I'm an Exoneration Initiative attorney. We are a non-profit organization that fights to free innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted in NY, whose cases lack DNA evidence. We have been representing John Bunn for the past 5 years and have freed/or exonerated 10 people in the past 10 years. www.exi.org. www.twitter.com/exiny. www.facebook.com/exiny

Signing off for the day - We really appreciate all the comments and support!

Comments: 712 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

colossuskidd1346 karma

So what’s going to happen to the people that falsely accused him?

ExonerationInitiativ3137 karma

Nothing. How unfair is that.

moration778 karma

A lot of these exonerations are black men that were railroaded at a young age by ambitious police and prosecutors to build thier own careers. Have there been any changes in the last 20 years to reduce likelihood of this happening again and again? If not what changes do we need now to safeguard the innocent?

ExonerationInitiativ854 karma

The criminal justice system is still racist and classist. One recent study found that innocent black people are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than innocent white people and African-American prisoners who are convicted of murder are about 50% more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers. https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf. As the study notes, these numbers are extrapolated from exonerations (i.e. wrongful convictions we know about) and of course we can't possibly know about all of them, especially in cases where the innocent person is never exonerated. Still, the numbers are staggering. One positive thing is that over the past 20 years dozens of innocence organizations have emerged which provide free legal assistance to the wrongfully convicted regardless of race. And hopefully changes in law, practice, and social norms which cause judges and juries to doubt certain kinds of unreliable or possibly biased evidence (like being skeptical of law enforcement, and questioning the accuracy/good faith of identifications) will translate into less black men being railroaded like John was. Also the widespread press coverage and public dialogue of these issues helps to educate future juries who may have innocent people's lives in their hands. Shining a light on a problem is always the first step in finding solutions.

robinson59 karma

Do cops that knowingly misrepresented/falsified/withheld evidence that resulting in someone’s wrongful conviction get charged?

I was reading about Louis Scarcella who is somehow still free even those he’s locked tons of innocent people in cages

ExonerationInitiativ26 karma

Not in our experience, in NY. But they should be.

Tatters748 karma

Will there ever be a way that these people get a financial reward for being wrongfully imprisoned? Seems only right that either the state or the federal government, depending on which convicted them, should pay these people handsomely. Say, 200,000 per year, or 548 per day (not taxable) that they spent imprisoned.

ExonerationInitiativ1207 karma

Provided that there is a state or city actor to blame for a person's wrongful conviction - typically, police or prosecutors - they can sue in state or federal court for civil rights violations. Also some states, like New York, allow wrongfully people to be compensated no matter what caused their wrongful conviction, provided they meet certain requirements. In New York there is no set amount and no cap on how much financial compensation a wrongfully convicted person can receive. So hopefully, John will be fairly compensated for everything he's been through! (If that's even possible...)

KronktheKronk492 karma

How do you know the people you represent are innocent?

ExonerationInitiativ920 karma

We thoroughly investigate our cases, sometimes for years if necessary, before we bring them to court. Generally, we are looking for evidence of innocence from multiple independent sources - i.e. unconnected to one another - which overwhelms the evidence used to convict the client. In these situations, the only logical explanation based on all the evidence is that the client is innocent. Every case is different, but every time we argue that a client is innocent, it's based on the evidence and nothing else.

KronktheKronk218 karma

What percentage of cases do you find insufficient, or damning, evidence for?

ExonerationInitiativ700 karma

We generally reject about 80% of cases at every stage of our evaluation as failing to meet our criteria. It is very rare that we discover new, damning evidence of guilt during our investigations but it has happened, and obviously we are unable to go forward with those cases. More often, when we choose not to go forward on a case after an investigation its because we've exhausted all of our leads and we can't find enough evidence of innocence to the point where we think we can prevail in court. And since our cases are difficult to litigate and labor intensive - sometimes it has taken us as much as a decade of litigation to undo a wrongful conviction - we have to be very selective in the cases we choose. To give you an idea, we've reviewed and investigated over 4000 cases and only ever accepted approximately 20 people as our clients. But when we do take on a client, their our client for life. We won't give up on the fight, not ever.

jfarrar19106 karma

80% of cases at every stage

So, does that mean you end up rejecting 80% at stage one, and then at stage 2 you end up rejected 80% of the remaining 20%, so on throughout each stage? Or is it 40% stage 1, 20% stage 2, 20% stage 3?

