A South Carolina Criminal Defense Blog

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.

3 Comments

  1. Lyle Jones's Gravatar Lyle Jones
    January 17, 2011    

    You can’t count on law enforcement to work a file after they’ve identified their suspect, so you better choose good lawyers. Congratulations to Ms. Hiller–this is a great win.

  2. David J. Canty's Gravatar David J. Canty
    January 17, 2011    

    Well done, Laura. I’ve had a few serious felonies resulting in acquittal or judicial dismissal after false eyewitness ID’s. In at least three cases HCPD realized their error and elected to frame the client. All were Hispanic and in all cases LE coerced eyewitnesses to change their description.
    My belief is that they did so for several reasons including: 1.) He’s just a wetback and he’ll plead to something and we can close the file, 2.) He’s probably guilty of something if not this crime, 3.) The real perp is long gone to Mexico and we can admit we failed to apprehend him or hang this guy we’ve got in custody, 4.) If we admit we made a mistake it looks bad on us and on the Dept. 5.) We might get sued unless we get a plea.
    I noted with interest that MBPD dropped an attempted kidnapping case against a guy who came up with surveillance video proving he was miles from the scene at the time of the crime. I think Scott Joye handled that one.

  3. Michael Brown's Gravatar Michael Brown
    February 19, 2013    

    Wow…I am currently going thru something similar. I am being accused of something because got picked out of a lineup. Needless to say I am innocent and I have had to pay out 10,000 dollars already on attorney fees and bond. How a person gets accused of something when the alledged suspect had something over their face and long dreads in their face is beyond me. Needless to say that i never had dreads in my life..lol..And to top it off, i was told i got picked out because victim seen my forehead.. But there is nothing abnormal about my forehead…Go figure…Oh and did i tell u that they had someone else in custody but let them go. This only makes a person not trust and look up to the ones they are suppose to count on in time of need. But like it was said once they believe that someone did something they will go all out to convict them. With no regards to caring that the person they think did it could be innocent. My only question is ” What will they do when they are proved wrong”, and the actual person that did it hurts someone badly in the mist of another crime. Congratulations Ms. Larua Hiller!!!!

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