I began my career doing capital defence cases in the American South. In 1999, I founded the human rights charity Reprieve and as part of my work there represented 85 men in Guantanamo Bay.

Right now I’m representing Kris Maharaj, a man sentenced to death and imprisoned 30 years ago for murder in Florida. I’ll soon be going to court to present evidence that Kris was framed and the murders were actually a hit by Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel. It’s a story so unbelievable that I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t literally written the book on it.

You can find out more about Kris's case and our other work on Reprieve's website: Reprieve.org.uk

Proof: https://twitter.com/CliveSSmith/status/885523622370193408

EDIT 19:47 BST: Hi all! I'm going away from the computer to finish my son's surprise birthday present – he's 9 tomorrow (and I'm not saying what it is in case he's reading this!). Keep leaving questions and I'll try get to some more later! Thanks for all the questions so far. Even for calling me a parasite. I dare say I have had worse…

EDIT 22:17 BST: Back to answer a few more of the questions you've left before signing off for the night – get them in while you can!

EDIT: 10:30 BST: Thanks for all your questions everyone! My inbox is full and I wish I could response to them all.

For those asking how you can help - join Reprieve's email action list and we'll keep you up-to-date on our campaigns: https://act.reprieve.org.uk/join

Comments: 1333 • Responses: 75  • Date: 

RedditsLord920 karma

What is your success rate with death row inmates cases? What is considered a success then?

CliveSSmith1818 karma

That is a good question. In theory, I have been involved in about 400 cases now, and have lost 6 of my own clients. But others have died when I have been helping on the case too, so that would take it up to maybe 12. That might still sound like a good success rate (388 out of 400), but that is misleading. I used in the past to agree to sentences that were horribly long for people in order to avoid the death sentence, and I now view that as a death sentence carried out in a slower way. And one person I represented at trial was innocent yet he got convicted even if he got life rather than death (thankfully he is out now). Then there are people like Kris who I got off death row, but he is clearly innocent, so that is a dreadful loss. And so forth.

KatefromtheHudd941 karma

You founded Reprieve?!!! I can't believe I can talk to the founder and cannot think of anything that would remotely interest or impress you so I'll just go into fangirl mode. Just want to say I truly, with a level of passion you don't understand, admire you. The work you do is so important and it isn't acknowledged nearly as much as it should be. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

CliveSSmith692 karma

Hey, you may think that is unimpressive, but it is actually very kind. Sometimes people say the darndest, nasty things. I don’t really care if that is what they want to do – they should have free speech, even if it is nasty speech - but it is not nice. So when someone says something pleasant, it is always heartwarming. Though I should say that what I do gets acknowledged plenty. There are a lot of unsung heroes out there who get far less kudos than I do, including 36 other people in the London office of Reprieve.

thatcuntholesteve676 karma

Have you at any point defended someone you weren't 100% sure that they were innocent? Have you defended someone, got them released or sentence extended, then found that they were guilty?

CliveSSmith2147 karma

I have often represented people who are guilty. I much prefer it. I don’t really like defending innocent people. To me, the essence of the human condition is that we are all better than the worst 15 minutes of our lives, and the most important questions are to understand why bad things happen, and then try to deal with them in a compassionate way.

Strelock125 karma

What about those who have multiple "worst 15 minutes"? Doesn't that show that not everyone is better than their "worst 15 minutes"?

CliveSSmith249 karma

Interesting point. Oddly, the more bad minutes someone has, the more in my experience the explanation turns out to be rather obvious. I think of one man I represented whose dad used to make him and his siblings play Russian Roulette with a loaded gun, amongst other abuses. And who was horribly sexually molested. Yes, he ended up on death row (I am glad to say we got him off there) but his brother committed suicide and all three sisters ended up in mental hospitals.

harddk35 karma

When you (or any other lawyer) defend someone that is without a doubt guilty of a sever crime. Do you defend them aiming for exoneration for the crime, or more-of making sure they get a proper trial and only try to battle the counts that could raise doubt? Example: 'Everyone around saw you hit him, but motive behind it is questionable."-Kind of thing. That is one of the things that bothers me about laywers in general, ever since I first saw a trial up close.

CliveSSmith123 karma

Good question. My own sense of this is that we are aiming to achieve some good – for everyone. I do like the notion of restorative justice, as in my experience it is good for both victim and perpetrator. Not long ago I was working on a capital case out of Pakistan and had just finished the appeal on my train home, late late at night. Then when I foolishly went to the toilet while we were in a station (never do that!) someone stole my laptop and my papers. I later learned who it was, and that he made £50 for it. So I wanted to meet with him and explain that his actions could have cost someone else in faraway Pakistan his life. And that if he had just asked me for money I would have given it to him. And finally I wanted to make sure he did not go to prison for it, as I thought that would be pointless. But his lawyer would not let me do that, which I thought was astoundingly foolish – sad for me, sad for the guy on trial.

WhiteHairedWidow470 karma

Who was the most intimidating inmate you've come across? And what were his past charges that got him in that position?

CliveSSmith780 karma

I am not sure I have ever had an intimidating prisoner, but I have had one occasion when I have been attacked in the visitors room. That was by a very mentally ill person, and it was very sad as it gave the rather nasty warden of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center the excuse to kick me out of the prison.

Gocelings223 karma

How long ago did that happen? I met their warden last year and he seemed like a solid guy

CliveSSmith682 karma

The warden at the GD&CC when I was there was the most heartless bastard I had the misfortune to deal with. But that was 25 years ago or so…

bl00dshooter421 karma

In my country (Brazil), we have neither death sentences nor life sentences. We have a maximum sentencing of around 30 years, and you can get out in 1/6 of that time with good behavior, even for crimes such as murder. Obviously, many people feel that this is not fair punishment, and that criminals are literally getting away with murder. Point being, the US and Brazil are in opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to punishment, and both seem like flawed approaches.

