Archive for April, 2009

Welcom Back Frank!

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Dear Friend of Justice,

Many of you know my friend, Frank Kane, the Treasurer of the National Center for Reason and Justice. Many of you once corresponded with him by email.

About a year and a half ago, Frank’s computer got fried as a result of a bad lightning strike near his house. (I’ve forgotten the details.) He finally has obtained a new system.

I helped him get on the air, but I was unable to transfer files, emails, and his address book from his old Mac. (I am totally helpless when faced with a Mac.) So I’m hoping some Mac expert will soon help him out.

Meanwhile, he has no email addresses for his friends. So if you know Frank, send him an email at

If you don’t know Frank, email him anyway. He’s a great guy!



Another Massachusetts Outrage

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

So far it’s been a lousy day.

I became involved in criminal-justice issues back in 1995, because of my concern for the falsely accused and wrongfully convicted. But over the years, my concerns have broadened. For one thing, I came to know people who weren’t 100 percent innocent who had still been wronged by the system — such as the friend who I’ve been calling “Kevin” on this blog.

I also have met some who have never denied their crimes, have taken full responsibility for them, and who have worked hard to rehabilitate themselves.

One such person, who I will call “William,” was a very close friend of Bernard Baran’s in prison. His friendship and support did much to help Bee survive all of those years when his case seemed hopeless. Bee thought “William” and I should become friends, partly because we are both recovering alcoholics.

“William” committed his crimes when he was drunk and stoned. He was 18 at the time. He doesn’t even remember committing his more serious crime. But he has always taken responsibility for his crimes. An alcoholic serious about recovery never excuses unexcusable behavior by saying, “I was drunk” or “I was in a blackout.” But those of us inĀ  recovery also know that we would never have done the terrible things we did, had we been in our right minds.

Our “true” nature does not reveal itself when we are drunk or high. Our true nature only reveals itself after a (sometimes long) period of recovery.

I believe, and most recovering alcoholics and addicts would agree, that no one is hopeless, “no matter how far done the scale they have gone.” I believe — based on my own personal experience — in recovery, rehabilitation, redemption.

“William” is now in his 40s, having spent the last quarter of a century behind bars. He has worked very hard on himself. Five years ago, he asked a jury to look at his progress and to declare him not sexually dangerous. I attended his trial and testified for him. The jury was out about half an hour and came back in his favor.

Since then, he has hopefully gone before the parole board every year. And every year he had been denied. I got to dread those phone calls after his hearings, because I know how high his hope had been. But he knew he could not afford the luxury of self-pity.

This year he called me in jubilation. His parole had been granted! He was told he had to find housing and have a phone installed. He would be coming out under intensive parole, which meant wearing a monitoring bracelet, strict curfews, frequent check-ins with his paole officer, and many onerous restrictions. But it meant leaving prison and “William” was anxious to prove himself.

I hope you don’t think it is easy to find an apartment for someone who has been convicted of a sex offense. But we did it. (The landlord willing to give him the break is a former police officer.) His family and friends found him furniture and stocked his refrigerator. Jim and I bought him a bed. His parole officer approved the apartment. He found someone to pick him up at the prison. He was told that it would only be a couple more days.

And then, two days ago, they called him in and said, “April fool!”

The Massachusetts Department of Correction had somehow forgotten that his release needed the sign-off of the District Attorney of Dukes County. Even though he was declared non-dangerous by a jury, the DA has the right to try to get another jury to recommit him.

Given his record, it’s highly unlikely that a DA could get him recommitted. But the DA can just sit on the request and do nothing. He has until September 5th to decide one way or another.

“William’s” family is far from wealthy. They were able to scrape up one month’s rent and the security deposit. We have personally pledged to pay his May rent, but we can’t really afford to do much more than that.

But we will deal with this situation a day at a time.

It is unfortunate that the credo of American politicians is, “Millions for prison and puncishment, but not one penny for rehabilitation.” The prison-industrial complex is based on the premise that rehabilitation doesn’t work. America has five percent of the world’s population and twenty-five percent of its prisoners. The cost of maintaining these prisons is enormous. Even greater is the cost to society when these mistreated men and women and sent out into society without any resources. The prison-industrial complex needs them to fail. And far too often, that is exactly what happens.

After all of these years battling our dysfunctional criminal-justice system, I have lost most of my capacity for outrage.

But I have not lost my capacity for pain. And the pain has been intense today.

-Bob Chatelle

Joseph Allen is Free on Bail!

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Dear Friend of Justice,

A few minutes ago, I received a phone call from my good friend, Joseph Allen. he was calling from his brother’s house.

For the time being, Joseph is free and he is rejoicing in his freedom. Only those who have been imprisoned — especially for things they did not do — know how precious even one day of freedom is. Having never been in prison myself, I cannot even began to imagine this.

Here is a link to a story about Joseph’s release:

You can review the case here.

Most of the money for the bond was raised by the National Center for Reason and Justice. And most of that came from the readers of this blog. Thank you all so much!

Joseph was not allowed to take his address book with him. But he is eager to write to his friends. I won’t publish his address on a public blog. But if you would like it, please email me at

We have a long way to go before justice is doen in this case, and in far too many others. But to have the courage to fight on, every victory must be savored.

-Bob Chatelle

Reliability and Credibility

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

[Courts have] a responsibility to ensure that evidence admitted at trial is sufficiently reliable so that it may be of use to the finder of fact who will draw the ultimate conclusions of guilt or innocence. That concern implicates principles of constitutional due process. “Reliability is the linchpin” in determining admissibility of evidence under standard of fairness that is required by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Competent and reliable evidence remains at the foundation of a fair trial, which seeks ultimately to determine the truth about criminal culpability. If crucial inculpatory evidence is alleged to have been derived from unreliable sources, due process interests are at risk.

