A man is convicted of an armed robbery after a jury trial and sentenced to life in prison. He had testified and said he didn’t do it. There was video of the crime.
Oops. Turns out he had been in jail at the time. Wasn’t even there. The government’s own records said so.
Here’s how the Houston Chronicle headlines the story:
Convicted man was in jail when crime occurred
Here’s how the ABA Journal does it:
Judge Blasts ‘Spectacularly Incompetent’ Lawyers After Man With Iron-Clad Alibi Is Convicted
The facts are that the defendant’s lawyer, about a month after the sentencing, reviewed the client’s “rap sheet” and noticed the problem. The prosecutor verified that the defendant had been in the jail, and agreed to set aside the conviction.
The defendant, of course, had maintained his innocence but hadn’t known or remembered where he was on the proverbial “date in question”, so did not alert his attorney.
The truth is, this is the kind of thing that could easily be missed under these circumstances and it’s a credit to the defense attorney that he noticed and got right on it, even though it was a bit late. And it’s a credit to the prosecutor that she acted as she did as well.
The judge on the other hand had no doubt, at the sentencing, given his “you are the worst of the worst” speech while he doled out the life sentence. So unless he blames the lawyers he is going to look pretty stupid. And then that’s what he does. He has low character, but then we expect that of judges. It’s why we have juries.
And speaking of the jury? Stupid and lazy and prejudiced in a million different ways. They refused to believe a man who was telling them the truth. They resolved whatever doubts they must have had about the “figure” in the video against the defendant, exactly the opposite of what they are supposed to do.
But no one ever blames a jury for a wrongful conviction; just for “wrongful acquittals”. If people didn’t know that before the Casey Anthony verdict, they certainly know it now.
The sane and intelligent people of the world, though, should be asking some very hard questions about how this conviction ever happened, alibi or no alibi. No amount of spinning by the judge or the press should be able to divert your attention from the only really important lesson of this little episode. The defendant got all the “process” he was “due” in a trial presumably free from constitutional error, and he was found guilty. And he wasn’t guilty. Neither lawyer was to blame; the jury was, and probably the judge too.
The only surprising thing about this wrongful conviction is that it was corrected so quickly. The system is generally incapable of that. It is more likely to convict even when it knows beforehand that the conviction is wrong and cover it all up if anyone makes a fuss.