FelonyMiami: Congratulations and thank you for Criminal Legal News.
Richard Resch: Thanks. It’s gratifying. We get letters from prisoners all the time letting us know that article in CLN helped them.
Why should people care about Prisoners’ Rights?
Resch: If you’re interested in prisoners’ rights, Alex Friedman is our resident expert on that; Because they’re human beings abused by our government and our system. It’s as simple as that. They’re residents or citizens of this country and we want to highlight situations where our institutions knowingly and intentionally abuse them. We think that’s something that all fair-minded Americans should care about, when their government abuses its own citizens.
What is the biggest success story from your publication?
Resch: We regularly get letters from incarcerated prisoners about a statute or law that just passed that will directly help their situation, or an appellate court decision that will give them legal arguments to challenge their current conditions of confinement, their sentence, or even conviction. We’ve only been operating like 6 months now. Check back in.
Paul Wright is the founder of the Human Rights Defense Center; and 27 years ago from a prison cell, he started Prison Legal News, which has been a resounding success. Paul also saw a pressing need for a coverage of police abuse and prosecutorial misconduct. There’s a pressing need for people caught up in criminal system who have not yet been convicted, and that led to the founding of Criminal Legal News.
What is the worst story of injustice you have covered?
Resch: There are so many, but a couple that we really cover regularly are Brady Violations.. when the Prosecutor fails to provide exculpatory or helpful evidence to the defense, and it happens with alarming regularity all over country and a lot of people get exonerated and highlighted in mass media for it.
Another area is forensics and junk science, which prosecutors for whatever reason love to introduce in courts and allow forensic techniques that have been widely discredited and have people languish in death row off junk science. Juries hear a Forensic Scientist authoritatively say that XYZ matches the defendant and…
What is the number one problem with the criminal justice system in Florida?
Resch: Brady violations, junk science, the issues that occur nationally also occur here, such as police and prosecutorial misconduct, the militarization of the police, the surveillance state, false confessions… study after study has basically proven that given a skilled and unethical interrogator, they can get pretty much any one to confess to anything.
How can the free population help?
Resch: There are all type of grass roots campaigns, notifying the local prosecutor, contacting local media…all of these abuses occur and they fester in the dark and that’s part of what our mission is, to shine a spotlight on these abuses and injustices. A majority of people have no idea these issues are occurring. It’s all about visibility.
How do you contact a prosecutor?
Resch: Pick up the phone and make an appointment. If there’s someone you feel has been wrongfully convicted, a lot of offices have Prosecutorial or Victim Integrity units. Some offices acknowledge that they may have convicted a factually innocent person. If you think a friend or family or loved one has been wrongfully convicted, bring your evidence and argue the case.
What is the biggest example of prosecutorial misconduct you can think of?
Resch: The outrage of the Brady Violation is that prosecutors have an ethical and legal duty to hand over exculpatory evidence. Anyone associated in the prosecution of a defendant has to provide helpful evidence to the defense on a timely basis. When that’s not done, the system is rigged, and it happens more often than we would like, but there’s no accountability for that. Prosecutors who have knowingly withheld evidence for people going away for a long time or death row…rarely if ever was the prosecutor held personally liable for that miscarriage of justice and misconduct.
How do we hold lawmaker’s feet to the fire?
Resch: Criminal justice reform has been talked about and argued for decades. The only way is to vote them out of office. What does the public know about the abuses, the surveillance state, the false confessions, the Brady violations, it brings these issues to the public attention who potentially turn a blind eye to these issues and abuses. That’s the goal of our organization and orgs like ours, highlighting and exposing and informing the public about what’s going on.
What does a “Relevant issue of first impression,” mean?
Resch: It’s an issue that the specific court has yet to rule on. It’s an undecided legal issue that has not been ruled on by the highest court within the jurisdictions. We report on these cases when they’re favorable to defendant because it provides a legal argument for a defendant in his or her case.
If we’re talking about prisoners who are convicted and serving, the vast majority of those individuals are pro se, serving as their own attorney, for cost of defense is prohibitive for most people, especially on appellate review, so the overwhelming majority of federal habeas petitions are pro se.
Why is the prosecutor’s office so seemingly cloistered?
Resch: I think the lack of accountability of the prosecutors, and one of the things the majority of people don’t realize is that prosecutors are generally viewed as the most powerful people in the system. They decide if someone is going to be charged and what with, and their practice is often to overcharge and scare the defendant in hopes that they will plea to a lesser charge. You are correct in focusing on prosecutors, they are some of the most powerful people because they have the power of the state to charge people with a crime.
Some prosecutors work in that atmosphere for decades and get jaded and don’t believe anyone’s story, or that someone might be innocent or telling the truth. That’s how powerful prosecutors are…There’s a lot of research about how powerful they are.
What is a Brady Violation?
Resch: Let’s say someone is being prosecuted for a shooting or murder and there’s a witness that says that the shooter they saw was maybe a white dude, or an African-American, the witness describes someone totally different and they conceal that, but when you read about exoneration or new trials being granted by appellate courts, where forensic reports are never turned over to the defense, anything that can help cast reasonable doubt on the person’s guilt is withheld.
So if you go onto a national registry of exonerations, they list whether or not DNA or forensics were used, a lot will say “Prosecutorial or Official Misconduct” and it’s outrageous how blatant they are.
How did you get started?
Resch: I’ve always had an interest in constitutional issues and always been outraged every time I read about false confessions, police shooting and the killing of unarmed civilians; and I wanted to play my part in highlighting these issues to do what I can for criminal justice reform.
What’s up with plea agreements?
Resch: Plea agreements and plea deals, the excess of 80% percent of cases never go to trial. They overcharge, and people are terrified of 50 years in jail and plea to a lesser charge and that’s part of the whole plea bargaining process, and because of prosecutorial immunity..
Resch: Prosecutorial Immunity is by statute that every jurisdiction has, that they basically cannot be held criminally or civilly liable for their decisions that they make as prosecutors. Basically, the only practical way of holding prosecutors responsible is what happens when people file a petition or complaint with the state bar association for unethical conduct and then very rarely does the Bar association censure or suspend the license of a prosecutor even in the face of egregious conduct.
As abusive and as bad as some police are, at least there is a CIP (Citizens Investigative Panel) or some mechanism for accountability. With prosecutors, there is almost no mechanism to hold them accountable for misconduct.