PessimiStick168 karma

investigated over 4000 cases and only ever accepted approximately 20 people as our clients

So the former. 80% at each stage.

ExonerationInitiativ203 karma

Correct, 80% at each stage.

thebuddybud43 karma

For how long have you and your team been studying and investigating this case ? And did you charge your client a small fortune ?

ExonerationInitiativ290 karma

Our clients pay us nothing. We are a not-for-profit and all of our services are free. That is why we are able to help whoever we believe we can help, as opposed to only those who could afford it. (Legal services like ours would cost, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars if our clients had to pay for it - but as I said, we are pro bono attorneys). John has been our client for 5 years, and we began looking into his case 2 years before that. Some of our cases have taken up to 10 years in litigation to win.

Wolfir56 karma

their our client for life

You're a lawyer!?

ExonerationInitiativ239 karma

*They're. So ashamed.

shorthanded215 karma

Do you believe the rate of innocent men behind bars is better or worse in the USA than in other nations, both 1st world or otherwise? Do you believe there are better systems to model the USA's on? Thanks for the AMA, really interesting topic (and good work, too, of course).

ExonerationInitiativ365 karma

The US has the largest prison population in the world. It has 5% of the world's population but more than 20% of the world's prison population. www.aclu.org/prison-crisis. It logically follows, based on the raw numbers alone, that the US also has the most wrongfully convicted prisoners of any country. I'm not familiar with the wrongful conviction rates around the world but, it would seem that no legal system could possibly avoid wrongful convictions because so much of what causes wrongful convictions are based on human error (e.g. mistaken IDs) or the individual biases and aspirations of the human actors involved (e.g. police, prosecutors, judges, attorneys, jailhouse snitches, etc.). That being said, there are widespread reforms that could be undertaken in the US (and other legal systems) which could prevent future wrongful convictions, like recording interrogations, requiring corroboration for incentivized (snitch) testimony, and routinely allowing expert testimony to educate jurors about false confessions and the fallibility of eyewitness identifications, to name a few.

Kaci_James195 karma

Can you free my couson, Pookie?

ExonerationInitiativ217 karma

Maybe :) Have Pookie fill out our case evaluation questionairre and we'll look into it! http://exonerationinitiative.org/CaseEvaluationForm.pdf

Boomer8450170 karma

How much resistance do you encounter from prosecutors and/or judges? Are they resistant to proving someone is actually innocent?

ExonerationInitiativ411 karma

SO MUCH RESISTANCE. Usually prosecutors fight us tooth and nail to keep their convictions (though there have been exceptions) and often, the closer we are to winning, the dirtier they fight. We've had prosecutors try to take down our organization or ruin our careers. Obviously they failed :). These fights get very very very personal. We've also had judges go to the most ridiculous lengths to avoid exonerating our clients, and have often had to go to appellate courts in order to get our clients' convictions overturned. (Of course, there are exceptions to this statement too. We've also appeared before some honest, courageous judges). Overall, as i said earlier, DNA is the magic bullet and without it, the system does not want to admit it made a mistake. So we have to fight our asses off to make it.

aridax131 karma

How is he? And how are his prospects for the future? (Career, etc)

ExonerationInitiativ314 karma

John is doing well, all things considered. He feels like he can finally breathe now that he no longer has this wrongful conviction hanging over him. He is truly grateful for the love and support that he has received in the past few days, and he has a loving family who have stood by him throughout it all. He's one of the lucky ones in that sense. He has always tried to stay positive throughout this process and positivity is really his mantra over all, which is so amazing considering what he's been through. That's why he channels most of his energy to giving back to the community through his program providing books to prisoners "A Voice 4 the Unheard" and speaking to at risk youth. Of course, no one can ever fully recover from the the emotional and financial repercussions of having been wrongfully convicted and spending 17 years in prison - especially when their life was taken from them at such a young age. John has a long road ahead, but thankfully he won't have to go it alone.

