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Old 05-24-2004, 09:29 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Mayfield and the abuse of material witness warrants

This story got a bit buried in all the other current news, but it's worth pointing out:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...2004May24.html
Quote:
Lawyer Is Cleared Of Ties to Bombings
FBI Apologizes for Fingerprint Error

By Susan Schmidt and Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 25, 2004; Page A02

A federal judge yesterday cleared Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield of any connection to the March terrorist bombings in Madrid, saying the FBI had erroneously matched his fingerprint to a latent print found on a bag of bomb detonators shortly after the attack.


The FBI apologized to Mayfield and his family "for the hardships that this matter has caused." It blamed the error on similarities between the fingerprints and the poor quality of digital fingerprint images provided by Spanish authorities.

According to the U.S. attorney in Portland, Ore., four FBI fingerprint examiners and an independent expert hired by Mayfield's lawyer had agreed that the print belonged to Mayfield, 37. But Spanish officials, who had been doubtful of the fingerprint match, announced last week that the print belongs to an Algerian man, prompting the FBI to review its findings and agree it had erred.

The FBI said it will review its guidelines for handling fingerprint images and will ask an international panel of fingerprint experts to examine its work in the case.

Mayfield, speaking to reporters in Portland, said that what happened to him "shouldn't happen to anybody, at least in the manner it happened to me."

"This has caused a lot of trauma to myself and to my family," he said. "I am two or three days out of the detention center, and I am just now starting to not shake."

Mayfield was arrested on a material witness warrant May 6 and jailed for two weeks. He was released from custody Thursday but remained a material witness until U.S. District Judge Robert Jones yesterday ordered all proceedings dropped. Jones instructed authorities to return Mayfield's seized property and destroy all copies of documents they took from him.

The March 11 train bombings in Madrid killed 191 people and injured 2,000. Spanish investigators have blamed the blasts on Islamic militants tied to al Qaeda.

The print was found on a bag left in a van near a train station where three of the four bombed trains originated. Spanish police sent copies of it to other law enforcement agencies, and the FBI, after making the apparent match, put Mayfield under surveillance. He was rushed into federal custody May 6 when word leaked to the media, prompting the federal court in Portland to issue a gag order on all parties in the case.

U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut said in a motion dropping the case that "facts developed during the preliminary stages of the investigation, when coupled with the fingerprint identification, suggested that Mayfield may have information relevant to the Madrid bombings." But without the fingerprint match, authorities concluded, there is no probable cause to believe Mayfield has any such information.

Mayfield's only known link to Islamic extremists involved his work in a child custody case for a Portland man convicted of attempting to get into Afghanistan to fight U.S. troops. Mayfield is a convert to Islam, but Immergut said at a news conference that his detention "was not based on his religious beliefs."

The FBI statement said two fingerprint examiners were dispatched to Madrid when Spanish authorities alerted the bureau to "additional information that cast doubt on our findings." There they compared the image the FBI had been given to the image Spanish police had.

They determined that the FBI identification was based "on an image of substandard quality," complicated by a "remarkable number of points of similarity" between Mayfield's prints and the latent print obtained by Spanish police.

Minutes of court proceedings unsealed yesterday show that last Wednesday, a fingerprint expert chosen by Mayfield's lawyers confirmed in his testimony the fingerprint match.

The next day, as the Spanish police issued their conclusions, Mayfield was ordered released from jail. The court said then that he remained a material witness; he was placed under court supervision and prevented from leaving the state.

Harden reported from Seattle.
The bottom line: A lawyer who happened to be a convert to Islam was picked up and detained based on a couple of lousy fingerprint images. The FBI was ready to lock him up and throw away the key, but fortunately Spanish authorities weren't quite as sure, and they found the person who the fingers actually belonged too.

What's wrong with this case? The abuse of material witness warrants.

here's a good summary: http://www.rcfp.org/secretjustice/te...alwitness.html

The "material witness" classification allows law enforcement to put someone away, without justification, for as long as the trial they claim they need the witness for lasts. Even if that takes years.

In this case, it's easy to see that the FBI actually thought that Mayfield was a criminal, his prints, after all, were on some of the bomb materials. But, by using the material witness classification they were able to skirt all the normal legal protections a criminal would have and just lock him up.

It's a sad abuse of a statute that was meant to allow the police to legally detain witnesses to a crime temporarily until they could question them. Now it is being used as an end-run around the justice system.

