You’ve been charged with a crime you didn’t commit.
You can’t wait to clear your name.
It’s a ‘My Cousin Vinny’ scenario and it’s a classic movie for a reason.
Having a surprise witness clear your name and ultimately hearing ‘not guilty’ in court as declared by 12 of your peers is every innocent person’s dream.
It’s true justice. Exoneration. Vindication.
But what if you’re afraid you won’t get that chance? The reality is that you might have every right to be afraid of going to court.
While you may have very strong evidence pointing to your innocence, you never know who the 12 jurors in your trial will be or what their preconceived notions about you are.
Especially in a small, tight-knit community.
You worry they won’t see you for who you are today… especially if you have any criminal charges on record or prior gang involvement.
Whether or not they may be connected to your case in a way they don’t disclose… you know you’re rolling the dice with very high stakes.
Let’s say you’ve been falsely charged with a murder committed well over a decade beforehand.
And the court date is set.
Your entire experience of the criminal justice system to date has been plagued by police corruption and you’re very nervous you’ll spend life in prison for a crime you did not commit.
The day before the hearing is to happen, the DA offers you a plea deal that, though not accurately representing justice, gives you a more livable situation than the life behind bars you’d face if found guilty in court.
So you take it. Admitting to a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter you had no part in.
This is not a hypothetical situation for one client of mine, who faced life behind bars for a crime I am convinced he did not commit. As a murder defense lawyer, I’ve seen this happen in the adult criminal justice system far too often not to talk about it.
Here’s the story about how one reformed gang member took a 5-year plea deal when innocent.
This case has all of the elements of an Academy Award-winning movie but is unfortunately all too real: Revenge. Unsubstantiated witnesses. Suppressed exculpatory evidence.
This is an untold story about how justice isn’t always possible, but with a solid defense, an outcome you can live with is.
A TEENAGER INVOLVED IN A GANG: A CRIME COMMITTED AND TIME SERVED
My client was 16 when a drive-by shooting narrowly missed him and his girlfriend.
He was in a gang. With no father figure, he had turned to this group for the brotherhood it seemed to offer him without the life experience to tell him it was wrong.
So he did what had been normalized for him, immediately retaliating with an attempted drive-by shooting of his own.
He was convicted of a felony related to the drive-by and served a good portion of the time. As he was young, he grew up while in custody and was ready to transform his life.
So when it came to light that there was evidence of police corruption that kept important documents out of court in his case, my client wanted the chance to restart his life.
After two appeals where he fought for impeachment evidence (evidence that shows someone is lying or prejudiced), he was offered a plea deal to keep documents revealing that corruption from becoming available, and after accepting, he was released.
But in the process of these appeals, individual police were called out and it gained some media attention. So while he did get out, and had started a family, the police department he had now publicly embarrassed wasn’t far behind him.
The Appellate Court’s decision can be found here
EARLY RELEASE AND RETALIATORY MURDER CHARGES
Just one month after his release, the police department in question reopened an old murder case from 12 years prior to which my client had never previously been named a suspect.
He became their prime suspect, and they said they had a witness to prove it. It was a brutal shooting and my client’s drive-by conviction and gang member past was used against him.
But they had no evidentiary support, only a questionable witness who reportedly suddenly remembered my client had confided in him and ‘confessed’ to the shooting. This was in direct contradiction to original reports that didn’t include any such witness, or of my client being informed that he was a suspect, let alone being formally charged or facing any kind of arrest.
The case had become a series of ‘he said’, ‘she said’, which did not help my client prove his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt — the shadow being cast by corrupt police authority.
Compounding the situation was that because the crime in question had taken place 12 years prior, many witnesses were unable to remember details and a few had passed away.
Additionally, my client could not remember where he was and could not come up with a solid alibi. Would you be able to remember where you had been on the night of, let’s say Jan 11, 2005? Who you were with? What you were doing?
Originally, this new case was dismissed, but then the state appealed that decision and so there my client stood, about to be stripped of all evidence of innocence, for a crime I am certain he did not commit.
NEW MOTION TO DISMISS FILED BUT AN APPEAL LEADS TO A PLEA DEAL
Opening this case up 12 years later violated my client’s federal and state constitutional rights to due process. So I filed one final motion that the case should be dismissed. By this time several more years had passed.
This process cost my client, money, and most importantly valuable time with his family. Here are a few of his own words on the matter
Because I had gathered substantial evidence and documentation to show that this case had been fabricated by a police department with its mind set on retaliation, I knew my client had a fighting chance if the court date proceeded. But time was against us.
The night before our court proceedings were to begin, we received an offer from the DA.
My client, who was looking at life behind bars if convicted, was being offered a lesser charge of manslaughter that meant five years in prison, two of which had already been served while waiting for the outcome of this case.
What do you do when you have a child you may never get to see again if convicted?
So my client took the deal, a decision I absolutely agree because it was in his best interest in this particular case.
He ultimately got peace of mind and a date that is close enough in the future that he’s not going to miss out on his child growing up and being there for his wife.
This is one of those moments where justice doesn’t happen, but the deal is too good to be turned down. Fighting for his innocence was simply too risky, and so he must live with pleading guilty for a crime he did not commit.
No doubt a hard thing to do emotionally, and internally, but he will be free to be with his family again soon.
MAKING THE SOUNDEST CHOICE FOR YOUR INDIVIDUAL CASE
Complex and emotionally charged situations like the one above are especially high stakes. When your life is in legal jeopardy, justice can’t always be served.
In this case, my client was not a perfect character in that he was a convicted felon and former gang member who served time, making a fair trial less likely.
Voices like his are rarely heard, so if you resonate with it and are worried about a similar fate, you are far from alone. And there is hope.
My client was able to realize the best outcome for his particular situation in big part because he had an attorney who advocated for him and navigated the situation with his best interest (and freedom) in mind.
For a true advocate that you can trust in a judgment-free zone contact Proper Defense Law Corporation today for a FREE consultation at (559) 825-3800 or schedule an appointment online on my ‘Contact Us’ page. It gets better with Proper Defense, I promise.
Please note, Proper Defense serves all areas in the Greater Central Valley area, including those looking for representation by searching ‘murder defense attorney Clovis, murder defense attorney Kingsburg, murder defense attorney Hanford,murder defense attorney, murder defense attorney Merced, murder defense attorney Porterville, murder defense attorney Reedley, murder defense attorney Sanger, murder defense attorney Selma, murder defense attorney Tulare, or murder defense attorney Visalia.’