What country would you say has the best legal system when it comes to this, and what are the things that it does right that others don't?

CliveSSmith462 karma

I have to say that I don’t think the Brazilian system is a bad one in that regard. In Georgia, where I worked for years, a murder conviction used to generally mean 7 years if you behaved and made an effort to improve yourself. The number of recidivist murderers is actually very small, unlike other crimes. So we have to ask ourselves why we are exacting such a harsh punishment. I have great sympathy with the victims - I have been the victim of 7 serious violent crimes myself - but I don’t see harsh punishment as a way to make society a better place. I always wonder how I would like my own son to be treated. Certainly I try to get him to do the right thing by education, not by beating him or threatening him. Perhaps eventually we will try to treat other people’s children the way we would like to treat our own. I would like to think so.

one_semaphore246 karma

Hi Clive,

I went to the same school as you (& you were the same social and time as my father!) and I distinctly remember you coming back to do a talk (maybe 5 years ago?) about your work and it massively changed my outlook on a lot of what I saw growing up in the bubble (which you can probably relate to). Thank you very much for that.

My question: What do you think about the military bases such as Diego Garcia and do you think they're being used as a more secretive version of Guantanamo Bay?

CliveSSmith358 karma

Tell your dad to get in touch! (I should add that I am not a fan of private schooling, but neither you nor I had the choice!) In response to your question, though, yes I am certain that Diego Garcia was used for torture flights and so forth, the evidence is very strong. It is pathetic that the UK has not come clean on it. But it is far worse that we would kick all the people off their islands and not allow them back, so the US could have a military base. That is colonialism of the very worst kind, and I cannot believe there is not more of a fuss made about it.


Are you familiar with the case of Joe Arridy? He had an IQ of 46 and was executed for the murder and rape of a fifteen year old girl. In 2011 the governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter, formally pardoned Joe. What are your thoughts about this case and, more specifically, the execution of mentally handicapped people?

CliveSSmith787 karma

Yes, I have naturally heard of poor Joe Arridy, who was a mentally disabled 23 year old with an IQ allegedly 46. With most of the tests we used to use in the US, you get 45 for taking the test, so that is really only one point above the table on which you are working. Such instances are terribly sad. I had a series of seriously mentally disabled people facing execution and in more than one case the guy was IQ 49. Getting across what kind of limitation that was was hard. The judge said 49 is half 100 so he is half as intelligent as an average person. In the end, I had to get him to confess to assassinating (a word he did not understand) Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan to show how limited he was. And the one thing he did understand was that people were laughing at him, which was dreadfully sad. The legal system is not a good way to deal with disabled people or, indeed, all kinds of unique individuals.


Wow, that is sad. Thanks for answering.

CliveSSmith573 karma

Sadly there are many other stories like that. If ever there were proof that someone was disabled, it would be with Jerome Bowden who was told that he would avoid execution if he scored below 65 on the test, so he tried, got just above it, felt great that he had passed the test, and then said of his final meal that he would save his pecan pie dessert for later.

CliveSSmith579 karma

There was also Jerome Holloway, who was tormented by one unpleasant guard who would repeat over and over how the electrocution would go, so that he would be able to answer all the questions and be found competent to be executed. Fortunately, after describing how he would be shaved, strapped in the electric chair, have 2500 volts put through him three times, and so forth, he was asked what would happen next, and he said “I guess that is when they would let me go home.” We did get him off death row.

flotador7210 karma

Can you even discuss your clients clases freely? Where does the client/lawyer privilege end or how can you work around it?

CliveSSmith291 karma

Privilege depends on what the client wants. With many issues, the client wants me to advocate for him or her in court and also in the court of public opinion, so that is easy. Sometimes that is not the case. For example, in the US it is often not at all in the client’s interest to be public about anything and then I’d be a fool to say much. But it is ultimately all up to the person involved. I can’t say I have ever found it much of an issue…

passarsson192 karma

Hi Clive, I'm a UK qualified solicitor based in the US, and have been an admirer of Reprieve's work for years. I was wondering what advice you have for getting into your line of work?

CliveSSmith236 karma

Again, get in touch! My email is [email protected]

unachance187 karma

When did you first discover the Cartel connection in Kris's case? How did the prosecutors not know from the start?

CliveSSmith309 karma

The government had to know about the cartel connection in Kris’s case as the Feds had an indictment out on the guy in Room 1214 (across the hall from the murders, with blood on the door) which was returned just before Kris’ trial. I suspected it when I saw that a guy from Colombia was across the hall, and when I learned the victims were laundering FIVE BILLION dollars around the Caribbean - I learned that in 1995. But I did not find out what the government knew until around 2012. And I know they are still hiding a lot, which we are trying to get now in court.

Jsy444101 karma

Will Kris get compensation if found innocent?

