Tagged: Lissa Griffin

Student Perspective: Making A Murderer Event

POST WRITTEN BY: Danielle Petretta (’17), J.D. Pace Law School

On March 2, 2016, Pace Law School’s Criminal Justice Society, Student Bar Association, and the Criminal Justice Institute held an event on the controversial and popular Netflix 10-episode documentary, “Making a Murderer.” The documentary centers on a man named Steven Avery, who found himself stuck deep in the trenches of our criminal justice legal system within a very small knit rural community in Wisconsin.

Steven Avery spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and in 2003 was finally exonerated. This case received much attention including an effort to pass a bill – the Avery Bill – implementing checks and balances regarding police interrogations, handling and testing of DNA evidence, and policies surrounding an eye witness identification procedures to prevent wrongful convictions.  However, his nightmares continued, as just two years later he was arrested for the murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach. Steven Avery’s nephew, Brenden Dassey, was also arrested for partaking in the Halbach murder. Both Steven Avery and Brenden Dassey remain in prison to date and Steven Avery continues to claim his innocence this time around as well. It is yet to be determined what the status of their appeal is, and the documentary leaves gaping concerns and questions to be answered. The documentary maps Steven Avery’s unfortunate journey through the legal system to date and takes the viewer on a shocking ride.

Did the fact that the Avery’s lived in Manitowoc County, a small knit community, affect the way in which they were treated? Did the appearances and social status of the Avery and Dassey families play an influential role in their prosecutions? Why was the police department involved in the first case able to have a continued presence and involvement in the subsequent Halbach case? Was the evidence tampered with? Were proper police procedures followed? Did someone tipped off the woman who found Teresa Halback’s car in the Avery’s 4,000 car lot within just a few minutes? Why was the same judge deciding Avery’s motion for a new trial when he had been the presiding judge in his trial? What happened in the jury room? Why was the key, one main piece of evidence against Avery, found days after the seventh search?

The discussion panel held at this fabulous event consisted of professors, former prosecutors, and the Greenburg Chief of Police. Professors of professional responsibility, criminal procedure and criminal practice  provided valuable feedback responding to many of the questions continuously discussed. After the initial introduction of the topic by the panelists, the room flooded with questions and comments about the documentary, what it portrayed as well as what it didn’t establish. Discussions and comments about the police work sparked much attention among the crowd of students and current attorneys, and critiques and opinion regarding the prosecution and defense lawyers’ conduct triggered a heated response from the audience.

This discussion panel coupled with the audience forum offered an amazing opportunity for students, attorneys, professors, and community members to debate and challenge the current criminal justice legal system that is so embedded within our society.

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Student Perspective: The Disparate Care of Women in New York State Prisons

POST WRITTEN BY: Brad Landau (‘16), Pace Law School & Natalie Felsenfeld (’16), Pace Law School

Women in New York State prisons face many challenges. Women’s rights to reproductive health care and obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYN) treatment are often not protected and even violated. The Correctional Association of New York (CA), an independent, non-profit criminal justice advocacy organization, aims to create fair and humane criminal justice system in New York, and as such a safer and more just society for all. Created in 1991, the CA’s Women in Prison Project (WIPP) works to reduce the overuse of incarceration for women, ensures that prison conditions for women are as humane as possible, and aims to create a criminal justice system that treats all people and their families with fairness and dignity.

On April 1, 2015, we attended the Pace CJI event on the Rights of Incarcerated Women in New York State Prisons, which focused on the recently published report by the WIPP of the CA titled Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons. This report focuses on the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) that oversees the operation of all state prisons in New York. The report highlights and outlines the challenges incarcerated women face as a result of mistreatment by medical personnel and correctional officials as well as the inadequacy of policy-making in New York State. The report concludes that incarcerated women receive substandard OBGYN care, including the fact that pregnant women are still being shackled pre-, during and post- labor, even though the N.Y. Correc. Law § 611 (McKinney 2015) (also known as the NYS 2009 Anti-Shackling Law) prohibits the use of restrains of any kind when a “woman is in labor, admitted to a hospital, institution or clinic for delivery, or recovering after giving birth.”

WIPP is currently working to amend the 2009 Anti-Shackling Law to incorporate mechanisms that would ensure compliance with the laws by correctional officers. Among these mechanisms are:

  • Continually publishing information about the law;
  • Publicly reporting shackling practices and other violations;
  • Offering regular and effective training of all correction officers and medical personnel about the relevant statutory and regulatory provisions; and
  • Ensuring that incarcerated pregnant women are informed about their rights under the law.

One of the panelists shared a story about a woman who gave birth in a correctional facility:  the woman was in pain for 25 hours before the correctional officers believed that she was in labor.   She also described her personal experience of giving birth while incarcerated. During her childbirth, she was told to “shut up” by correctional officers on the way to the hospital while her contractions were 2 minutes apart.  Additionally, most incarcerated mothers are separated from their newborns immediately after birth unless they are fortunate enough to get into the nursery program.

Moreover, many women in prison have been victims of sexual abuse or assault; thus, being subjected to substandard OBGYN care often re-traumatizes them.  One of the panelists described how she was a victim of sexual abuse, and how having male correctional officers present during her OBGYN visits made her feel re-victimized. The CA’s report confirms that DOCCS does not provide medical care that is “trauma informed,” meaning that medical personnel in prisons are not trained in how to recognize and understand the impact of trauma on incarcerated women and how to provide care without re-traumatizing their patients. This is an issue that should be addressed in the future because incarcerated women should not have to re-live their psychological and physical harms of their past.

Another panelist also shared her experience with NYS’s unequal approach to offering plea bargains at arraignments to men compared to women.  According to her,  men are more likely to receive plea bargains at arraignment than are women: in fact,  she had never met a woman who was offered a plea during the arraignment stage.  Her personal experience, if proven true, raises the question of inequality and gender bias during the criminal process, which should be addressed.

Although a difficult topic to talk about, the CA panel was a great success in making all attendees think critically about the disparate treatment of incarcerated women in NYS prisons. The CA panel raised two key issues that need to be addressed:

  1. Whether the criminal justice system treats women the same as men in terms of opportunities for early dispositions?
  2. Whether women in prison receive competent and trauma-sensitive OBGYN care while incarcerated? If not, what can be done so incarcerated women are not re-living the psychological and physical harms of their past.

The CA panel was important because it appeared that some attendees were made aware of these issues for the first time. Holding panels such was this one is an integral and valuable part of a law school education because continuous discussion and education about such issues is the first step to effecting change.

Event: Rights of Incarcerated Women in New York State Prisons

RJ-Report-Cover-JPEG-231x300A recently published report by the Correctional Association of New York, Reproductive Injustice, addresses the reproductive health care for women in New York State prisons.  The Report was commented on here by Pace Prof. Michael Mushlin and  has sparked debates across the state. Please join PILSO (Public Interest Law Student Organization at Pace)and the CJS (Criminal Justice Society at Pace) on Wednesday, April 1, 2015 at 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm in Tudor Room of Preston Hall at Pace Law School for a panel discussion on the rights of women in NYS prisons.

The event features an exciting line-up of panelists including:

Join us for a thought-provoking discussion and learn how to get involved. Refreshments will be served!

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More on Grand Juries and the US Justice System

On December 5, 2014, as part of the HuffPost Live, Pace Professor of Law and Director of the Pace Criminal Justice Institute Lissa Griffin joined Roger Fairfax, Professor of Law at George Washington University, and the host Josh Zepps for a live discussion about the role and function of grand juries in the US justice system. Josh Zepps introduces the segment by saying that

[i]n the span of two weeks, two grand juries have failed to indict cops involved in the death of unarmed black men. Most counties don’t even have grand juries. Why do we? How do they work? And what can be done to fix our flawed legal system?

The two guests explain what grand jury is, how it operates, how it decides to indict, the role of the prosecutor during grand jury proceedings, and the lack of judicial involvement during this stage. The discussion further progressed to consider comparative perspectives, including the French, German, and English indictment procedures.

A New International Focus on the Death Penalty

The botched execution in Oklahoma last week has drawn international attention.  Few countries still employ the death penalty, and the barbarity of the procedure is old news to our European Union colleagues.

The argument against the death penalty may be decided by – what else – money.  Pharmaceutical companies are refusing to produce the drugs needed for orderly executions and the botched Oklahoma execution may be an example of what will follow.

Prof. Lissa Griffin of Pace Law School recently published a blog on this subject.  Click here to read it in its entirety.

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