Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christopher Brandon; Leevester Brown; Jeffrey Havard: Radley Balko discusses a recent Mississippi Supreme Court ruling that overturns a conviction involving discredited medical examiner Steven Hayne and Shaken Baby Syndrome. The Washington Post.

(Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.")

"In May and July of this year, I wrote about the case Brandon v. Mississippi, in which defendant Christopher Brandon was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s 15-month-old son. The case involved dubious testimony from the discredited, longtime Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne as well as the controversial Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) diagnosis. Brandon was also denied funding to hire his own medical examiner. Over the summer, the state then filed a remarkable brief that would require one to believe that Hayne is capable of traveling through time. In August, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in Brandon’s favor on all of his claims but ordered an evidentiary hearing on Hayne’s credibility instead of granting him a new trial. But last week, the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned a conviction in a remarkably similar case that could be a good sign for Brandon. Leevester Brown was convicted in 2002 of killing his infant son. The conviction was based entirely on Hayne’s diagnosis of SBS. Brown, too, was denied funding to hire his own medical examiner to review Hayne’s work. (Hayne was hired by Coahama County Coroner Scotty Meredith. For more on Meredith, read the transcript of my amusing phone conversation with him from a few years ago.) The court’s decision in the Brown case actually doesn’t turn on Hayne’s credibility or the validity of SBS. That’s because Brown didn’t challenge either at his trial, which generally bars him from raising either argument on appeal. (The state was somehow able to get Hayne’s autopsy stricken from the record in this case. That’s bizarre, given that it was the sole reason for Brown’s arrest.) Because it can’t entertain the argument that the SBS diagnosis is flawed, or that Hayne lacks credibility, the court also finds that there was sufficient evidence to convict Brown at trial.
Instead, the court overturned the conviction because the trial court denied funding for Brown to hire his own medical examiner (which, of course, made it nearly impossible for him to introduce those other issues in the first place)......... So the court ruled that fairness could mandate that a defendant be given funds to hire his own medical expert, even if he hasn’t been declared indigent in the context of needing a public defender. That’s significant. And though the court didn’t rule that the state must provide funding in all cases, it did suggest that judges give more deference to a defendant’s declaration that he can’t afford the cost of hiring an expert. That would seem to help someone like Brandon, as well as death row inmate Jeffrey Havard, who was also convicted due to Hayne’s testimony and an SBS diagnosis, and was also denied funds to hire his own medical examiner.........The state of Mississippi has so far refused to conduct a thorough review of cases that may have been tainted by Hayne and bite mark expert Michael West. That leaves it to groups like the Mississippi Innocence Project and attorneys who take post-conviction cases pro bono to seek out and attempt to overturn the convictions of people wrongly convicted by bad expert testimony. That’s bad enough. But the injustice is compounded when the lethargy of the Office of the Mississippi Attorney General and complicit courts leave the wrongly convicted to languish in prison."

The entire commentary can be found at:


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