Fall 2006

Professor Jim Liebman Uncovers Possible Innocence of Executed Man

Professor Jim Liebman's discovery that Texas may have executed an innocent man drew widespread media attention, including segments on ABC's "World News Tonight" and "Nightline" and a series of articles in the Chicago Tribune, which had been contacted by Prof. Liebman. The Tribune conducted its own investigation, culminating in a three-part series that explored the execution of Carlos DeLuna, a Texas parolee who died by lethal injection in 1989.

While working on a project with CLS students on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Prof. Liebman happened across the case of Mr. DeLuna, who'd been executed for the 1983 stabbing death of Wanda Lopez, a young, single mother working the night shift at a Corpus Christi, Tex., gas station. The key evidence against him was an eyewitness identification by a customer who briefly encountered the assailant as he ran out of the gas station.

The co-author of the two-part report A Broken System: Why There Is so Much Error in Capital Cases, Prof. Liebman was struck by Mr. DeLuna's insistence from arrest until execution that he had seen another man, Carlos Hernandez, struggling with Ms. Lopez as Mr. DeLuna walked past the gas station. At trial, police and prosecutors told the jury Mr. Hernandez was a "phantom" who never existed.

In early 2004, Prof. Liebman hired a private investigator to go to the port city to see if Mr. Hernandez existed. Within hours, the investigator found the niece of Mr. Hernandez. She told the investigator that, within weeks of the killing, she heard her uncle tell another man that he, not Mr. DeLuna, knifed Ms. Lopez to death. The two Carloses were the same height and weight and looked remarkably similar. Mr. Hernandez died in prison in 1999 where he was serving time for stabbing another woman nearly to death with an eight-inch buck knife identical to the one left at the Lopez scene.

Prof. Liebman and investigators eventually found several other people who heard Mr. Hernandez confess and give details about the murder. They said that he repeatedly bragged that he killed Ms. Lopez, but his "tocayo" (namesake) Carlos DeLuna took the blame. A Corpus Christi police detective admitted hearing from street informants in 1983, before Mr. DeLuna's trial, that Mr. Hernandez was the killer. The single eyewitness admitted that police told him they had the killer before asking the eyewitness to peer inside a squad car at night and identify Mr. DeLuna as the man he saw running away.

Subsequent investigation by Prof. Liebman and CLS students revealed that Mr. Hernandez was well known to Corpus Christi police detectives (including one who testified at Mr. DeLuna's trial) and city prosecutors. Mr. Hernandez had previously been convicted of gas station and convenience store armed robberies and was suspected of knifing another young woman to death. A month after the Lopez killing, officers arrested Mr. Hernandez lurking behind another gas station with a knife. After gathering all this information, Prof. Liebman contacted the Tribune. "This was no longer a legal or academic enterprise," he said.

Editors at the paper were well aware of the problems with capital punishment. Five years earlier, the newspaper had run several groundbreaking stories focused on wrongly imprisoned inmates in Illinois. (Citing the reporters' work, the governor of Illinois called for a moratorium on executions soon after.)

In its articles, the paper concluded that Mr. DeLuna's "case represents one of the most compelling examples yet of the discovery of possible innocence after a prisoner's execution."

Prof. Liebman has argued habeas corpus and death penalty appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is currently on partial leave, teaching in the morning before serving as chief accountability officer for the New York City Department of Education.

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Professor George Fletcher's Amicus Brief Plays Role in Guantanamo Detainee Case

An amicus brief submitted by Professor George Fletcher in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006) played an influential role in the 5-3 majority opinion written by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. (Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself, having participated as circuit judge in the appeals phase of the case.)

Writing on behalf of an organization called Experts in the Law of Conspiracy and the Law of War, Prof. Fletcher argued that a charge of "conspiracy" would not hold against Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the former personal driver of Osama bin Laden captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and detained at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay.

Military tribunals cannot prosecute allegations of conspiracy because such tribunals derive their jurisdiction from the laws of war. Laws of war do not include charges of conspiracy, Prof. Fletcher wrote.

"That means because Mr. Hamdan cannot be charged with conspiracy, it follows that he should not be brought before any military court," he asserted.

A section of the lead opinion signed by four of the justices about conspiracy indictments leaned heavily on the reasoning presented by Prof. Fletcher. Mr. Hamdan's attendance at Al Qaeda meetings and implicit knowledge of the group's purposes alone, they found, is not sufficient to charge him with conspiracy to kill civilians and engage in terrorist acts.

"This is the first time that any governmental organ has said ‘no' to the Bush administration's attempt to engage in measures that arguably exceed their constitutional authority," said Prof. Fletcher.

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Professor John Coffee Recognized In National Law Journal Survey

Professor John Coffee was named one of the country's 100 most influential lawyers by the National Law Journal. It is the first survey in six years by the publication, whose editors were looking for "lawyers who had a national impact in their fields and beyond, especially over the past five years - lawyers who have the power to shape public affairs, launch industries, shake things up, and get things done."