CliveSSmith285 karma

It is very unlikely that Kris will get compensated if he is exonerated. Frankly, I just want to get him out of there. My bet is that no matter what we come up with, the State is not going to back down, and even when we prove him totally innocent they will come to us with a deal where they do not want Kris totally exonerated. That is going to be tough, as Kris does not want it, but I don’t want him to die there (and at 78 years old he does not have long to live if treated the way he is treated). And there is his wife Marita, who is 77 herself and who needs to get home. But we will have to cross that bridge when we reach it.

woodenair148 karma


CliveSSmith362 karma

I feel sorry for your boyfriend going to Gitmo. I will say I have found a lot of the soldiers there delightful and most have been really nice to me. They get filled up with nonsense about the prisoners though. One woman there had been told that my client, Moazzam Begg, was Hannibal the Cannibal Lecter, and would bite his way through the bars. He ended up making friends with her, and they are still in touch now that he is home safe in England. Anyway, I hope to meet your boyfriend when he is down there and I visit. But be kind of him and send him lots of care packages, get him on Skype every day, and make sure he has something interesting to do in his spare time - it is a dull place for the soldiers, though I kind of enjoy it now that I only go for a week at a time.

woodenair109 karma


CliveSSmith115 karma

Drop me an email! [email protected]

khruschev-1 karma

Sorry, but I just find this strange - are you saying that a soldier (or civilian worker at Gitmo) actually believed that a prisoner would bite through bars or was literally Hannibal?

CliveSSmith7 karma

No, soldiers used to get a 3 month indoctrination tour before going to Gitmo, and they would be told all this nonsense. You must have seen the films about Hannibal the Cannibal. So the female soldier had been told Moazzam was like him (not actually him), and could bite the faces off the guards…

OneKardia136 karma

What made you want to take on this kind of career? Also what made you want to represent DR inmates? I know the justice system is broken and is really really flawed. If you can discuss it, what is the most broken rule you've run across?

CliveSSmith461 karma

I went to the US to do death penalty work as when I was 16. I was so shocked that it was still being used, so I thought (in the arrogant way of youth!) that I could persuade everyone it was wrong… But I do think my mother’s advice was very good - that if we all work to help those less fortunate than ourselves, then everyone is better off. So I decided at some point that if you look around the world at the people who are most hated, and have least power on their side in a dispute with the government, and get between them and the ones doing the hatred, you can’t really go wrong. And believe me there is no moment, I think, when the imbalance of power between the Government and the individual is more stark than when the Government wants to kill you (and sacrifice you to some mythical god of deterrence).

8000meters118 karma

Dear Clive.

Thank you for all the great work you do. I remember the utter desperation I felt just watching "14 days in May" and the memories still almost move me to tears.

How do you deal with the pain and what case hurt you the most?

CliveSSmith434 karma

In terms of the cases that really hurt, yes that is hard. When they killed Nicky Ingram in 1995, it really effected me. I had known him for years, and I liked Nicky. He was tortured to death in front of me in the Electric Chair. Long story. But if I close my eyes now, 22 years later, I can see the black and white negative of Nicky on the electric chair. It is a bit of PTSD I suppose. Though I do try to keep the focus on the fact that it was Nicky being killed, not me. And one thing he said to me just before they did it has always stayed with me - he said thanks for working for him, but that I had to keep on fighting for all the other guys, and not be too broken up about him. So I guess I took that to heart.

commaspace186 karma

This may not be something you've followed at all, but do you have any thoughts on Omar Khadr's settlement?

CliveSSmith197 karma

I met Omar Khadr in Gitmo and he was originally just 15 when taken there. He was abused horribly and the things he was said to have said were all abused out of him. What would any of us want to be paid to have our youth taken away from us from 15-25, and to be tortured? I don’t know. I never think money is the answer to these things, the real answer is to stop people doing them. But I don’t have a problem people being compensated.

Sasarai84 karma

Did you attend your unsuccessful clients' executions? Has any client ever made this request? If so are there any last words that have stuck with you?

CliveSSmith524 karma

I have always attended the executions of my clients. It is (in my view, but not in the view of everyone) the last duty I have for people I represent. There are two reasons: one, sometimes you can get a stay even in the middle of the process. Larry Lonchar got a stay with 58 seconds left before his execution. Another person (who I was not representing) got a stay a year back during the execution, as it was botched. But equally, I want to be there so there is someone who gives a damn for the person being killed. It would be very lonely to be all alone. With one of my guys, for example, he had a running joke with me that he would fire me if I did not get his case stopped. And when he was on the gurney he turned to me, smiled goodbye, and mouthed, “You’re fired!”

Florgio76 karma

Hi Clive,

How important is your innocence? It seems like today, it doesn't matter if you did it or not. Once you are accused, unless you have money or someone who takes an interest, you will lose against a system with incredible resources.

CliveSSmith162 karma

There is a lot of interesting stuff about innocence. One thing to bear in mind is how self-destructive innocent people are in the legal system. One, they are no help to me (who did it? I don’t know anything about it!). Two, they make terrible decisions. They are 110% sure they did not do it, so they cannot fathom how a jury of 12 people can find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Kris is an example here. He knows nothing about who did the crime. He hired the lawyer who said he would do it for $20K rather than $250K as he felt it would be easy to find him not guilty. He wanted to rush to trial. He agreed to his (dreadful) lawyer’s (dreadful) advice not to put on his 6 alibi witnesses, or to testify. Etc. Etc. I am not blaming him, but the system does not realise the true impact of innocent clients.

MountainBlitz65 karma

What would you say to a law student seeking to get in your line of work today?

CliveSSmith199 karma

If you are a law student, I would say why on earth would you do anything but the kind of work I get to do? Working in corporate law is just soul destroying, and the main part of your work is just pretty pointless. Working for those who really need it is incredibly rewarding and I love almost every minute of it!

MountainBlitz41 karma

How does one get their feet into the work you are doing?

