Written by attorney Buta Biberaj

Why Innocent People Are Sometimes Found Guilty

I decided on this topic after reading an article about Stephen Brodie and his experience with the criminal justice system in Dallas, Texas. Although the case occurred in Texas, the facts can apply to any state. In 1991, Brodie, 19, was rightfully arrested for stealing quarters from a vending machine. In addition to asking him questions about this crime, the police interrogated Brodie about a cold case from the year before where a 5-year-old girl was raped. Brodie's interrogation was without an attorney and without a hearing interpreter - he was deaf since childhood. Brodie did not know that he could request an attorney, and "knowing" that he was innocent, did not think he needed one even after the police advised him of his Miranda rights. The police testified that Brodie was questioned for hours and eventually "confessed." The content of the "confession" remains unclear because there was no videotape or transcript of the interview, no statement written by Brodie, or any verbatim note taking. Brodie's attorney tried to get the statement suppressed on the basis that Brodie was interrogated for 18 straight hours and "confessed" because he" felt scared and pressured by the investigators." The Judge denied the motion. Brodie and his attorney assessed his chances at trial and determined that it was more probable that he would be convicted than acquitted. So, faced with the choice of pleading guilty to the rape and serving five-years or going to trial and facing up to 99 years in prison, Brodie plead guilty. The plea agreement would have been a major win for Brodie except for the fact that Brodie was innocent. After serving his initial five years, Brodie was convicted twice for failing to register as a sex offender and had to serve almost five more years. Brodie's case was reviewed by Craig Watkins, the Dallas County District Attorney. Mr. Watkins had created a department within his office charged with reviewing past convictions. The case review revealed that the hair and fingerprint found at the scene excluded Brodie. This information was never provided to Brodie or his attorney prior to or after his conviction. In fact, the evidence was tested one year after Brodie was convicted and the fingerprint results returned belonging to a convicted sex offender who committed numerous sexual assaults in the Dallas area. The District Attorney's Office determined that Brodie was actually innocent of the crimes and was wrongfully convicted and re-opened the case. Brodie's convictions were overturned in 2010 and he was released from prison. This is just one of many stories which show the imperfections of our criminal justice system. Our system is designed to insure that the innocent are not wrongfully convicted. However, that premise is based on the assumption that the police will neutrally investigate a case, and that based on their impartial investigation, the evidence dictates who is the perpetrator. The prosecutors are charged with the duty of reviewing the evidence and insuring the integrity of the investigation, evidence, and the prosecution of the criminal actor.

When the police and/or the prosecutors lose sight of their moral and ethical responsibilities, then the system breaks down. "Why would someone plead guilty to a crime that they did not commit?" That is a fair and common question. The reality is that it happens more regularly than is common knowledge. As Brodie did in his case, a Defendant may plead guilty to a crime he did not commit to avoid the greater danger of going to trial and having a judge or jury convict and impose a harsher sentence than that offered via the plea. Innocent people can and are found guilty of crimes they did not commit for many reasons, such as: a result of improper and/or excessive interrogation; failure to provide an attorney for the accused at the interrogation; failure by the prosecutor to monitor the actions of the police; failure by the police to use the evidence to find the right person rather than conforming the evidence to coincide with their suspicions; failure of defense attorneys to independently investigate cases and review the evidence; failure of the courts to require a higher standard of competency and effort from the attorneys; and, failure of the juries to believe that "innocent people are sometimes wrongfully accused."

Because of stories like Brodie, the individual citizen has to take control of the matter as soon as he is targeted by the police. Demand that an attorney be present during all conversations, discussions, or interrogations by anyone associated with the police. Demand that all such interaction be recorded and/or videotaped. Demand to be part of the defense team. Actively participate in the preparation of your case. Demand that your attorney provide you with copies of all the documents in the case. Review all of the documents and the evidence that the police have related to the case that is available to your attorney. Demand that specific questions be asked about DNA evidence and samples and results. Do not be a spectator to your own life. When choosing your attorney, don't just pick the lawyer who gives you the "best" price. Interview your lawyer and determine whether this person has the time, knowledge, experience and, most importantly, the interest to protect you by providing the best legal representation.

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