNA investigative tools that are continually being perfected, do you anticipate there being many more postconviction exonerations before they level out in the near future?
 
1.  Katie Monroe
 This is true, and testing in some of those backlog cases has confirmed that the wrong person was convicted. Thus, we may see additional exonerations upon future testing of untested kits.
 
2.  Lorie Brisbin
 There is a significant backlog of untested DNA throughout the country. Some of this has to do with statutes that require collection from convicted felons. State labs are more likely to test requests on active cases, thereby leaving these unprocessed tests as well as many others.
 
3.  Ronelle Shankle
 I would hope that given the improvement in DNA that we should start to see less of these cases in the future because we should get the prosecution and conviction right the first time. I understand there will be old cases hanging out there for a good while, but at some point I hope this area of law is little used for victims' sakes! How long have these laws been around/on the books?
 
4.  Katie Monroe
 Ideally, with new DNA testing techniques and biological evidence being tested prior to trial, we hope that there will be a reduction in post-conviction exonerations. However, we do continue to handle post-conviction claims of innocence and secure exonerations both in very old cases, in which convictions happened prior to current DNA testing techniques, as well as more recent cases.
 
 
What recommendation would you give the Advocates on how to prepare to outreach to the victim's in these cases.
 
1.  Karin Ho
 These, as well as other thoughts about their case can find them facing potentially extreme and deep-rooted mixed emotions. Building in sensitivity along with a working knowledge of how wrongful conviction cases are processed, into any advocacy will be key in helping to support anyone through this.
 
2.  Karin Ho
 I highly recommend training (if they're not already familiar) about the wrongful conviction process...how it's initiated, the steps involved, etc...knowing it may vary from state to state. In general, we know there are many different paths that victims may or may not have as a part of their reaction to finding out that there has been a wrongful conviction in their case. First, may be immediate concern over where the "true" offender is and their own personal safety. Second, possibly feeling concern that they participated in a system that wrongfully convicted someone and sensitivity to the fact that someone, who is now proven to be innocent, has been incarcerated as a result.
 
 
Is the Innocence Network the same as the Innocence Project? I am a victim advocate who works with victims and families in all areas post conviction and we have a couple of awful cases where the offender is dragging the victims back into their world of legal debate. It seems that the resources and the media coverage are all focused on the offender's rights and the potential that they "might" be innocent and nothing is done for the victims who continue to be traumatized either way. While I have been working in post-conviction for over five years I am pretty new to our statutes on DNA and actual innocence proceedings. I would love to learn from other states who have experience serving victims in these cases.
 
1.  Katie Monroe
 Dallas County Crisis Center, which works directly with victims and survivors in exoneration cases: 214-653-3600 or 214-653-3838. They also have a terrific brochure that answers questions and provides contact info for additional service providers.
 
2.  Katie Monroe
 The Innocence Network is working on educating innocence organizations about the interests and needs of survivors and victims in these cases. However, direct services for survivors and victims should ideally come from organizations best suited to address their needs. OVC is working on the issue nationally, and in addition to Karin Ho in Ohio, who is a terrific resource on this, I would recommend the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, which created a unit to address these very needs. I can post their contact information. Thank you, again.
 
3.  Katie Monroe
 Concerning the second part of your question, while many exonerations lead to identification of the true perpetrator, which helps bring closure and justice, we also understand that the exoneration process can be very painful to victims and survivors of the original crimes. The victims and survivors from these cases suffer deeply when wrongful convictions are discovered – from the knowledge that the real perpetrator was never apprehended or punished, from having to relive the trauma and pain of the crime committed against them, from losing faith in a system that they relied on to protect them and serve them justice, and from a profound sense of abandonment by the courts, justice officials, and even the public.
 
4.  Katie Monroe
 Thank you for your question and your work. The Innocence Project is an independent nonprofit organization that works to identify and free innocent people in prison based on DNA evidence. The Innocence Project also works with law enforcement ad others on policy improvements to increase accuracy and fairness in the criminal justice process. The Innocence Project works nationally. There are also many regional innocence organizations in states across the country. The Innocence Network is a coalition of these organizations, and the Innocence Project is a member of the Network.
 
 
Who is the best person to contact the victim initially? An advocate, the prosecutor?
 
1.  Karin Ho
 Given all that, most often it is a victim advocate who is best equipped to make that initial contact with a victim. A prosecutor, law enforcement officer or other system-based official can be key in sharing their perspectives and/or expertise in addition to a victim advocate. Also, if there is anyone who had a close working relationship and rapport with the family during the initial conviction, they may be the best person to reach out to them later when faced with a wrongful conviction.
 
2.  Karin Ho
 One of the most critical issues is that the victim is kept in the loop and informed, if they want, throughout the process. Depending on the state and/or jurisdiction, the specific person who initially reaches out may vary....but they should have facts about the wrongful conviction and the most current status possible to share with victims in a sensitive manner. Recognizing that they may be completely blind-siding them with the fact that the person they thought committed the crime has been or is potentially going to be found to have been wrongfully convicted.
 
 
Thank you for hosting this discussion. Your responses have been helpful. Also, the study that was released on victims' needs in wrongful convictions was very well done. I appreciate the amount of detail and depth of understanding presented in that study. Thanks, Kim
 
1.  Katie Monroe
 Thank you! It was an honor and a pleasure to be invited to participate.
 
2.  Karin Ho
 Thank you so much!!!
 
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