CliveSSmith120 karma

Send me an email and we’ll talk: [email protected]. I do have a talk (a rant!) that I give on how to create the job that you really want to do for the next 50 years. It is more than I can say in a brief thing here, but glad to talk about it…

-politik-60 karma

Roughly, what percentage of the people you represent are non-white?

CliveSSmith164 karma

Over the years, about 70% of the people I have represented have been non-white. On death row in the US, for example, while the general population is 13% black, the death row population is 42% black. In Guantanamo, the non-white Muslim population was 777/778 (I guess the exception would have been David Hicks from Australia), so all of my clients have been non-white.

libgeek59 karma

I was a juror several years ago on murder trial that depended heavily on the identification made by witnesses. However, other evidence, including some grainy surveillance footage, made it really obvious that the actual perpetrator was nearly a foot taller than the defendant.

Do you have any insight to offer on the (un)reliability of eye witnesses? Do we rely on it too much in the US? "Circumstantial evidence" is so often scoffed at, but I recall reading that circumstantial evidence is generally more reliable than human witnesses. Has that been your experience?

CliveSSmith119 karma

My own experience as an eyewitness means that I refused to testify against three people who were thought to have put me in hospital with various broken bones one dark night in New Orleans. I thought my ID might be right, but I certainly was not sure enough to send three young men to prison for many years. But to say circumstantial evidence is better is a stretch. Most forensic science is simply not science. I got obsessed with forensic hair analysis because, as an amateur at A-levels, I did lots of science and I thought hair analysis was bullshit. So I wrote a lot about it in 1990-95, about how it was nonsense. Without meaning to say I told you so, the FBI finally admitted in 2015 that they had overstated it for decades. Our Reprieve study shows that more than 100 people were, in the meantime, executed in large part based on it. And there is much more to say (some of it said in Injustice, if you have time to read it!).

squiglydigly45 karma

Hi Clive, thanks a lot for taking part and for doing your admirable work.

For your successful cases, do the families of the victims normally accept the verdict (either that the person is innocent, or that the death penalty is not a humane punishment)?

CliveSSmith98 karma

I try to talk to the victim’s family always. There are very very few cases where that has not been the case, as I hate the pain they go through, and often the lies they are told. Kris’ case is one of the very few where the (sad to say, nasty) prosecutor at the time of the hearing in 1995 said she would have me prosecuted if I tried to talk to the victims, which was very sad, and I am sure they hate me for not talking to them. I wish I could share things with them. More often than not, though, I have had a really good relationship with the victim’s family, and I hope sometimes have been able to help them with their suffering. It is really important to help people understand (where possible) why someone they loved got senselessly killed.

FastEddieTheG42 karma

I'm sure you have a unique perspective on this - what's your stance on shutting down Guantanamo Bay? Specifically, if you're in favor of closing it (which I'm guessing you are), what should we do with the people in it?

CliveSSmith151 karma

Shutting Gitmo is a no brainer. There are 41 people in it. Perhaps 10 would face trial - and they can, as someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed boasted on video that he was behind 9/11 so why not just put him on trial. The ones who cannot be tried should not be tried - that has been the rule since 1215, just 802 years ago, when we decided we should give people trials. Why should we change it now?

wickedogg29 karma

What can people do to help make this happen?

CliveSSmith102 karma

Keep making noise. Lawyers are only a small part of the battle, by the way. There are thousands of things you can do. Artists can do art. Writers can write. Nobody is without a talent that can help achieve justice...

Frajer36 karma

How did you learn about Kris' case?

CliveSSmith89 karma

I learned about Kris’ case from the British consulate in Atlanta. It is a rather sore point, as the nice chap there asked me to help Kris. I went to do that, and naturally said yes, as it is always so hard to say no. And then when we needed financial help to get experts and witnesses, the British government denied that they had asked me to help him. So Reprieve ends up in a big financial hole on it all, and I am a tiny bit pissed off at the Government for reneging on a promise they made at one time to help him by giving him a loan to get his witnesses.

StrayaMate200046 karma

So, the British aren't coming?

CliveSSmith97 karma

You are right. The British are not being very helpful to some of our British clients, though I do think they will intervene legally, if not financially, for Kris Maharaj. It does make you think though. Kris was a millionaire back in the day, and paid lots of taxes, and now that he is destitute and was facing the electric chair, you might think the Brits would do what the Germans, the Spanish, the Italians, the Mexicans, and others do, and help prisoners get meaningful representation. They should not leave it just to do-gooders like us!

throwawaymnmnmn36 karma

What is your work week like, and how do you find any joy in the downtime you have?

CliveSSmith126 karma

Hey, I would have a TGIM sign if I had anything (Thank God Its Monday!). But I don’t really believe in that. I only wish the day had 72 hours. I keep time sheets for everything for years and years, because I am a nerd. So I can tell you I used to average about 100 hours a week, and am now down to about 75 of what we call work. But I don’t think of it as work because I love it. At the same time, it has always been a principle of mine that we should work hard and play hard, so I used to insist in the US that people took at least 6 weeks holiday a year, as compared to most people in the US getting a few days. Myself, I adore the cricket season (big win for my team, the Mapperton Marauders, last night and I am going on a cricket tour of Pakistan in September where we will be thrashed by much younger and fitter players). I also love building, though this week has involved digging a hole - that involved shifting 18 tonnes of earth - with a single spade, for a secret present for my lad Wilf, who is aged 9 tomorrow.

boyd71527 karma

Can you share with us what the secret present is?

CliveSSmith123 karma

Is that you Wilf?

SmokinDroRogan34 karma

Why do you include your middle name?

CliveSSmith208 karma

Why do I include my middle name? I don’t! It is Adrian, and I hate it. My last name is Stafford Smith, without a hyphen, because my Dad changed it way back when, and was too cheap to pay the extra £3 to put a hyphen in. He wanted to call me Adrian, whereupon the initials would have been ASS, entirely appropriate perhaps, but not nice for me. So my Mum noticed, and now I am just Clive ASS…

SmokinDroRogan94 karma

Lmao thanks for that interesting and hilarious story. I wasn't trying to be a dick; I've just always been curious about the mindset of people who use their middle names.

I guess every case you're involved in is technically a Cl-ASS action lawsuit.

CliveSSmith62 karma

I agree about the middle name thing. It’s odd. They do it to people on death row to make them less human.

thehawk32926 karma

In Guantanamo, is there a town outside of the prison? If so, what is it like?

CliveSSmith83 karma

Yes, there is a town around Guantanamo. It is a bit of an irony free zone. There is Recreation Road, that leads down past the Guantanamo Golf Course to the cells. There is McDonalds, where I first encountered the bizarre rule that soldiers had to salute officers, and say “Honor Bound, Sir!” The officer saluted back and said, “To Defend Freedom, soldier!” I thought it was a joke, when first I heard it, and I laughed. But they were serious. I wrote about all this in “Bad Men”, there is rather a lot to tell!

Trancefuzion14 karma

Didn't want to make such an off topic top level comment, but I'm looking at Google maps, and noticed a Guantanamo bay museum... Did you ever visit? Any interesting pieces there? I can't imagine they get many visitors.

CliveSSmith61 karma

The Gitmo museum is not really a museum, unless they have built one in the last month or two. It is a few pictures at the airport. I hope one day the whole place will become a museum to injustice, so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past again. (The UK had a Gitmo back in the civil war in the 1640s, and it caused such an uproar that we got the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679…)

JustHereT0Havefun26 karma

What is your opinion on some of the documentaries done on Guantanamo Bay?

CliveSSmith118 karma

I’ve not seen a decent documentary on Gitmo. You should do one. The real problem is when people think they are going to see anything useful when there. The key to Gitmo is that they only show you the propaganda tour (I got in trouble for coining that phrase!) and nothing about the reality. So the real documentary of Gitmo will be the one where they go and ask to do all the things they cannot do - interview prisoners, see a force feeding, etc. - and make a film about what they are not allowed to do.

WormWizard23 karma

A force feeding? How do they manage to do that?

CliveSSmith150 karma

The force feeding is pretty horrid. General Branz Craddock did not like the fact that the hunger strikers were getting publicity, so he said (in the NY Times) that he would make it “less convenient” for them to do it. So they use tubes that are too big (painful!) and instead of leaving the 110 cm tube in after a feeding, they pull it out each time and force it back in. They force the liquid in too fast. And they have done it to Ahmed Rabbani, for example, every day for the past four and a half years. It is illegal (you are not allowed to force feed a competent hunger striker) but there is no legal system that will stop it…

Ombortron30 karma

I think with a tube? Mos Def tried to do it as a demonstration but he stopped before things got too far because it was too much for him. I think you can find that on YouTube...

CliveSSmith60 karma

Reprieve helped organise that - you can find it on our youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hQ5xz_5to4

sweetie160524 karma

Do you think the death penalty is a better alternative to natural life? I have two friends who are currently serving life sentences. I have had this discussion with my friends many times and they say that they would prefer to die sooner than know they are going to only see the inside of the walls for the rest of their time on earth. They are both guilty, so maybe their regret sways them. I on the other hand do not believe in the death penalty at all, though I can see how somebody actually in that situation may feel like it's not worth it.

CliveSSmith95 karma

On death versus life without parole: I wrote something on this in the TLS a couple of months back or three. I hate LWOP. It is a slow death penalty. Yet I am partly responsible for the number of people who face this nightmare, and it is perhaps the thing I feel the most guilty about. Back in the 1980s, we were trying to stop the death penalty, and I figured out that jurors were only voting for it because they did not believe life meant life. So I wrote what was, sadly, a rather influential law review article on how we should make life mean life. It may have saved a few people from death, but it earned a lot more people LWOP. I hate that I did that and I apologise unreservedly for my error. I did a not-too-scientific study and figured out that this has perhaps meant that people have spent 2 BILLION extra days in prison in the last 30 years in the US…

ItheIthe22 karma

Have you ever represented a serial killer? What personality traits did they have if so?

CliveSSmith74 karma

Well yes, I have helped on such a case. I am loath to name names, as it was someone you would have heard of so I am not going to say who. But he was frankly totally mentally ill. He really didn’t even understand that he was on death row. I always think that being a serial killer has to be prima facie evidence that someone is deeply mentally ill, don’t you? Why would someone do that?

WormWizard22 karma

Hey Clive! Your current case sounds interesting, and I'll try to follow it and see where it goes.

How do you go about finding these clients, and how do you decide their case is worth taking?

CliveSSmith62 karma

I’ve not got just one case, there are lots going on. But Kris is taking up a lot of my time. I’ve never really “chosen” cases. It used to be just the next guy facing execution. Nowadays, it tends to be someone who is caught up in something really terrible. So one thing we recently brought against Trump was his current effort to assassinate two journalists. He has an assassination list, started by Obama. Lots of people on it. It is mad. It is like we are in the time of the Borgias. Another demented policy decision in response to the “War of Terror” (as Borat calls it).

Pizzaul17 karma

Can you elaborate on and/or provide sources to back up your claim about this assassination list? I don't doubt things like this exist at all, mind you, but I would like to see some kind of proof to that statement if you can provide it.