Another story about abuses: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp...1438-2002Nov23
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Old 05-24-2004, 09:42 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Old 05-24-2004, 09:54 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I think I heard that there is a 1 in 24 million chance that someone else has a similiar finger print.

Quote:
The "material witness" classification allows law enforcement to put someone away, without justification, for as long as the trial they claim they need the witness for lasts. Even if that takes years.
I hate crap like this.
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Old 05-24-2004, 09:55 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Location: Alton, IL
It seems like another abuse of a loophole in the legal system by authorities. This is why laws should tend more towards being lax than restraining. Welcome to the world of the Patriot Act. Suspects are being detained in Guantanimo Bay without access to lawyers or being told what they are charged with.
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Old 05-25-2004, 05:21 AM   #5 (permalink)
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While it sucks for him and all, even an expert hired by his own lawyer agreed that the fingerprint was a match. Anything less than diligence on the FBI's part is unacceptable.
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Old 05-25-2004, 06:33 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by onetime2
While it sucks for him and all, even an expert hired by his own lawyer agreed that the fingerprint was a match. Anything less than diligence on the FBI's part is unacceptable.
I have no problem with him being detained for questioning. My problem is the use of the material witness statute in a way that wasn't intended. Technically, he could have been held for YEARS under the statute with no charges. If he instead had an arrest warrant, which would have been the appropriate way to detain him, then he would have had far more rights under the law.
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Old 05-25-2004, 06:41 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by HarmlessRabbit
I have no problem with him being detained for questioning. My problem is the use of the material witness statute in a way that wasn't intended. Technically, he could have been held for YEARS under the statute with no charges. If he instead had an arrest warrant, which would have been the appropriate way to detain him, then he would have had far more rights under the law.
I can understand your distaste for it but given the lack of attention given to terrorist acts and the planning of terrorist acts in our laws I'm a little more forgiving of unconventional use of existing laws.

As always, the system allows for the use or abuse of some of its components until those uses can be deemed inappropriate. Illegal uses will be identified and banned through the proper channels whether they be appeals to courts, legislative remedies, etc. Hopefully our legislateive system will have a chance to address the terrorist threat between now and then.
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Old 05-25-2004, 06:57 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by onetime2
As always, the system allows for the use or abuse of some of its components until those uses can be deemed inappropriate. Illegal uses will be identified and banned through the proper channels whether they be appeals to courts, legislative remedies, etc. Hopefully our legislateive system will have a chance to address the terrorist threat between now and then.
On that we can agree.
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Old 05-25-2004, 07:49 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by filtherton
Freedom will be defended at the cost of civil liberties.
Freedom will be defended at the price of freedom?
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Old 05-25-2004, 07:53 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by onetime2
I can understand your distaste for it but given the lack of attention given to terrorist acts and the planning of terrorist acts in our laws I'm a little more forgiving of unconventional use of existing laws.
I'm sorry, but I thought murder, bombings, kidnapping, assault, etc., etc., were already pretty well covered under our laws as illegal. Am I mistaken?
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And this is your land, you can't close your eyes to this hypocracy.
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'Cause this is our land, we can't close our eyes to the things we don't wanna see."

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Old 05-25-2004, 07:55 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by jb2000
Freedom will be defended at the price of freedom?
I know, it doesn't make much sense, does it.
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Old 05-25-2004, 09:09 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Location: NJ
Quote:
Originally posted by jb2000
I'm sorry, but I thought murder, bombings, kidnapping, assault, etc., etc., were already pretty well covered under our laws as illegal. Am I mistaken?
Have you seen what sentences convicted terrorist conspirators have gotten? Typically 4 to 7 years or so from what I've seen if they can even be convicted. Try proving conspiracy to murder when it's a tight knit group of religious zealots. Many are willing to die for their cause and somehow 7 years will change their minds or protect the public? Please.
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Old 05-25-2004, 09:15 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by HarmlessRabbit
I have no problem with him being detained for questioning. My problem is the use of the material witness statute in a way that wasn't intended.
I kind off agree with you too. Material witness detentions are an afront to the constitution, violate due process, and are anathma to our way of life. After all 'law enforcement' and constitutional rights are in direct conflict. One makes the other harder. (tin hat slippery slope follows/) I mean you can just go out and execute everyone who ~might~ commit a crime sometime, and that would serious reduce crime rates. Right? We should do that...in the name of freedom and security. Right after we sieze everyones tools of self defense. (/end thssp)

I don't think the material witness statute is being abused, but rather exactly as it was intended. An end run around the provision in place to protect our freedoms. They became (have always been?) burdensome and a weak constituency allowed them to be over riden.

