A Giant Step Towards Justice for the Burge Torture Survivors Who Continue to Languish Behind Bars
In an historic decision on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, Cook County Circuit Court Chief of the Criminal Division Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr. ruled that all of the Burge torture survivors who remain incarcerated are entitled to pro bono representation in post-conviction proceedings, allowing them the opportunity to challenge the validity of their convictions. Judge Biebel also appointed Loyola Law School Dean David Yellen as a special master to work with attorneys from the People’s Law Office (PLO) and the MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) to identify all Burge torture survivors who remain incarcerated, and inform them of the availability of attorneys to represent them for free in post-conviction proceedings. This ruling affirms that the torture survivors have the right to a full and fair opportunity to present allegations that they were tortured, and effective legal representation in challenging their convictions on this basis.
It is a giant step forward on the path to justice for the Burge torture survivors who are still behind bars, as many of them do not have lawyers to represent them and have been denied a full and fair opportunity have their day in court to present evidence of the torture they endured.
The decision was in response to a class action petition filed by the PLO and MJC in October 2012, on behalf of Johnnie Plummer, Vincent Wade and all other Burge torture survivors who continue to languish behind bars. The petition argued that comprehensive relief, including new evidentiary hearings, must be afforded to incarcerated individuals who claim they were tortured or abused under Burge’s command at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters. Such comprehensive relief has been provided in other cities and counties throughout the country where systemic police misconduct and corruption has raised questions about scores of criminal convictions, including in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tulia, Texas, West Virginia and the Ramparts scandal in Los Angeles.
There is no credible dispute that Burge and the detectives under his command routinely and systematically engaged in acts of torture. Yet many of the survivors of such torture remain behind bars and have been routinely denied the opportunity to present newly discovered evidence of systemic torture by Burge and his men. At the time of their original trials, these torture survivors challenged their coerced confessions, but they did not have access to the wealth of evidence that has since been uncovered documenting Burge’s reign of torture and abuse.
In his ruling, Judge Biebel noted that Burge’s conduct “has caused irreparable harm to many persons,” and that “it is of the highest importance that these remaining possible Burge-related cases be given resolution.” He further noted that Special Prosecutors appointed in 2002 concluded there was a pattern of misconduct that occurred with Burge and his associates. Thus, the alleged Burge victims who remain behind bars are both entitled to be identified and to be appointed representation because they have never had an opportunity to present claims that their confessions were coerced “with the benefit of substantial evidence now available to implicate Burge and those who worked under him.” When announcing his ruling from the bench, in front of a courtroom filled with attorneys, activists, and family members of the torture survivors, Judge Biebel also noted this was an “important endeavor” that was essential to bring to “a close an unfortunate chapter.”
Thus, all the individuals who can show:
1) His or her conviction was based in part upon a confession;
2) That the confession was the end result of an interrogation in which Burge or officers under his chain of command or direct supervision participated;
3) That her or she made an allegation of coercion in the context of his or her original proceedings, either at a motion to suppress or in some other clear and definitive way, that his or her confession was the product of physical abuse or torture, and those objections were overruled;
4) He or she remains incarcerated today; and
5) He or she has never had that the opportunity to present his or her claim of coerced confession with the benefit of the substantial evidence now available to implicate Burge and those who worked under him;
are entitled appointment of pro bono lawyers to represent them in post-conviction petitions.
Although he declined to certify a class of individuals entitled to relief or to automatically grant class members an evidentiary hearing, Judge Biebel assured a legal avenue for incarcerated torture survivors to challenge the coerced confessions that led to their convictions.
You can read Chief Judge Paul Biebel’s decision here.
If someone you know may be incarcerated who meets this category of criteria listed above, please send your information to the People’s Law Office or the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center.
For nearly 30 years, People’s Law Office has fought for justice for the survivors of Chicago police torture in appeals, post-conviction proceedings, civil rights lawsuits and in working with community members to fight for justice outside of the courts. Currently, we are working with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project in advocating for reparations for the survivors of Chicago police torture. Please sign the petition supporting the Reparations Ordinance.