Relocating to Raleigh, North Carolina

April 1, 2012

It’s been a long time since I’ve checked in here, but I have some news that I thought was worth sharing to those who found my past work here of interest: my family and I are moving to North Carolina in the next month, and I’ll be opening a criminal defense law practice in downtown Raleigh.  If you’re ever in the area, or have friends or family in need of a criminal defense lawyer or just some friendly legal advice, you’ll be able to find me here:

Ben Hiltzheimer
The Hiltzheimer Firm, PLLC
115 1/2 E. Hargett St.
Suite 240
Raleigh, NC  27601
(919) 727-9227
http://www.hiltzheimer.com

I hope everyone’s doing well out there, and look forward to meeting my new neighbors down south.

Best,
Ben


EyeID Blog Says Farewell

January 7, 2009

You may have noticed that this blog has been dormant for some time, and for a collection of reasons I am going to go ahead and put it to rest until further notice. Thanks to all who have been in touch and contributed to the dialogue for its relatively short life.

In the future, please visit eyeID.org for information and resources on the eyewitness ID reform front.

Best,
Ben


UPDATE (X2): Stay Granted by Sup. Ct. for Troy Davis (Action Items for Troy Davis – Execution Set for Sept. 23)

September 16, 2008

UPDATE #2: The US Supreme Court will meet to consider Mr. Davis’s appeal on Monday, September 29 — which is exactly what the Court had originally agreed to do, before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles opted to schedule Mr. Davis’s execution prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling.  Perhaps the State of Georgia’s eagerness to execute Mr. Davis prior to the high court’s ruling betrays something about the state’s priorities, which don’t appear to include an interest in truth, justice, or fairness.  Having said that, if the US Supreme Court ultimately declines to hear Mr. Davis’s case, “this stay shall terminate automatically.”  More from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution here.

UPDATE: Just hours before Mr. Davis’s scheduled execution, the US Supreme Court granted a stay.  As I understand it they will rule on the cert petition next week.

With permission, I’m reposting some information from Troy Davis’s sister, Martina, who urges anyone concerned to take the following actions in hopes that this week will not be Troy’s last.  Thanks again to Deirdre O’Connor for her tireless advocacy for Troy, and for passing this along to me.

Below is a set of action items, followed by a message from Martina (parentheticals are Deirdre’s):

1) Write to Board asking them to reconsider (Please focus on Troy’s innocence NOT the death penalty.  The Board will not be swayed by anti-death penalty sentiments.  See http://freetroydavis.com for facts/arg on Troy’s innocence.)

State Board of Pardon and Paroles
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE
Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower
Atlanta, Georgia 30334-4909

Board’s Fax – There seems to be some confusion as to which is the better fax number.  Here are three you can use.

(404) 651-8502
(404) 651-5282
(404) 463-6627

General Email: Clemency_Information@pap.state.ga.us

Board Members email:

Chairperson L.Gale Buckner gale_buckner@pap.state.ga.us
Garland Hunt garland_hunt@pap.state.ga.us

Robert Keller robert_keller@pap.state.ga.us
Milton Nix milton_nix@pap.state.ga.us
Garfield Hammonds garfield_hammonds@pap.state.ga.us

Link for bio’s on Board members

Gale Buckner http://www.pap.state.ga.us/opencms/export/sites/default/home/buckner.html

Garfield Hammonds http://www.pap.state.ga.us/opencms/export/sites/default/home/hammonds.html

Garland Hunt http://www.pap.state.ga.us/opencms/export/sites/default/home/hunt.html

Milton Nix, Jr. http://www.pap.state.ga.us/opencms/export/sites/default/home/nix.html

Robert Keller http://www.pap.state.ga.us/opencms/export/sites/default/home/keller.html

2) *****(IMPORTANT – The COURT is the ONLY body that can order a new trial!  PLEASE do not dismiss the power of people to MOVE mountains.  Forget about the odds and just act.)  Urge the US Supreme Court to issue a stay and grant Troy’s petition for certiorari

(sign petition http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/innocencematters, publish an open letter to Court on Blog, reach out to any contacts you have with the Court and hold rallies urge Court intervention)

3) Write to the US & GA Attorney Generals – (Call for an immediate investigation into the DA’s failure to investigate the witnesses’ claims of police coercion and their complete failure to investigate Redd Coles’ culpability.  Prosecutors are supposed to seek justice NOT to defend a wrongful conviction.  There has never been an investigation into the case.)

Please use info from AG’s website to support your demand – see GA AG’s mission statement & guiding principles http://law.ga.gov/00/channel_title/0,2094,87670814_87670947,00.html

Mailing Address:

Office of the Attorney General
40 Capitol Square, SW
Atlanta, Ga 30334

Phone:(404) 656-3300

Fax: (404) 657-8733

4) Reach out to all your media contacts – spread the story and the outrage!

5) Write to Pres. Bush.  (I’d add Obama and/or McCain and GA legislators)

White House contact info http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Barack Obama contact http://my.barackobama.com/page/s/contact2

John McCain http://www.johnmccain.com/Contact/

For ideas on how to make the greatest impact, see “Share Your Ideas With President” at http://charityguide.org/volunteer/fifteen/presidents-email-address.htm?gclid=CLCc0-bf3ZUCFQIfswodAicsDw

GA legislators – http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/FindLegislator.htm

Deirdre

To all,

This message is from Martina Correia (Troy’s sister),

I want everyone to know that we are still fighting for Troy, you have not heard from me in two days because I have been trying to answer so many calls and get rest in between. I went to see Troy yesterday and he is in good spirits, prayerful and saying we can never give up – they can take my physical form but nothing else. But this is not the time to think he will be executed – we have to fight them and we have to fight hard.

I want to first tell you that something strange has taken place with the Parole Board: as we went in the Chair, Gale Buckner, said they had a lot of information to review and a decision would not be made on Friday. The lawyers presented the additional witnesses who told accounts of police detectives threatening them with guns, and the D.A. threatening with perjury if they changed their testimonies against Troy – most of these people were teenagers – one guy who testified was 15 years old at the time and admitted that he and his friends were the ones involved in a shooting earlier that night and they threw shell casings near the scene that of course did not have Troy’s prints on them.

The lawyers showed how they put Troy’s picture on wanted posters after Coles pointed the finger at Troy and they took a polaroid out of my mom’s house and they only showed the witnesses that photo to identify Troy several days after he had turned himself in. So Troy was never picked out of lineup. The police detectives merely brought the one picture after his face in the newspaper, etc., and said ‘is this the guy?’.

We were so very confident when we left the room – no way Troy’s sentence should not have been commuted.
Then less than 30 minutes after the D.A.’s side left, the Parole Board held a press conference and denied Troy; a reporter said “Martina, it was like all the air was sucked out of the room – no one thought Troy would remain in prison and the Parole Board offered no reason, because they do not have to. The Parole Board in Georgia meets in closed doors, no recorded meetings, no transcripts, no accountability.”

When Troy got the first stay (of execution) they said there would be no executions in Georgia when there is some doubt – well with the two hearings there is more than some doubt – there is overwhelming doubt of Troy’s innocence so why would they deny him without explanation? I think because three of the members are former prosecutors and two are former police from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, some sort of deal was made against Troy. I think they wanted to flex their muscle because they have no one to answer to.

WE HAVE TO KEEP FLOODING THEM WITH LETTERS AND FAXES TO RECONSIDER BECAUSE THEY CAN STILL STOP THIS EXECUTION. WE HAVE TO HOLD THEM TO THEIR WORD THAT NO ONE WOULD BE EXECUTED WHEN THERE IS DOUBT.

So plan of actions we need done: 1. HOLD ACTIONS, DEMONSTRATIONS WITH MEDIA IN PLACE TO TELL WHAT THE PAROLE BOARD DID AND HOW THEY HAVE NO ACCOUNTABILITY.

2. CONTINUE TO HAVE PEOPLE SIGN LETTERS TO THE PAROLE BOARD THERE WILL BE A NEW LETTER ON AMNESTY SITE ASKING THE BOARD FOR RECONSIDERATION. YOU CAN ALSO WRITE YOUR OWN LETTER, STATING REASONING: IN 100 YEARS OF GEORGIA’S DEATH PENALTY THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A CASE OF 7 RECANTATIONS, NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE, NO WEAPON AND YOU SEEK DEATH.

3. MASS LETTERS TO US ATTORNEY GENERAL ASKING FOR IMMEDIATE INTERVENTION IN THIS CASE DUE TO PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT, AN CC. GEORGIA ATTORNEY GENERAL

4. MASS LETTERS TO WHITE HOUSE ASKING FOR INTERVENTION IN THIS CASE

5. CONTACT EVERY MEDIA OUTLET YOU KNOW – MASS LETTERS TO CNN INTERNATIONAL, OTHER NATIONAL MEDIA AND CELEBRITY OUTLETS THAT CAN GIVE US A PLATFORM TO GET WHAT HAPPENED OUT TO THE MASSES.

6. THERE WILL BE A RALLY IN ATLANTA PROBABLY THURSDAY EVENING – CONTACT AMNESTY’S JESSICA COHN <JCOHN@AIUSA.ORG> OR LAURA MOYE <LMOYE@AIUSA.ORG> .

ANOTHER GROUP IS PLANNING A PROTEST IN FRONT OF CNN IN ATLANTA ON SATURDAY THE 20TH – CONTACT Lawyer Henderson <cinemacitypictures@hotmail.com> OR 678-437-6256

7. THOSE WHO HAVE CONTACTS WITH U.S. SUPREME COURT MEMBERS, OR OP-EDS TO MEMBERS, WE NEED THEM TO ACT ON AN EMEREGENCY STAY AND IF WE CAN MAKE ENOUGH NOISE, RAISE ENOUGH ATTENTION, HOPEFULLY THEY CAN TAKE TROY’S CASE

IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE REVIEWED BY THEM ON SEPT 29TH. THE D.A. IN SAVANNAH MOVED THE DATE OF EXECUTION UP WHILE THE U.S. SUPREME COURT WAS ON VACATION.

8. THE LAWYERS THINK IT IS A SLIM CHANCE THE U.S. SUPREME COURT WILL ACT SO WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BY MAKING AS MUCH NOISE AS WE CAN.

ANY AND ALL IDEAS YOU HAVE WE HAVE TO GO FOR IT TO SAVE TROY, SO AS ACTIVISTS I SAY DO WHAT YOU DO!!!!!

Attorney General, Michael B. Mukasey 202-514-2001
OR Office of the Attorney General – 202-353-1555
AskDOJ@usdoj.gov

Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker 404-656-3300 Fax 404-657- 8733

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Phone Numbers

Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414
FAX: 202-456-2461
TTY/TDD Comments: 202-456-6213

Please send your Fax: 404-651-8502

comments to <comments@whitehouse.gov>

Georgia Parole Board: Fax 404-651-8502

I will get you more parole board numbers

People can go on the Amnesty Website to sign petitions or fax their own letters. I will send numbers in next email. Or Text the parole board from your cell phone. Go to send message, type the name TROY, then send to 90999.

We still have Fight in Us and we will FIGHT!

Thank you all for everything you are doing –  TROY SAYS NO MATTER WHAT WE HAVE TO FIGHT BECAUSE THIS IS BIGGER THAN TROY. THIS IS A BATTLE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND TRUE JUSTICE AND WE ARE WINNING SMALL BATTLES EVERYDAY!

Martina Correia


Troy Davis Execution Ordered for Sept. 23, 2008 in Georgia

September 3, 2008

The Chatham County Superior Court has ordered the execution of Troy Davis, which the Georgia Department of Corrrections has set for September 23, 2008, at 7p.m. EST.

As a brief recap, Mr. Davis is charged with killing a police officer, based entirely on eyewitness evidence.  There is no physical evidence in the case, and the murder weapon was never recovered.  Seven of the nine eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony, with many claiming coercion and threats by the police who conducted the original investigation.  One of the remaining witnesses has been accused of being the actual killer, and allegedly confessed to the crime.  Mr. Davis has maintained his innocence from the outset, but has remained on death row for 17 years.

In July, the European Parliament issued a resolution calling on Georgia to commute Troy Davis’s death sentence.

More information at Troy Davis’s site and at Amnesty International USA.  Anyone concerned is urged to contact the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and urge them to commute Mr. Davis’s death sentence.  Amnesty International has created a web form, and traditional letters are encouraged as well, to the following address:

Georgia State Board of Pardons & Paroles
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE
Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower
Atlanta, GA 30334

You can also fax a message to (404) 651-8502.

UPDATE: Troy Davis was denied clemency today (09/12/08).  Barring an intervention, Mr. Davis will be executed by the state of Georgia on September 23.


New Study Shows “Catastrophic” Effect of Stress on Eyewitness Accuracy

July 23, 2008

Researchers in London recently completed a new study examining the effects of high levels of stress on the ability of eyewitnesses to accurately identify a perpetrator. Drs. Tin Valentine and Jan Mesout of Goldsmiths, University of London, homed in specifically on the distinction between the low levels of stress, more akin to “heightened awareness,” and the more severe “cognitive anxiety” that most individuals experience when faced with an unexpected physical threat.

The new research further confirms earlier findings by social scientists examining the effects of stress levels approximating those experienced in a typical crime scenario: High levels of stress have a “catastrophic effect on the accuracy of eyewitness memory.” The findings were the same with respect to a witness’s ability to accurately describe a perpetrator — the higher the stress level, the more errors were recorded in descriptive details relating to the perpetrator.

The difficulty of testing the effects of high levels of stress approximating a crime scenario have been noted in the literature, given the difficulty of creating that level of anxiety within the ethical guidelines. The researchers in this case found a context in which subjects have essentially volunteered to be subjected to “cognitive anxiety” in advance, by partnering with the London Dungeon — a “horror labyrinth” involving live actors who often startle visitors.

Forty-five minutes after guests experienced a startling encounter with an individual in the dungeon, they were asked to attempt to identify the individual from either a live lineup or a photo array. The researchers measured the anxiety levels of the participants by two metrics — subjective self-reports of their level of anxiety at the time, and a heart rate monitor (and found the former to be a reliable predictor of the latter). For individuals who scored above the median in anxiety level, only 17% accurately identified the individual; for individuals who scored below the median, 75% accurately identified the individual. In short, the researchers found “a strong negative association between state anxiety and the ability to correctly report the appearance of a person encountered under stressful conditions.” More succinctly: “Eyewitness identification was dramatically impaired by high state anxiety.”

The researchers also compared anxiety levels associated with gender, and found that females reliably experienced higher levels of anxiety than males, which suggests that on average, a female’s memory of a perpetrator encountered under high stress can be expected to be less reliable than a male’s under similar circumstances — though both will become increasingly unreliable as the level of stress increases.

Valentine and Mesout also conclude that their research suggests that lab studies of stress have underestimated the effect of stress on eyewitness reliability, and that the closer the approximation to the level of stress experienced in a real crime scenario, the more dramatically the stress impairs the ability of witnesses to identify the perpetrator.

Reference: I don’t have the full cite to the study itself, since it looks like it’s still in pre-publication, but here’s an approximation: Valentine, Tin & Mesout, Jan, Eyewitness Identification under Stress in the London Dungeon, Applied Cognitive Psychol. (forthcoming 2008). I believe it will appear in the next edition, which I think should be Volume 22, Issue 6.


New Tech for Composite Sketches

July 7, 2008

An article in this month’s issue of Forensic Magazine covers some interesting new software-based approaches to the development of facial composites being developed in the UK. Two research groups have been independently developing facial composite software that attempts to apply existing knowledge about how human memory of faces works.

According to Dr. Charlie Ford at the University of Stirling in Scotland, co-developer with Dr. Peter Hancock of EvoFIT:

Peter knew that the normal method used to make composites does not work very well. We are not good at describing and selecting individual facial features, but are very good at selecting whole faces which look like someone we’ve seen.

EvoFit is a software application that employs a genetic algorithm to generate a series of “generations” of facial composites, based on the theory that humans remember faces holistically rather than piecemeal, and from each “generation” of new faces, the witness selects the one that most resembles the witness’s memory of the perpetrator.

A typical EvoFIT session looks something like this:

From a randomly-generated selection of eighteen faces, a witness is asked to choose the six faces that most resemble the suspect. These six faces become the parents of eighteen offspring faces generated by combining the features of the parents. The witness then chooses another six from the offspring population to become parents, and so on. The “features” being selected and mutated are values of around fifty “principle components” that describe the structure of the face. The process can proceed indefinitely, but usually produces a likeness acceptable to the witness in about four generations, as long as the initial selection (or “search space”) was adequate. This likeness can be saved and embellished with haircuts and clothing using normal photo editing software.