State v. Michaels (1994) citing Manson v. Brathwaite, 432 U. S. 98, 97 S. Ct. 2243

I am posting a link to an article, by Robert Rosenthal, that I believe should be required reading for every law student intending to enter criminal practice, either as a prosecutor or as a defense attorney.

One of the most useful things Rosenthal does in this article is to explain clearly the difference between the commonly confused concepts, reliability and credibility:

Understanding the meaning of reliability in the legal context has proven difficult for many lawyers and jurists, as well as scientists attempting to be heard and understood in a courtroom. A primary source of this difficulty is the frequent confusion between “reliability” and two other legal terms: “credibility” and “competence.”

“Competence” refers to the capability or capacity of a particular individual to serve as a witness. Persons are deemed competent if they are sufficiently intelligent to observe, recollect, and recount an event, and have a moral sense of obligation to speak the truth. 3 The determination regarding a witness’ competence is a legal one, made by the trial judge before testimony is given. 4 The competence standard is not very demanding. The vast majority of people offered as witnesses are deemed — and are — competent to testify in a trial. Competence is presumed, and therefore it only becomes an issue in cases involving young children or individuals whose capacity to observe, recollect, and recount is impaired or undeveloped.

“Credibility” refers to how believable a witness is. The credibility of a witness’ testimony is an assessment made by the jury’s it considers each witness’ statements and the challenges to those statements made through cross-examination and contradictory evidence. The jury’s responsibility to determine the credibility of each witness’ testimony is no different than any listener’s judgments about whether a speaker is telling the truth. In the context of a trial, credibility determinations are not matters of law to be decided by the trial judge. Rather, the jury is solely responsible for making these credibility assessments.

Whether evidence is “reliable” is a legal matter that is decided by the trial judge before the evidence is presented to the jury. Unlike “competence,” reliability does not concern the personal characteristics of witness. Unlike “credibility,” reliability does not concern the believability of witness. “Reliability” concerns the inherent quality of evidence.

Evidence is reliable if it is what it is purported to be. For example, photograph is reliable as evidence at trial if it accurately represents the scene that it purports to represent; that is, the scene of the crime at the time it occurred. Similarly, if a witness sees the occurrence of crime and then identifies the perpetrator, that identification testimony is reliable because it is what it purports to be: n identification of the person who committed the crime. If, however, the witness could not positively identify suspect until investigators suggested that a particular person was in fact the perpetrator, the witness’ identification may not be what it purports to be. It may be reflection of the suggestion rather than the witness’ own identification. Because there is no way to differentiate between the two, the identification that is made after suggestion is deemed unreliable and inadmissible at trial as a matter of law, and the jury would never hear about it. 5 Other examples of evidence deemed inadmissible for want of reliability include testimony produced through hypnosis, which may be the product of the hypnotic suggestion rather than reflection of the witness’ experience, 6 and out-of-court statements elicited through suggestive or coercive questions. 7

Each piece of evidence offered at trial is subject to a reliability determination by the judge. For example, if the prosecutor in a trial involving cocaine possession wishes to present bag of cocaine, the prosecutor must establish that the bag of cocaine presented in court is the same as the bag of white powder taken from the defendant at the time of his arrest. To do this, the prosecutor must demonstrate a “chain of custody” documenting the whereabouts of the bag of powder from the time it was collected by the police through the trial. The chain of custody provides an assurance that the cocaine presented at trial is what it purports to be: the bag of white powder confiscated from that particular defendant at the time of the arrest.

It is understandable that lay people and journalists often confuse credibility and reliability. What is neither understandable nor forgivable is that so many judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys either don’t know the difference or simply don’t care.

Testimony produced by the coercive questioning of children is not reliable. (Indeed, coercive questioning can produce unreliable testiminy in adults as well.) This is not to say that such testimpny is necessarily false. But since no jury should hear unreliable evidence in the first place, no jury should have to decide its credibility.

Testimony based on memories previously “repressed” memories is not reliability. No jury should hear such evidence and judge its credibility.

Few (if any) scientists argue for the reliability of evidence produced by coercive questioning or based on repressed memories. Part of the problem is that lawyers, including judges, have little understanding of what science is and often treat non-scientists, such as psychotherapists, as if they were scientists.But if psychotherapists qualify as scientists, then so should astrologers and phrenologists.

A few years ago the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court disgraced itself when it, without dissent, refused to grant a new trial to the obviously innocents defendants in the Fells Acres case. If any of those judges understoon the difference between reliability and credibility, they held their tongues for political reasons.

Soon the massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear the new-trial motion for the Paul Shanley case. Once again, they will have to decide which is more important: politics of the United States Consitution.

I wish their past performance gave us more reason to hope.

-Bob Chatelle

Movie About the Bakersfield Witch Hunt

Friday, April 10th, 2009

I just received this from Peter Freyd of the False memory Syndrome Foundation.

The day after tomorrow, on MSNBC the premier of an important new film.
Read about it at

‘Witch Hunt’ premieres on MSNBC on April 12 at 10 p.m. ET

Executive Producer Sean Penn presents “Witch Hunt,” the story of
John Stoll and dozens of other men and women who found themselves
ensnared in a spiral of fear, ignorance and hysteria. These
working-class moms and dads were rounded up with little or no
evidence, charged and convicted of almost unimaginable crimes.
Years later, they would find freedom again, but their lives would
be changed forever. Watch the two-hour premiere this Sunday from
10 p.m. ET to midnight.

It will be shown again 2 hours later and at 3 a.m. ET. It is scheduled
again for Saturday, April 18, 12-2 a.m. and 3-5 a.m. ET.

Read even more about it at: