GENEVA, 26 July. 13, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has released its advisory calling for the immediate release of Leonard Peltier, an indigenous rights activist wrongfully detained by the US government for the past 47 years. In its opinion, the Working Group concluded that Mr. Peltier’s detention was arbitrary and contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Mr. Peltier, a client of Sanford Heisler Sharp, was originally convicted of the murders of two US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who were killed in a 1975 confrontation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Mr. Peltier was sentenced to two life terms. When Mr. Peltier’s conviction did not stand up to scrutiny on appeal, prosecutors moved to a “complicity” theory, despite his co-defendants’ earlier acquittals for self-defense. His conviction was upheld on little more than evidence showing he was present at the reservation the day of the shooting.
Since his conviction, further information has come to light detailing how Mr. Peltier’s constitutional rights were violated throughout his trial, further casting doubt on his conviction. Evidence of gross prosecutorial and FBI misconduct in the form of coerced witness statements that have since been retracted, falsification of affidavits, and concealment of exculpatory ballistic evidence has come to light. Additionally, one juror was allowed to remain on the panel despite her known biases against Native Americans. To secure the conviction of a political leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), the government committed countless constitutional abuses that would require an acquittal, or at the very least, a mistrial.
Moreover, Mr. Peltier’s right to due process after his conviction was compromised during multiple abnormal and discriminatory parole hearings. Mr. Peltier was never given an expected release date, information guaranteed to him by law, and is therefore serving an indeterminate sentence. In addition, during two full parole hearings and four provisional hearings, the parole board relied on information about his conviction, the veracity of which was refuted, and ignored reports of his good behavior. in prison, evidence of an extended sentence, and other evidence demonstrating that Mr. Peltier is not a threat to society.
Additionally, Mr. Peltier has sought clemency from five US presidents, but the FBI has continually blocked the granting of any commutations. In one notable case, 500 FBI agents protested his potential release after hearing that President Clinton was considering granting clemency.
Mr. Peltier’s case was first presented to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2005. The Working Group determined in its first opinion that his detention was not arbitrary at the time. However, the Task Force recently determined that Mr. Peltier’s case could be reconsidered as new information has surfaced over the past 17 years establishing a “pattern of procedural and substantive injustice” on the part of the Commission. of parole and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
In 2021, the Yale Law School International Human Rights Clinic, led by Professor James Silk, with the assistance of Mr. Peltier’s legal team at Sanford Heisler Sharp, submitted new documents outlining Mr. Peltier’s case and the many ways the parole board undermined Mr. Peltier’s right to due process after his conviction. These submissions detailed the misconduct of parole board members, political interference by the FBI and how Mr. Peltier’s prolonged incarceration is a threat to his life. The government has responded to Mr Peltier’s claims by arguing he was rightly convicted, denying any wrongdoing by the parole board and insisting he is receiving health care proportionate in prison.
After reviewing the material presented, the Task Force concluded that “given all the circumstances of the case, including the risk to Mr. Peltier’s health, the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Peltier immediately and grant him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law. The Task Force also urges the US government to investigate the circumstances that led to and perpetuated the arbitrary detention of Mr. Peltier and to reprimand those responsible for this perversion of justice and due process.
Professor Silk remarked that “the advice shows how our human rights obligations are in line with the rule of law and the human values that President Biden has set out and require that Mr. Peltier be released without further delay”.
The Task Force cites Mr. Peltier’s medical condition and age, his extensive and frequent placement in solitary confinement, and the difference between his experience and that of non-Native Americans convicted of similar offenses as proof of the injustice of his continued detention. His notice expressly states that due to his deteriorating health and advanced age, any future parole hearing will not provide “a realistic opportunity for Mr. Peltier, an elderly inmate in poor health, to apply for parole. and to benefit from due process”. Additionally, citing discriminatory comments from his parole reviewers, the opinion states that “Mr. Peltier continues to be detained because he is Native American.
Former federal judge Kevin Sharp, attorney for Leonard Peltier, said, “We are pleased that the Task Force has been willing to re-examine Leonard’s case for a second time after 17 years of unfair parole proceedings and arbitrary imprisonment. Sharp added: “The task force did not analyze their comments. They issued an immediate call to action, and the US government must take Leonard’s clemency case seriously and return him to the care of his tribe.
The United States government has six months to provide the task force with information demonstrating what steps it has taken to address the injustices identified in the advisory.
Professor Silk added: “We are optimistic that the task force’s careful, thorough and balanced opinion will help the Biden administration decide to put an end to the terrible injustice that Mr. Peltier has suffered.”
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Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP is a national public interest class action law firm with offices in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, San Diego, Nashville and Baltimore. Sanford Heisler Sharp focuses on discrimination in employment, Title IX, wage and hour, whistleblowers, criminal/sexual violence, and financial services. The company has recovered over $1 billion for its clients through numerous verdicts and settlements. The National Law Journal has recognized Sanford Heisler Sharp as the 2021 Labor Rights Firm of the Year and the 2021 Human Rights Firm of the Year.
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