Dr. Chris Solomon at the University of Kent in England has been developing a similar genetic algorithm-based application called EigenFIT, which is similar in concept but applies a different algorithm for generating each new crop of faces.

The results of both applications appear to be fairly impressive, compared to the often “bizarre and inaccurate” composites that can result from the traditional method of having a witness select individual facial features and then stitching them all together to create a single face that often bears little resemblance to the perpetrator.

Here’s one example from EigenFIT, involving a test run in which a witness was shown the top row of images, and the EigenFIT algorithm was able to generate the composites in the bottom row:

EigenFIT algorithm results

Given what we know about wrongful convictions resulting from bad composite images, this seems like reason for hope on that front, not to mention reason to insist that more reliable methods are used in police departments in the U.S.

Popular Science also ran a piece on EvoFIT last month, and noted that a large part of the problem with traditional approaches to composite sketches spawns from the inability of witnesses to provide detailed or accurate descriptions:

As often happens during a crime, a victim gets only a brief glance at the assailant. Later, when police ask him for a description of the perpetrator, he has trouble recalling details. But now, with new identification software developed by two researchers in Scotland, victims no longer have to worry about describing their assailants. A computer does it for them.

Dr. Frowd admits, however, that the genetic algorithm is also capable of producing serious errors.

One drawback of genetic algorithms generally, is that they can converge on the wrong solution if the initial population is poorly chosen. “This may happen,” Frowd admits, “but if it does, the system is rolled back and started again.”

The question then may become how to know when such an error has occurred, which ultimately takes us back to the reliability of the witness’s memory, which of course we know to be highly fallible.


NACDL’s Response to Ruling (Mostly) Denying Access to Illinois Lineup Data

July 2, 2008

Following yesterday’s ruling in Cook County, NACDL has offered its official response, which reads in part:

“The Court has dealt a blow to the public today. We will appeal the decision and continue to demand that the Chicago Police turn over all of the data and case files behind a report that contradicts vast amounts of research on lineup procedures,” said Scott Ehlers, state legislative director of NACDL, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We can’t conduct a thorough, scientific review of this information without access to all of the data used to reach the conclusions set forth in this report.”

The Roderick MacArthur Justice Center, of Northwestern University, had originally requested the data, but was met with silence.  From its director:

“The fact that this data will continue to remain a secret is shameful,” said Locke Bowman, legal director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center. “We will continue to do everything in our power to get access to this information.”

The court did order disclosure of a limited set of materials relating only to closed cases that were included in the study, but undermining any value to that ruling is the fact that the photos used in the arrays will be redacted, rendering it impossible to assess the reliability of the lineups themselves, notwithstanding the police procedures by which they were administered.

The results of the infamous Illinois/Mecklenburg “study” sent shockwaves through the community of social scientists who had studied the same questions for decades, primarily because the results were touted as showing that the status quo procedures — i.e., the procedures that led to the majority of the 54 documented wrongful convictions in Illinois alone — were actually superior, in direct contradiction to all other research on the topic.  Foul play was suspected, and since then the police department and its then-General Counsel Sheri Mecklenburg have refused to turn over the data and subject the study to actual peer review, as is required of actual scientific studies.

Leading eyewitness researcher Dr. Nancy Steblay also weighed in on the outcome:

“Legal evidence and public policy should be based on sound science. The Illinois Study has again failed to meet standards for scientific credibility,” said Nancy Steblay, expert of eyewitness identification procedures and professor at Augsburg College. “A Blue-Ribbon Panel of eminent scientists previously judged the study’s method to be fatally flawed and thereby incapable of answering its research question. Now the Chicago Police Department is unwilling to share the complete data necessary for evaluation of the study’s purported findings. It is time to set aside the Illinois study and to firmly reject the unsupported claims of its proponents.

Locke Bowman, legal director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center, summed it up succinctly:

Wrongful convictions in Illinois have been far too commonplace.  If the data supports the report’s findings that traditional lineups work better than reform methods, the Chicago Police have nothing to hide. But if the data doesn’t support those findings, it’s time for the Chicago Police Department and departments around the state to change the way they handle eyewitness identifications.

The Cook County judge’s decision is here (PDF).