What led you to believe that they wouldn't use it whenever it was possible?

It must be repealed imho.


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Old 05-25-2004, 09:15 AM   #14 (permalink)
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So basically we are now a society where the accused is guilty until proven innocent.

Excerpts from the NY Times article on this includes some shady activity by the FBI inside Mayfield's home...

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/25/national/25oreg.html

May 25, 2004
Bomb Case Against Oregon Lawyer Is Rejected
By SARAH KERSHAW and ERIC LICHTBLAU

SEATTLE, May 24 -

....

The Justice Department is known to have used the [material witness] statute at least 50 times since the Sept. 11 attacks, and civil liberties advocates said Monday that the Mayfield case demonstrated the potential for abuse.

....

Mr. Mayfield said that in the weeks before his arrest he had sensed that he was being watched and that things were not quite right in the house, in the Portland suburb of Aloha, where he lives with his wife, Mona, an Egyptian immigrant, and their three children. He said a bolt on the front door had been locked, when no one in the family used it. Blinds were raised higher than usual, and there was a large footprint in the living room carpet, much larger than the shoe sizes of any of the Mayfields, he said.

"I feel that I was being surveyed or watched," he said. "Any of us sitting in this room could be subject to it. They will fiddle around with your possessions; they may take things or bring them back. People should wake up, is what I'm saying. We need to start protecting our civil liberties. You can't trade your freedom for security, because if you do, you're going to lose both."

Mr. Mayfield, a former lieutenant in the Army who was raised in a small town in Kansas, converted to Islam in 1989. He had also represented Jeffrey Leon Battle, who had been convicted of conspiring to aid the Taliban and Al Qaeda, in a custody case. He said he believed he had been investigated and arrested because he was a Muslim and because of his representation of Mr. Battle. But Karin J. Immergut, the United States attorney in Portland, said at a news conference that the investigation of Mr. Mayfield had nothing to do with his religion.

Ms. Immergut said that "although it is regrettable that the new information" about the fingerprint "came to light just now, I can assure you that we moved immediately to remedy the situation."

But questions were raised Monday about whether the F.B.I. had listened to doubts the Spaniards raised early on about the fingerprint match.

Steven T. Wax, Mr. Mayfield's lawyer and a public defender in Oregon, said: "What we know is that very early in this investigation, after the F.B.I. received the prints, the F.B.I. examiners met with Spanish fingerprint examiners and we are advised that very early on, the F.B.I. was told, 'We do not agree with your analysis, and we don't see a connection.' "Mr. Mayfield declined to say whether he was considering taking legal action against the government.

The F.B.I. said that after the Madrid attacks, it had received digital images from Spanish officials showing partial latent fingerprints from plastic bags containing detonator caps. The Spaniards asked the F.B.I. to analyze the images, and they were run through a database comparing unknown prints to millions of known prints, the F.B.I. said. Mr. Mayfield's fingerprints were on file because of his Army service.

The agency said its in-house fingerprint examiners "determined that the latent fingerprint was of value for identification purposes.''

It added, "This print was subsequently linked to Brandon Mayfield."

The bureau said the results were independently analyzed and confirmed by an outside fingerprint expert.

A motion by the Justice Department on Monday seeking the dismissal of the proceedings against Mr. Mayfield revealed additional details about the investigation and how it collapsed.

Prosecutors said that before what was thought to be a fingerprint match, Mr. Mayfield "was not under investigation and federal law enforcement authorities had no reason to believe that Mayfield had any information about the Madrid bombings."

It was the fingerprint match alone that led the F.B.I. to Mr. Mayfield, prosecutors said.

Mr. Mayfield was released last week after officials in Spain matched the fingerprint found in the bag near the Madrid bombing site with those of an Algerian. After Mr. Mayfield's release, officials said, two F.B.I. examiners traveled to Madrid to investigate the prints.

After the agents returned , they concluded that the latent print originally linked to Mr. Mayfield was "of no value for identification purposes," and it withdrew its finding of a match.
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Old 05-25-2004, 04:02 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Not Normal
So basically we are now a society where the accused is guilty until proven innocent.
Not at all. You are still innocent until proven guilty and all that good happy horse shit. Now, instead, guilt or innocence doesn't really matter one iota. They can hold you for as long as they want, just because of the likelyhood or even possibility that you might testify in some capacity. That's it.

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