CliveSSmith29 karma

I recently wrote a long-read about it, and it's been extensively reported in the press: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/state-sponsored-assassination/

setmehigh4 karma

Uh, trump wants to assassinate journalists? Really?

CliveSSmith18 karma

Rambam2320 karma

Do you think we're on the path to abolishing the death penalty in the US? What can us non-lawyers do to help change public opinion and end the death penalty? Thank you so much for your heroic work!

CliveSSmith57 karma

The death penalty will be abolished in the US. Executions have dropped from a high of 100 to 20 last year. With 2900 people on death row, it would take 145 years to kill those folk, not accounting for new cases, and presumably some would have died of old age by then… The death penalty is a dinosaur, but even in its death throes the T Rex can thrash around very dangerously. But if there is one thing that is certain it is that the history books are no more going to say executing people was a cool idea than we do burning witches at the stake…

osama_is_dead8819 karma

Have you ever refused a case because of the severity/nastiness of the crimes committed?

CliveSSmith94 karma

I have never refused a case because the facts were too bad. Indeed, the worse the facts, normally the more compelling the reason why it happened. But I have refused a case where the individual had money. So I was asked to take on Saddam Hussein’s case and I have no problem with him getting effective representation - his hanging was a sorry reflection on humanity no matter what he did. But he had money and could get others to do it, so I would rather focus on those who have no money.

zrh300018 karma

What is the most interesting case you've worked on?

CliveSSmith102 karma

In terms of the most interesting case I have ever had, I would have to decline to answer in a sentence. I have had so many, so varied, so fascinating. I could list thirty that would tie for the top one. I guess one day I need to describe all of them in a book.

NBAContracts17 karma

How many muslim men are thrown in Guantanamo with 0 evidence?

CliveSSmith64 karma

In response to how many Muslim men are thrown into Gitmo with no evidence - sad to say a huge number. There have been 779 people there and now we have 41, so that means 738 (95% or so) have been released, and in each case there have been a number of US intel agencies who have found the person to be “no threat to the US or its allies.” So in that sense there was no evidence against any of them in any sensible sense. But mostly there as “evidence” in the form of tortured statements or “snitches” who would make up stories in exchange for benefits (often in the so-called Love Shack that is being closed in Gitmo now, though they are not being too open about that!)

HateIsStronger14 karma

What's the love shack? The rape room?

CliveSSmith67 karma

The Love Shack is where prisoners who were willing to inform on other prisoners would be allowed to have cigarettes and porn movies. I suppose it is understandable that a small number of prisoners would say anything to get a benefit - there was one person who informed on literally hundreds of his co-prisoners, making things up that were patently false, but that led to people being held for months and years without trial. The guy said, for example, of one detainee that he had seen the man in Al Farouq Training Camp in Afghanistan and one honest solider investigated all the classified (then, not now!) evidence and figured out that of the 16 people the man said he’d seen there, none had even been in Afghanistan at the time…

bmwhd-18 karma

Seems a bit disingenuous to imply all those released were held unjustly given how many returned to terror upon release.

CliveSSmith29 karma

With respect you are wrong here. To be sure, some (a very small number) have committed bad acts upon release (interestingly far lower numbers than the recidivists - genuine recidivists - in US prisons). But that does not mean they “returned” to terror from Gitmo. There was no evidence those people had been involve in it before. Because I have sadly talked to so many people who have been tortured by my government, I am actually amazed that more have not done dreadful things upon release.

Captain_Obvious2213 karma

Why are there so many innocent people in Guantanamo bay and why hasn't it been shut down already?

CliveSSmith53 karma

Gitmo has only not closed because Obama did not force the issue. The Republicans have no more interest in justice there, than they have in the past justice for people on death row. It is all a political issue, designed to be divisive, and make the Democrats look weak. Very sad.

clnthoward13 karma

Just reading up on Kris' case.. why do you think he was framed?

CliveSSmith63 karma

In terms of Kris being framed, there was just a system for it back then. A former police officer told me, and then testified under oath, that they had a deal with the Cartel that when the Cartel wanted to kill someone they would have a cop on duty at the scene to make sure they did not get into trouble. The officer gave me a list of 17 homicides where a corrupt element of the police had been involved. I tried to get the FBI to do something about this, but they showed no interest. Sadly, there was so much drug money around that a cop could make a year’s salary by turning a blind eye, and that was a big temptation. In 1985, fully ten percent of the whole police force there was arrested or fired for corruption!

KSrager9211 karma

Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit, believes that the use of legal injection is a way for Americans to lie to themselves that what they are doing is not cruel; that if the death penalty is to remain, people should see the true meaning of this method carried out (e.g. hanging, guillotine, and firing squad). Aside from disagreeing with the death penalty as a whole, and being one who is heavily involved in the matter, what is your opinion on the use of lethal injection?

CliveSSmith44 karma

He is right of course. Everything about the death penalty is dressed up to make it seem a kinder, gentler form of death. The whole protocol is for the people doing it and watching, not the prisoner. So, first, they strap you down tight and give you a paralytic agent in lethal injection, not because it makes you feel better, but so the watching people cannot see you writhe in agony. With the Electric Chair, they used the big leather flap over the face of the prisoner not for him, but so the witnesses could not see his agony. And so on. Then we have silly things like the last meal – as Nicky Ingram said, why would I want to eat when you are about to kill me? So he asked for a cigarette, which they refused because it was bad for his health (I finally persuaded them to give him a damned cigarette). And so forth. So I would go further than Kozinski. I think you should not just watch the execution, in all its glory, but you should do what Paul Hamann did in 14 Days in May, and follow the last two weeks, to see the impact of it all on the condemned person, all the other prisoners, the guards, and everyone else. It is just barbaric.

introvertedbassist10 karma

What's the average day like for a lawyer such as your self?

If you could go back to college would you change your interest to a different profession?

What's your favorite part of being a lawyer?

And lastly, how did you decide being a lawyer was your calling?

CliveSSmith22 karma

I consider myself incredibly privileged because there is no such thing as an average day. It is the reason why I don’t understand why lawyers think they should be so well paid. We are incredibly fortunate in other ways already. So each day I tend to have something different and fascinating to do. I just wish there were 72 ours in the day. That would allow me to do what I did today much better – I had to dig a huge hole for a sunken trampoline for my kid’s 9th birthday surprise tomorrow. It took two days actually, as it was (I worked out) 18 tonnes of clay. I needed to have about 20 hours to do that, 10 hours to respond to all these questions, then another 40 hours to do some work on Kris Maharaj’s case and maybe 10 to help some of the others in the office, then I would have had a productive day! (Ah, but I need 8 hours sleep and I notice I am already up to 80…)

Opheltes10 karma

I've read that the defense attorneys in capital cases will often hold back an issue or two at each level of appeal, in order to purposefully stretch out the litigation. Do you think that attorneys who do that should be sanctioned?

CliveSSmith22 karma

No lawyer holds back issues on appeal, that is just silly. On the other hand, the first appeal may take ten years, and by then the world has changed, and we have all learned a lot, so there is never a time when I have worked on a case and lost the first round and cannot come up with new issues for the second round of appeals. But it is getting very very hard now, under the “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act” (which is not effective!). Kris Maharaj’s recent victory, being allowed a hearing in federal court on a successive appeal, is a very rare event.

TheWave11010 karma

As somebody from Louisiana/about to take the bar exam here, I first just wanted to thank you for your work in the state, namely that related to LCAC. I've had the opportunity to see LCAC's work over the past year and a half or so and seeing them handle the very worst of the worst cases has been motivating, to say the least.

My question is - how does one get the opportunity to work cases out of Gitmo? Between what I've read and what I've heard it looks like you've either got to be a veteran death penalty attorney or someone who's spent a good stint in JAG corps. Are you aware of anybody who hasn't followed one of those two tracks?

Hopefully Gitmo is closed before the time I would ever be close to meeting the requirements for the civilian attorney pool, but taking on those kinds of cases drew my interest ever since I first started reading about all of it.

CliveSSmith14 karma

Not at all. Most of the lawyers who have done cases in Gitmo have been pro bono corporate lawyers. We had a coalition of about 500 at one point, and I would guess that there were about 5 capital defence lawyers, 15 federal defenders, maybe 10 other NGO types, a few academics, and 450 corporate lawyers. Now there are many fewer of us, and the capital and NGO types tend still to be there. You are most welcome, but I should warn you that nobody ever gets paid anything…

LifeOfLila10 karma

How many death row inmates did you represent that are now free today?

CliveSSmith71 karma

In terms of how many of my clients are free - actually an amazing number. Not all of them made it as far as death row, but the state was trying to send them there. One astounding sequence involved 171 capital cases in Orleans Parish (New Orleans) back in 1999-2003, where we managed to free 126 of the people. The conservative story here is that they had the wrong person in 74.9% of the time, so that the real killer was still out there. The liberal story was that the whole police system was profoundly dysfunctional if they were arresting the wrong person that often.

jakalakatack3 karma

Im beginning to research and really think about becoming a lawyer or something in the field of justice and law. I'd appreciate it greatly if you could tell me how your average days are while working on a case vs. while not working on a case. Which cases have you worked on that have really hit home hard? Anything you remember?

CliveSSmith5 karma

This is a BIG question and I can’t do justice here. But if you want to think about being a lawyer, come and volunteer at Reprieve and you will see what it is like. I like to think you will come away from it wanting to do something like that for the next 50 years or so!

rolexus20173 karma

Because of a place like Gitmo, would you say America is no better than their enemies?

CliveSSmith28 karma

I’m not really going to get into better or worse. There are many great things about the US (the US Constitution is a fantastic document). There are many decent people in the US. The current president of the US should never have been elected. There are many things about the policies of the US that are simply despicable and I, as an American, strongly disapprove of them and spend my life trying to right them. But I don’t pass judgment against a country any more than I do against a person.


What started you down this path of work and how do you think we (society) can increase our collective empathy for criminals?

CliveSSmith4 karma

My mother told me that my duty was to help those who were less fortunate than I was. I think that was a very useful lesson. It has been said by people who are more eloquent than I am that we can judge the civilization of a society by the way in which we treat our prisoners, and those we deem wretched (I don’t like that word as it is demeaning). And I think we can judge ourselves by what we do for people under those circumstances. There are two ways to raise empathy for “criminals” – one is to stop using the word criminal. I think it is a slur like many others, designed to dehumanize. What is a “criminal” but someone who we think (often wrongly) has committed what we call a crime? But what is a crime? We let people do dreadful things (taking $10 million bonuses while they corrupt the banking system or poison our environment) and reward them, when we put someone in prison for shoplifting. The second way to increase empathy is for everyone both to visit prison, to spend a few nights there, and to meet the people there. Pretty soon we will come to see them as fellow travellers, rather than some object of our latter day prejudices…

mhhmget2 karma

Where did you practice in the South? How does in compare to other jurisdictions?

