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Symposium Looks at Wrongful Convictions of Youth Oct. 8

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October 2, 2009 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel
CHICAGO --- "Out of the Mouths of Babes: False Confessions and the Wrongful Convictions of Youth," a Northwestern University School of Law symposium, will feature the stories of individuals from around the country who were wrongfully arrested or convicted as youth.

The symposium -- which will launch the School of Law's new Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY) in the Bluhm Legal Clinic -- will feature a panel discussion of juvenile and criminal justice professionals titled "Perspectives on the Questioning of Youthful Witnesses and Suspects."

The event will take place from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, in the School of Law's Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago Ave. The public is welcome, but registration is required. (For more information, call 312-503-0396 or send e-mail to e-curtis@law.northwestern.edu.)

Featured speakers include:  

  • Marty Tankleff -- Only 17 when he falsely confessed to killing his parents, Tankleff was exonerated in 2007 after serving 17 years in New York prisons. His story is chronicled in Richard Firstman's and Jay Salpeter's "A Criminal Injustice: A True Crime, A False Confession, and the Fight to Free Marty Tankleff," http://www.acriminalinjustice.com/

  • Barney Brown -- Only 14 when charged with and later convicted of rape, Brown was exonerated in 2008 after serving 38 years in Florida's penal system. He discusses his case on a podcast at http://innocencespeaks.libsyn.org/index.php?post_id=529761

"Marty and Barney are just two of dozens of exonerees from around the country who were teenagers or younger when they were wrongfully accused and convicted," said Steven Drizin, clinical professor of law and director of the School of Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Bluhm Legal Clinic. "Youth is a powerful risk factor for wrongful convictions."

"Young people are particularly susceptible to police pressure, often leading them to falsely confess or make false accusations against other youth during police interrogations," added Joshua Tepfer, CWCY project coordinator.

A false identification by a 14-year-old witness led to the wrongful arrest and conviction of 13- year-old Thaddeus Jimenez, who was exonerated with the help of Drizin, Tepfer and other attorneys earlier this year after serving more than 16 years in Illinois prisons. For more information about Jimenez's case, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMDPPuK6I3k

The new Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth -- a collaboration of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and the Children and Family Justice Center -- was created to address such issues. "The CWCY will be the first project solely dedicated to identifying, investigating and litigating the innocence claims of convicted youth and advocating for policy reforms aimed at decreasing the wrongful convictions of youth," said Bernardine Dohrn, founder of the Children and Family Justice Center.

The groundwork for the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth has been laid by Northwestern University School of Law's two highly acclaimed centers in the Bluhm Legal Clinic -- the Center on Wrongful Convictions and the Children and Family Justice Center. Founded 10 years ago, the Center on Wrongful Convictions has been instrumental in 41 exonerations, several of which have involved persons who were under 18 at the time of their arrests. The Children and Family Justice Center, founded in 1991, has been a national leader in representing children in conflict with the law and in advocating for policy and law reform for nearly two decades.