[deleted]23 karma

John is doing well, all things considered. He feels like he can finally breathe now that he no longer has this wrongful conviction hanging over him. He is truly grateful for the love and support that he has received in the past few days, and he has a loving family who have stood by him throughout it all. He's one of the lucky ones in that sense. He has always tried to stay positive throughout this process and positivity is really his mantra over all, which is so amazing considering what he's been through. That's why he channels most of his energy to giving back to the community through his program providing books to prisoners "A Voice 4 the Unheard" and speaking to at risk youth. Of course, no one can ever fully recover from the the emotional and financial repercussions of having been wrongfully convicted and spending 17 years in prison - especially when their life was taken from them at such a young age. John has a long road ahead, but thankfully he won't have to go it alone.

1sol77 karma

How has your work in these cases affected your view of the legal system and process?

ExonerationInitiativ198 karma

The criminal justice system is messed up. And the wheels of justice turn very very very slowly for most people. It's sad to regularly come face to face with the worst parts of the justice system - cops who lie, prosecutors who cheat, judges who seem not to care, etc. But on the other hand, it makes you want to fight even harder. And it's amazing what scrappiness, persistence, and creative thinking can do. At EXI we always repeat that Babe Ruth quote - It's hard to beat someone who never gives up. That's us, and it's true! And of course, we also get to have the best moments any lawyer can imagine - like Tuesday's court appearance when John was exonerated. We live for those days. They keep us going through all the hard ones.

HeyZuesGuy70 karma

Why are prosecutors not held responsible when they make a huge fuck up like this?

ExonerationInitiativ158 karma

Good question. They should be. It's a huge huge problem with the criminal justice system. I think the powers that be are afraid they won't be able to do their jobs properly if they have to worry about being held accountable for mistakes, which will inevitably happen in any career. Which, fair enough, but there are mistakes and then there's MISCONDUCT. When there's misconduct, there should be accountability.

kenshin80081itz39 karma

I agree completely but is there always a clear line between mistake and MISCONDUCT?

ExonerationInitiativ74 karma

Unfortunately, no. But when misconduct on the part of police or prosecutors IS clear, there should definitely be consequences. And right now, there aren't any.

fishinbuttersauce64 karma

Have a guess at the amount of people still in jail that are innocent?

ExonerationInitiativ124 karma

So so many. A shocking number, some experts say as many as 10% of people convicted of serious crimes (like rape and murder). (Many prosecutors on the other hand would argue the rate is much lower). But really, we have no way of accurately calculating it because we can only extrapolate from known exonerations, and considering how hard it is to exonerate someone (or how lucky a person has to be for there to be evidence of their innocence which can be used to exonerate them), we know for a fact that there are significantly more innocent people in jail than will ever be exonerated. Another complication is that the wrongful conviction rate for people convicted of less serious offenses is likely much higher, but also hard to calculate because many innocent people in those cases choose to plead guilty rather than risk a much higher sentence by going to trial and fighting to prove their innocence.

sumuji11 karma

If a person is wrongfully convicted, and isn't from or currently serving time in a large city, I guess their chances of getting freed are even slimmer. Seems like most of these overturns happen in places like NYC. What about the wrongfully convicted that are from a more small town/rural setting? Are there firms that focus on a more national level? I mean I'm sure that would entail an insane amount of work just travelling and filtering out all of the people who claim they're innocent but aren't.

ExonerationInitiativ24 karma

Some organizations, like Centurion (based in NJ) do take cases nationally. There are also innocence organizations all over the country, in almost every if not every state. Unfortunately, not all innocence organizations accept non-DNA innocence cases like we do, but luckily some do.

gloggs45 karma

What would you say is the percentage of your cases won with DNA evidence?

ExonerationInitiativ121 karma

None! The Exoneration Initiative focuses on the toughest cases - where a person is innocent but there is no DNA evidence to test which can prove it. What most people don't know is that DNA is rarely found in most cases - in 90 to 95% of criminal cases, DNA was never even recovered. So in most cases where an innocent person was wrongfully convicted, DNA testing can't save them. That's where we come in, using old fashioned detective work and hard fought litigation in order to exonerate them through other forms of evidence.

DigiMagic17 karma

I don't live in USA so I have no personal interest in this. I'm just curious, here you say that you focus on toughest cases; yet in another reply you've said that you exclusively take only cases where you first find overwhelming evidence of innocence. Of course it's great that you help whomever you can, but aren't these the opposite of toughest cases? ... or I misunderstood something?

