The criminal justice system is not perfect. Sometimes mistakes are made. Sometimes people are convicted and put in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. That is part of why it is so important for the accused to have the best defense possible, particularly for crimes with serious consequences.
A 51-year-old man was released from a life sentenced last month after he spent more than a decade in prison on a drug conviction. The man had been convicted under Louisiana’s habitual offender law, but it was reportedly a simple undetected typo in police paperwork that resulted in the conviction.
The federal judge that overturned the convicted noted in her September decision to overturn the conviction that no reasonable judge or jury would have found the man guilty of the crime since a written police statement named another man as the one officer found attempting to put cocaine in his mouth back in 1998.
The man referred to in the paperwork had been arrested by the same two officers several hours prior to the innocent man’s arrest, and the officers mistakenly typed the first man’s name into a report about the second.
What is surprising is that inaccurate reporting was later approved by the officers’ supervisor and accepted by the New Orleans Police Department as the basis of the innocent man’s prosecution, and nobody noticed the mistake. That mistake put an innocent man in prison for 10 years.
The two officers who made the arrest are apparently still on active duty, but there has apparently been confusion and finger-pointing as to whether the officers perjured themselves at trial. The District Attorney office has said it has no plans to prosecute the officers, but the latter were apparently exposed as liars for a time.
Once again, police and prosecutors make mistakes and do not always act appropriately in the criminal justice system. That is why the accused need defense.
Source: Nola.com, “Finger-pointing over botched prosecution leaves bruises,” John Simerman, December 28, 2011.