Innocents Behind Bars

This week Howard Dudley was released from prison after serving 23 years.  He was accused of sexually assaulting his 9-year old daughter, but the daughter now recants her testimony from the 1992 trial. When ordering Dudley’s release, the judge said he was convinced that her earlier testimony was false.  Moreover, the government is supposed to provide the defense with evidence in its possession that tends to indicate that the accused is innocent.  (Lawyers call that “Brady material” after the name of a landmark case on the subject.)  In this case, the judge noted that Dudley was never given copies of reports that showed wildly inconsistent and improbable stories of the alleged assault that his daughter related to social services employees.

The problem of innocents behind bars received lots of attention in January and February as a result of the popular Netflix series, Making a Murderer.  The primary reason the documentary grabs your attention is that Steven Avery finds himself accused of an awful crime shortly after he is released from prison for a crime he did not commit.  The police department that conducted a sloppy investigation in the first case is then shown to be sloppy (and perhaps corrupt) in the second case.  In this podcast interview, I discuss Making a Murderer and the problem of innocents behind bars with Shawn Armbrust of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.  (Spolier alert if you have not yet seen the Netflix documentary, which I do think is well worth your time).

In the fall, Federal Appellate Court Judge Alex Kozinski was here at Cato to reiterate his view that there is an epidemic of Brady violations in the U.S. and that there are more innocents behind bars than most people want to believe.