ExonerationInitiativ75 karma

No you didn't misunderstand. The criminal justice system is so broken that even though we only select and bring cases where the evidence of innocence is overwhelming, our efforts to exonerate our clients are still often met with the utmost resistance from judges and prosecutors. DNA is a magic bullet and without it, the system does not like to admit it has made a mistake, no matter how obvious the truth is. Although there have been exceptions, prosecutors have generally fought our efforts tooth and nail (and frequently, fought dirty) and some judges have stuck their heads in the sand when faced with our evidence of innocence. That's why it can sometimes take 10 years of litigation to exonerate a person that a member of the general public would think is obviously innocent based on the evidence.

peetar43 karma

Could you give your opinion on what happened to John? How/why was he convicted? I didn't find much info about what happened with the original trial/investigation

ExonerationInitiativ136 karma

Sure. We wrote this for his spotlighted gofundme page:

In the early hours of the morning on August 13, 1991, two corrections officers were attacked and car-jacked as John Bunn, a fourteen-year-old, lay asleep in his bed. Both corrections officers were shot, but only one survived. When the police began their investigation, no reason existed to suspect Bunn of having been involved in that crime. To this day, there has been no explanation as to why he was targeted by police. No evidence placed him at the scene, no statement indicated that he was involved, and his appearance did not in any way match the assailants’ descriptions. Nonetheless, the day after the crime detectives arrested Bunn in his home, without a warrant or probable cause, and made him stand in a lineup for the murder. John was then misidentified by a single eyewitness who barely even saw the perpetrator. Not long after, police discovered that Bunn’s fingerprints did not match any of those recovered from the victim’s car. Police found blood at the crime scene which may have belonged to the perpetrator, but the prosecution either did not test the blood or did not disclose the results of that testing to the defense in time for Bunn’s trial. Years later, when lawyers who believed in Bunn’s innocence tried to do DNA testing, it was discovered that the blood evidence which may have exonerated him was destroyed by the prosecution in 1993, shortly after his trial. Without DNA evidence to help him, John turned to lawyers from The Exoneration Initiative (EXI), a non-profit organization which specializes in non-DNA innocence cases. After years of investigation and litigation, Bunn and his team of EXI lawyers were able to prove that a corrupt Brooklyn Homicide detective, Louis Scarcella, who led the investigation and was present at the lineup procedure, had disregarded the truth and police procedure and framed Bunn, in the interest of quickly closing a high profile case. In November of 2016, Brooklyn Judge Shawndya Simpson overturned his conviction and ordered a new trial. The prosecution appealed the judge’s ruling, but withdrew the the appeal last month after an appellate court upheld the judge’s decision overturning John’s co-defendant’s conviction. After 17 years in prison and 27 years of fighting to clear his name, emotions ran high in the courtroom as John was finally exonerated on May 15, 2018.

Srynaive27 karma

Ian it common for the prosecution to destroy evidence after a trial?

ExonerationInitiativ73 karma

No it is very uncommon.

Americanmessi201640 karma

How do you pick the cases you pursue?

ExonerationInitiativ100 karma

We receive thousands of letters from people in prison. We are generally looking for cases where the prosecution's evidence was weak - i.e. the kinds of evidence we know leads to wrongful convictions, like uncorroborated eyewitness identifications or snitch testimony or potentially false confessions or suspect testimony from police (just a few examples) - and we review every case, first through and objective document review and then if the case passes that first phase of review we start looking at the old police documents and interviewing witnesses until we run out of leads or find evidence that the person is innocent. Once we have that, we bring the case to court and fight it out for as long as we have to until we win!

fikis36 karma

I love how you are consistently referring to "jailhouse informants" as "snitches".

I think I understand why, and your rationale for actively working to undermine their credibility (like, seriously; I don't think that that sort of 'evidence' should carry any weight at all), but would you like to lay out your position on that sort of testimony, and why you find it problematic, and also why you are consciously choosing to call them "snitches"?

(Again, I want to reiterate, since tone is notoriously difficult to read on the internet, that I am in agreement, but I just honestly find it funny that you choose to use that terminology).

