Armed robbery dismissal
Laura Hiller, an attorney in our office, handled an armed robbery case that was dismissed last week and which gives a concrete and local example of how wrongful convictions happen. Her client was accused of armed robbery after an employee of the store that was robbed identified the client from a line up. The client was arrested, jailed, and charged with armed robbery. When we reviewed the videotapes and the witness statements, it was obvious that they had the wrong person, but not obvious enough for the prosecutor to dismiss.
As we worked the case, with our investigator working to re-create the incident and identify possible suspects that were not charged, our client’s saving grace was that law enforcement had not yet closed their file – eventually, the person who committed the crime was arrested in another state and confessed to the robbery our client was charged with. And the prosecutor dismissed our client’s charges. If the prosecutor had not dismissed, I believe our client would have been acquitted – but what if she was not? What if the jury says, well if she was charged she must be guilty? The prosecutor and the police officer certainly would not lie? And we have a positive witness ID – what better evidence could we ask for? What if the prosecutor did not reveal the confession from an individual that was now thousands of miles away? What if law enforcement did not question the guilty party about the robbery, or they did not admit it? This was a rare situation, where we were able to obtain solid evidence of our client’s innocence before trial.
When this client came to us, she had spoken to another defense lawyer/ former prosecutor, who told her that she was going to have to plead guilty. This was before the lawyer ever looked at the evidence in the case – he assumed that she was guilty and immediately began talking about what kind of deal he could get for her, then quoted a fee that was at least twice what we eventually charged for the case. Is it difficult to see how wrongful convictions happen, when an attorney does not believe in his client and does not put the time into investigating and preparing for trial?
The most important things that happened in this case were 1) the integrity of law enforcement in working to help identify the right defendant, even after they charged the wrong person, and providing the information to the defense; and 2) that the client had an attorney who cared and who did not give up on her.