CliveSSmith10 karma

I must add I loved working in Mississippi and Louisiana. Trying a capital case is fascinating. All 12 jurors have to have sworn that they would execute someone if the facts merit it, which means that 52% of all British people would not even make it to jury selection. So you are faced with 12 people who have said they will do it, and you have to get them not to. It is not hard. There is good in everyone, and in the jury selection process you get to know the jurors a lot. So it mostly comes down to the jurors’ religion. I always ask them what their favourite bible verse is, or whatever, and it comes down to Matthew Chapter 5 verse 7, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” If you do what the prosecution wants (don’t show mercy) you go to hell; if you show mercy you don’t. Pretty simple really.

CliveSSmith7 karma

I worked in the Deep South because that was the Death Belt. Sadly, it is not possible to do death penalty trials in Paris, much as I would have liked to…

jferrd2 karma

How can the federal, state, or local government prove that they have jurisdiction over us. What evidence shows that we must follow their statutes. In reference to anything that is a vicitimless crime. In other words as long as we aren't hurting anybody else or their property what gives government the right to infringe on our rights?

CliveSSmith6 karma

In terms of “victimless crimes” - look I am not a fan of the so-called justice system in any way. Certainly there are things that should not be prosecuted under any circumstances. Drugs are one good example. Criminalising them is just stupid. But I have a bigger problem with the whole definition of crime. I do like to ask people what the most dreadful thing that they have ever done is (we have all done something of which we are greatly ashamed - I am writing a book that includes something terrible I said about my Dad); what the pain was that this caused; how that almost certainly is not something that is criminalised under our strange system; and yet how much more pain we caused than was inflicted on us by the worse crime committed against us. A long conversation, and not always true, of course, but more often than not it is. So the whole justice system is riddled with problems.

thelovebat1 karma

Does your own personal way of running a case affect what kind of clients you take up? Would you feel conflicted if you had to defend someone and get them off the hook even if things did point to them being guilty?

I was also curious about cases where it may seem like something is a gray area, such as someone killing in self defense (or claiming to at least) even if it's difficult to prove. Do you in a sense 'believe in your client' in helping them through their court case even if there may not be proof of their intent (self defense)?

CliveSSmith6 karma

The law is not a good way to get justice. There is ALWAYS a reason why things happen. Very often my clients have suffered from serious mental illness, but I have never once in 33 years managed to get someone found not guilty by reason of insanity. That is because the law is, itself, a bit deranged.

ramzor131 karma

Why do you not address the several question asking you about defending the guilty?

I could never understand how a defense lawyer could sleep knowing they were able to set a murderer free, especially when that person kills again.

CliveSSmith18 karma

I have answered various questions about defending the guilty. I have defended lots and lots and lots of people who committed the act of which they were charged. But there is always a reason why people do things. Whether they have committed the act is only one question. It may have been in self-defence, it may have been in provocation, it may have been while mentally ill, it may have been for any number of reasons, and I will bet a lot of money that if it was someone you loved on trial, you would work hard to understand the reason. But in a capital case there are two trials. Most people get convicted. At the second part of the trial it is simply a matter of life or death - it has been decided that the person will die in prison, only whether he or she dies at our hand or of old age remains to be decided. I have done many such cases, and I am proud to say that I have not had anyone executed when they were convicted on my watch. That is not to say that I always achieved justice, as I have said before.

30582481 karma

Personally, about what percent of people on death row do you think are innocent?

CliveSSmith9 karma

What percentage of death row are innocent? Hard to say. From memory, 24 people have been exonerated in Florida, and 92 executed, since 1979. That would be about a 20% innocence rate, if you think the people killed were guilty (and I doubt that). But such statistics are not really what it is about. If you are the innocent person, like Kris Maharaj, you only have one life, and you are about to lose it for a crime you did not do. So that is a 100% error rate.

Ask_A_Sadist-1 karma

How does it feel knowing you are what's wrong with the criminal justice system? You profit directly by exploiting the system and manipulating technicalities to get people who have hurt others back onto the streets. Why do you feel the life of a death row inmate is worth more than the lives of the people they destroyed? The exact opposite is true. I guess I'm asking how does it feel to be a 5 foot something parasite?

CliveSSmith4 karma

That is a very sad comment. You make various assumptions that are, with respect, based in not knowing the facts, down to making some random guess about how tall people are. I have never been profited from representing someone. I have always, from the day I graduated law school in 1984 to today, worked for charity. It is dreadful that people are murdered; it makes the world no better for us to murder someone else. If that means I am a 5 foot something parasite then, even though I am six foot three, I am satisfied with that.

s_baron-12 karma

Hello Clive, Why is Reprieve's management staff (about half a dozen people) all white women? It doesn't make sense that an organization that represents marginalized communities (usually Muslim men) has none of its members involved in steering the non-profit.

CliveSSmith10 karma

It is not true to say that the management staff at Reprieve are all white women. As founder, I dare say I am not one! More to the point, our Casework Director is non-white. 32% of Reprieve staff are from BAME communities and we're really proud of the diversity of our staff.

It is true to say that there are many more women than men at Reprieve, which many would celebrate. I tend to wonder why men are so much less willing to devote themselves to a charity cause than (it seems) women…

s_baron-14 karma

Thank you for the response. It reminds me why you're a good attorney: avoiding the point on a technicality :) The facts remains that all of your directors (inc deputies) are women. If they were all men, people would rightly complain. An organization thrives when there is diversity, not just at the worker level (which is where you get your ethnic % figure) but at the management level too.

CliveSSmith12 karma

I’m not sure how our Finance and Governance Deputy Director would feel about being told he’s not a man.