Reporting from The Miami Herald on the Frank Lee Smith Case and Florida's Flawed Criminal Justice System
For 14 Years, Justice Failed A Man Condemned To Die
"[T]he Smith conviction stands as a stunning miscarriage of justice ... [He]
languished through 14 years of distortions, delays, omissions and
misrepresentations. The entire justice system failed him." (June 25, 2001)
||Scenario Can't Justify Condemning Wrong Man|
"It's easy to understand why Frank Lee Smith was a prime suspect. Here was some
nasty, incoherent ex-con with two previous murder raps on his record (which the
prosecution managed to get before the jury, wiping out any lingering doubts by
the jurors about his guilt in this case). A witness tells police she thinks she
saw this ex-con at the murder scene. Actual evidence became unnecessary." (July 8, 2001)
||Cries of Innocence by 'Killer' Cleared by DNA Went Unheard|
"In a letter from Death Row, Smith wrote, "Dying for a crime someone else's
hands committed is the thought that (has) killed me already." Nobody listened.
Until Thursday, that is, when it was learned that FBI tests had shown that
Smith's DNA does not match semen found on the body of the 8-year-old
victim." (Dec. 16, 2000)
||One Detective's Behavior Reveals Larger Truths|
"[T]he formula that the Broward Sheriff's Office employed to convict Frank Lee
Smith -- bullying witnesses into false identification and extracting a
"confession" from an innocent man -- takes on an unsettling familiarity." (March 4, 2001)
||Op Ed: DNA's Corollary
"[I]f no one will be held accountable for Frank Lee Smith's life and death in
prison, police and prosecutors need to take to heart its lessons about the
fragility of justice and how they crushed it 14 years ago by not looking
further for a suspect." (July 11, 2001)
||Florida's Flawed Death Sentences Lead U.S.
"Florida is home to five of 15 counties that impose the death penalty most
frequently across America, ranking it among a handful of states at highest risk
for wrongful convictions and making it the nation's leader in sending innocent
people to Death Row. Those are the conclusions of a Columbia University Law
School team in its massive study released in early February 2002." (Feb. 11, 2002)
||Handling Of Behan Case Part Of A Pattern, BSO Critics Say
"Most of the investigators who built the disputed cases remain in positions of
authority at Broward Sheriff's Office. Their personnel files brim with letters
of congratulation for the arrests." (March 4, 2002)
||Broward To Review DNA Of 28 Death Row Inmates
"The rush toward DNA analysis of criminal cases in Broward began in December,
when genetic testing cleared Frank Lee Smith. Concern escalated with
accusations that a Broward Sheriff's homicide investigator, Richard Scheff, had
lied under oath in the Smith case. Scheff's role in that conviction is under
investigation." (May 5, 2001)
Other Readings on the U.S. Criminal Justice System
||'A Broken System, Part II'
This summarizes the second part of an in-depth analysis of the death penalty in
America, conducted by researchers at Columbia University's Law School and
released in February 2002. (It is often referred to as the "Liebman study,"
after law professor and co-author James Liebman.) The authors address two
questions: Why is there so much error in the death-penalty system? And how can
those errors be prevented?
Read the section on how errors plaguing
America's capital punishment system have weakened public support for capital
among its most steadfast defenders, and how political support for the death
penalty is waning, with major campaigns against the death penalty now being
waged in 20 states. Statistics and facts are cited supporting this conclusion.
Read the section where the authors concede that their study under-reports
the errors in capital-punishment cases. This section
specifically cites the case of Frank Lee Smith as an example. Because the
courts never determined that "serious error" led to Smith's incarceration, the
authors were not able to count his case as one of the many wrongful
Finally, the first part of the
study, released in
June 2000, found that of the 4,578 capital sentences that were appealed from
1973 to 1995, fully 68 percent were overturned by higher courts due to "serious
error" -- errors that were mostly due to the defendants' "egregiously
incompetent" legal representation and/or the suppression of exculpatory
evidence by prosecutors and law-enforcement officials.
||"The Myth of Fingerprints: DNA and the End of Innocence"
Writer Gregg Easterbrook in this 2000 New Republic article argues that
expanding the use of DNA evidence in the criminal justice system should give
opponents of the death penalty pause. That's because while DNA testing might
free some on death row who are wrongly convicted, the broad use of the tests
will help make Americans more comfortable with the death penalty since many
of the tests will indeed confirm the convict is guilty.
||ProDeathPenalty.com: Responses to the Liebman Report
ProDeathPenalty.com is administered by Justice For All,
a group that lobbies on crime reform issues. This page of its website
includes various material analyzing why the death penalty is warranted and
why attacks on it in recent years are unjustified. In particular, this site
offers in here in this section responses to "A Broken System," the 2002
report co-authored by Jim Liebman at Columbia University that chronicles the
many serious errors that have plagued capital-punishment cases throughout
||Trial and Error: How Prosecutors Sacrifice Justice to Win
A five-part series (published Jan. 10-14, 1999), this Chicago Tribune
investigation found that since 1963, 381 people convicted of homicide had their
verdicts overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct. (Sixty-seven of those
381 were sentenced to death.) In "Break Rules, Be Promoted," the authors
describe a system whereby three Cook County, Ill., prosecutors who had received
harsh rebukes from the Illinois Appellate Court for misconduct had been
subsequently promoted and even elected judges. Other articles in the series
trace some of the worst cases of prosecutorial misconduct on record.
||Win At All Costs
In this 10-part series (Nov-Dec. 1998), a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigative
team reports on alleged judicial misconduct and a "law enforcement culture that
has allowed the pursuit of a conviction to replace the pursuit of justice, no
matter what the cost."
||The Wrong Man
In this in-depth November 1999 report in The Atlantic Monthly, author Alan
Berlow describes several cases in which innocent men were sentenced to death,
and then ultimately exonerated. Berlow argues that inept defense attorneys,
dishonest police and prosecutors -- who may or may not believe they have the
culprit, racial bias, false confessions, eyewitness error, and an appeals
process that's becoming increasingly inaccessible, are the many factors to
blame for miscarriages of justice.
In this August 2000 American Lawyer article, author Steve Weinberg chronicles
the case of Ellen Reasonover, who was wrongly convicted of murder and served 16
years in prison. He describes how one dogged defense attorney became convinced
that the prosecutor had allowed false testimony at Reasonover's trial and had
misled the jury in his closing argument.
Two Groups Involved in Criminal Justice and Capital Punishment Issues
||The Moratorium Campaign
Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the
Death Penalty in the United States," is chair of the Moratorium Campaign, a
nonprofit organization that seeks to obtain a moratorium on the death penalty.
Through the "State Counts" section
of the campaign's
website, you can find information about your state's position on the death
penalty, along with other information such as whether your state will execute a
mentally retarded person, how many people on death row have been exonerated,
the race of death row inmates, and other data.
||The Innocence Project
A nonprofit legal clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York
City, the Innocence Project's goal is to give pro bono legal assistance to
inmates who are challenging their convictions based on DNA testing of evidence.
The website for the Innocence Project also publishes information about all types of wrongful
convictions, including articles such as "Causes and Remedies of Wrongful
Convictions" and "Police and
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