This article (Home Free, by Jennifer Gonnerman, published in The New Yorker) is an eyeopening account of some of the more troubling aspects of our criminal justice system - not an area on which my practice focuses - and also the profound benefit of a diligent and effective understanding and application of the law. Short excerpts are below and the full article is available at: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/06/20/derrick-hamilton-jailhouse-lawyer?mbid=nl_160614_daily&CNDID=24618457&spMailingID=9057107&spUserID=MTA5MjQwMzI4MTg3S0&spJobID=941371076&spReportId=OTQxMzcxMDc2S0
The full scale of the problem of wrongful convictions began reaching the public only in the nineteen-nineties, when DNA evidence was introduced in criminal cases. In 1992, two former Legal Aid attorneys, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, founded the Innocence Project, using DNA evidence to exonerate innocent prisoners. At the time, Scheck recalls, “the notion of hundreds, if not thousands, of people being wrongly convicted was considered unlikely if not impossible by both the public and many in law enforcement.” Since then, DNA evidence has helped secure exonerations for more than three hundred people. But it exists in only a small percentage of cases, and without it there is almost no way for a prisoner to unequivocally prove his innocence. There was no DNA evidence in Hamilton’s case, so, even as news of the exonerations spread through the prison system, the hope of clearing his name remained slim.
Nevertheless, he went to the law library every day, and in his cell he kept a copy of the thousand-page “Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual.” He collected affidavits from Kelly Turner and da’Vette Mahan, the women he said he had been meeting with at the time of Cash’s death, and also one from a witness a friend had tracked down, who said that he had seen two other men shoot Cash. In 1995, Judge Rappaport granted Hamilton another hearing, but he didn’t find the eyewitness credible. He also refused to allow the women to testify, even though one of them, Turner, was now an officer with the New Haven Police Department. His rationale was procedural: their names had not been on the original list of witnesses at the trial.
. . .
January, 2014, Hamilton won his most significant legal victory: a landmark case, known as People v. Hamilton. It had begun with the brief that Hamilton wrote after learning of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Troy Davis case. Davis lost his evidentiary hearing, and was executed by lethal injection on September 21, 2011. That day happened to be Hamilton’s forty-sixth birthday, and he took it as a sign that he should keep fighting. Edelstein and his partner, Grossman, refined Hamilton’s argument, and Edelstein argued the case in court. They won: for the first time in New York history, the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court had decided that a defendant convicted of a crime who has a plausible claim of innocence is entitled to a hearing to present his evidence.
People v. Hamilton went even further than the Davis decision, by stipulating what should happen after an evidentiary hearing: if a defendant can show “clear and convincing” evidence of his innocence, his conviction will be overturned. Barry Scheck says, “If there’s strong evidence you didn’t commit the crime, there must be a constitutional right to vacate your conviction.” He added, “And that’s what’s been established in the Hamilton case in New York State.”