A leading expert on securities law and corporate governance, Prof. Coffee has been a key spokesman in recent years in the wake of accounting scandals that rocked the business community. He helped draft the reform legislation that became the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. He is the author of the newly released Gatekeepers: The Professions and Corporate Governance.

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State Dept. Hosts Chat with Prof. Alvarez

Professor José Alvarez participated as the sole speaker in a live web chat on international law, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. The talks invite audiences outside the United States to engage with U.S. government officials and private citizens on a variety of topics. The exchanges are hosted by USINFO, the State Department's public web site for overseas users, which receives more than 25,000 hits per day.

During his August 8 chat, Prof. Alvarez, the new president of the American Society of International Law, acknowledged the growth of both governmental and non-governmental bodies in shaping international law, though he said that in the area of human rights, for example, no single power makes and enforces judgments. Rather, a complex system of reciprocal actions between states enforces rules, as does a large number of formal and informal dispute settlers. Despite the lack of a unified body or system of law, he believes that international law will become more important in the future.

"We'll see ever more delegation to international institutions to make, interpret, and adjudicate law," he told his audience. "Sovereignty is not dead, but its very meaning is being radically redefined." To view a transcript of Prof. Alvarez's chat, please visit, click on the webchat box, then on "Previous Webchats" in the upper left corner.

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CLS Journal on Gender & Law Ranked No. 1

The Columbia Journal of Gender and Law was ranked as the top law review among its peers in the category of "sexuality and the law" by ExpressO, an online service that submits articles to the nation's 500 law reviews. The journal, founded in 1989, publishes interdisciplinary works related to feminism and gender issues and aims to promote an expansive view of feminism embracing women and men.
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Collateral Consequences Calculator Debuts at Partners in Justice Colloquium

The Law School unveiled the workings of a collateral consequences calculator at a summer colloquium sponsored by New York Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and the New York State Judicial Institute. The project was the work of Professors Mary Zulack and Conrad Johnson, Director of Educational Technology Brian Donnelly, and students Uju Enendu '07 and Shaun Campfield '07. Details were unveiled before an audience of judges, practitioners, and academics.

The calculator is being created to respond to the needs of attorneys, judges, and educators who need to know the extent to which specific criminal charges trigger significant, invisible, or collateral consequences. They include deportation, eviction from public housing, loss of employment licenses, and the right to vote. The project builds on work previously done by Thomas Rosen '07 and Alex Swartz '06 through the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic, headed by Profs. Johnson and Zulack.

At the urging of Judge Kaye and a committee of jurists, practitioners, and academics, the clinic created the 4Cs web site (, which provides a wealth of important legal information edited by experts on collateral consequences. The site has been highly successful, prompting its creators to investigate developing an online calculator that can supply users with an instant overview of the possible consequences that would flow from conviction from each section of New York's Penal Law.

A beta version of the site was created through a collaborative venture between the Law School, the Office of Court Administration, the New York State Judicial Institute, and the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning. The calculator is a web-based application in which users, after inserting a section of the New York Penal Law, are able to view a multi-level chart highlighting the collateral consequences that flow from a conviction under that section.

In the first phase of the project, immigration and housing consequences are being tracked. If successful, the beta version will be made available through the 4Cs web site and the project will expand to track family, employment, benefits, and civic participation consequences.

"This could provide a vital aid to the important, complex, and vexing problem of predicting the varied collateral consequences of criminal charges," says Prof. Johnson. "As such, it can allow judges, practitioners, and educators to better understand the full array of ramifications of criminal charges and result in more informed judicial decisions, client counseling, legal education, policy, and legislation."

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Professor Barenberg's Petition on Labor Rights in China Wins Bipartisan Endorsement

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and members of Congress endorsed a 180-page petition on labor rights in China drafted by Professor Mark Barenberg. The petition was filed by Representatives Ben Cardin (D - Md.) and Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) and the AFL-CIO; it was endorsed by Senators Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold, and John D. Rockefeller IV, among others. The petition charges that the Chinese government persistently prevents workers from exercising their internationally recognized rights. It also argues that illegal practices provide China with an illegitimate competitive advantage in world markets, thereby hurting workers in other countries, including the United States. Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 stipulates that the repression of labor rights by a trading partner of the United States is an unfair trade practice.

Prof. Barenberg's petition was a follow-up to one he drafted two years ago. At that time, the Bush administration said it would undertake joint efforts with the Chinese government to improve China's record on labor rights. According to the new petition, those efforts have been ineffective.

The new petition therefore calls on the administration to implement more robust measures, including an innovative monitoring system to measure improvements in China's labor record, linked to requirements that U.S. corporations comprehensively disclose working conditions in their affiliates and contractors operating in China. Prof. Barenberg says, "I hope that the new petition will put pressure on the U.S. and Chinese governments to take stronger steps on behalf of China's factory workers."

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