ExonerationInitiativ110 karma

Ha. I guess "informant" would be a nicer way to say it. But we (innocence lawyers) refer to them as snitches because it's derogatory and in our experience this kind of testimony is often false and unreliable, and is a major cause of wrongful convictions. The problem with this kind of testimony is that snitches receive significant benefits for themselves if they tell the prosecution what it wants to hear - like sentence reductions, beneficial plea deals, letters to the parole board, etc. And historically, prosecutors have used snitches to shore up weak cases (that they might otherwise lose) with false testimony that a defendant has confessed to them in jail, or that they overheard the defendant say something incriminating. What's even worse is that the more serious the crime, the more likely it is that a prosecutor will resort to using snitch testimony to win. Snitches falsely testified in 15% of cases where a person was later exonerated of murder, and in 23% of murder exonerations where the sentence was death. https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/Features.Snitch.Watch.aspx. And sadly, even when a jury is informed that the snitch received a benefit, or that they've lied in other cases, they often still believe this kind of unreliable testimony.

Wolfir37 karma

What do you say to someone who has lost all faith in our justice system?

ExonerationInitiativ89 karma

I'd say they're smart. The system is broken. But that's not the end of the story, we have to work towards making it better. On an individual level (by exonerating the innocent) and on a systemic level (by reforming it to prevent future wrongful convictions).

PrivateJoker51336 karma

As an attorney that focuses on extremely complex and difficult cases focusing on disproving eyewitness testimony and other types of "less concrete" evidence, what would your advice be to people that are suspected of criminal wrongdoing? (Besides the obvious of hiring an attorney immediately and not making statements beforehand to the police)

ExonerationInitiativ78 karma

Don't be black or poor. No, seriously. What's scary is that aside from the advice you just listed, there's not much an accused person can do (themselves) to keep from being wrongfully convicted. And sometimes even the most diligent, hardworking lawyers can't prevent a wrongful conviction from happening when witnesses lie or the cops or prosecution play dirty. The best we can do is advocate for reforms that will prevent unreliable evidence from causing wrongful convictions and keep a spotlight on these issues in the hopes that the general public will become more aware and hold the government to the highest standard in its prosecutions.

shoestars9 karma

Is it best for someone to refuse a plea and plead not guilty, in order to hopefully have their case exonerated? If the person pleads guilty are you still able to exonerate them?

ExonerationInitiativ20 karma

I could never opine as to whether it is generally better for a person to refuse to plead guilty, that's a case by case inquiry and it's important to remember that it is very difficult to get exonerated even if you're innocent. That being said, at least in New York, it is even harder to get exonerated if you plead guilty because of the legal standards at play. Of course, nothing is impossible...

James__K__Polk34 karma

Is masturbating on an airplane illegal or just frowned upon? Asking for a friend.

ExonerationInitiativ79 karma

I think both. But not an expert in this area.

neu-kid-here22 karma

  1. Is this the only type of Law you've practiced?

  2. Have you ever been 'coned' by a real murderer to take their case?

ExonerationInitiativ49 karma

We only accept cases in which we have found evidence which we believe proves that the person who was convicted of the crime did not commit that crime. That evidence is objective and independent of the client and we have very high standards as to the quality of that evidence. In many cases, that evidence originates from the police investigation which occurred decades ago. Given that we've looked into thousands of cases (we've seen it all) and do our own investigations, it would be very difficult if not impossible to con us.

AttorneyatLawlz13 karma

How will he be compensated and is there any way to hold lww enforcement individuals and prosecutors accountable?

ExonerationInitiativ57 karma

John will be compensated through various law suits (see above, explained in a different comment). Unfortunately, at this time there is very little that can be done to hold prosecutors and police accountable for their misconduct. Even when they are sued, the money paid to the wrongfully convicted usually does not come out of their pockets, they are indemnified. And they aren't usually held professionally responsible either - they get to hold on to their jobs and pensions and likely won't even be reprimanded. This is a HUGE problem with the criminal justice system because there is no disincentive for police and prosecutors to break the rules in order to win, and it is widely agreed that this lack of accountability is a major cause in wrongful convictions.

ajit_maholtra10 karma

Given a rough estimate, how many African Americans do you think are currently wrongly imprisoned?

ExonerationInitiativ41 karma