Client Assistance Program Mobilized to Help with Re-entry of Wrongfully Convicted Client

On January 21, 2015, Mr. Leonard Johnson was released from Angola after more than 38 years.  Walking out with his freedom, but little else to his name, our Client Assistance Program was deployed to help Mr. Johnson return home.

In his first week home our client welfare coordinator worked with Mr. Johnson to access emergency medical treatment – the prison did not even provide him with a days’ worth of medication when he left. Since then, PJI has assisted Mr. Johnson in securing simple documents such as a state-issued photo ID, his birth certificate, and a Social Security Card- plotting a path through the jungle of bureaucracy which is near impossible to figure out after 40 years of being on the outside. PJI also connected him to the Goodwill’s Ex-Offender Reentry Program, which he successfully completed. Mr. Johnson is now working with Goodwill's job developer to find employment. Most recently, our office arranged transportation for Mr. Johnson to visit his daughter and granddaughter in Jackson, Mississippi. Our office is currently accepting donations through our website or by mail for Mr. Johnson to help him restart his life.


Mr. Johnson is pictured above with his sister on the night of his release. They are holding a photo taken 38 years earlier of the two of them together.

Fifth Circuit Hears Oral Argument in PJI’s Heat Lawsuit

On February 3, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral argument in PJI’s lawsuit about extreme heat on Louisiana’s death row, Ball et al. v. Leblanc et al.  

The argument took place in Houston, in the appellate room of the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse.  The panel included Judge Jennifer Elrod, Senior Judge Thomas Reavley, and Judge Edith Jones.  PJI co-counsel and board member Nilay Vora, of the Los Angeles law firm Bird Marella Boxer Wolpert Nessim Drooks Lincenberg & Rhow, argued very well on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The argument focused on several issues, including the extent of the ruling.

A recording of the argument is available here: (Docket number is 14-30067).

Accomplished courtroom artist Gary Myrick was commissioned to create a sketch of the argument, shown above.


We now await the Fifth Circuit’s decision.

PJI Amicus Brief: Brumfield v. Cain

PJI filed an amicus brief in Brumfield v. Cain, observing that Brumfield would be the only person in Louisiana who did not receive a full and fair hearing on his claim of intellectual disability on direct appeal or in state post-conviction.  When Brumfield received a hearing in federal court, the federal judge found that Mr. Brumfield was a person with intellectual disability.  The State of Louisiana successfully argued to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that Mr. Brumfield should be executed anyway.  The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case, which is scheduled to be argued this spring and decided this summer.

Wrongful Convictions and Non-Unanimous Juries in Louisiana

PJI counsel filed cert petitions on behalf of defendants convicted based upon non-unanimous juries. Louisiana is one of only two states to allow a jury to convict a person based upon a 10-2 vote. The practice has its origins in Louisiana's Constitutional Convention of 1898, which sought to protect white suffrage at all cost. This sordid history undermines the credibility of the justice system. PJI believes that faith in the justice system reduces crime and builds stronger communities. As Louisiana has been among the leaders in the nation in wrongful convictions, PJI believes that where citizens have reasonable doubts about a defendant's guilt or innocence, a conviction cannot stand. 

Retired Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal Calogero Jr. discusses wrongful convictions in this Op-Ed column, where he notes the following about public faith in the criminal justice system:

Our justice system makes two promises to its citizens: a fundamentally fair trial and an accurate result.  . . . If either of those two promises are not met, the criminal justice system itself falls into disrepute and may eventually be disregarded."

“Where corners of the Constitution are cut, the circle of trust necessary to ensure a functioning justice system is broken.”